For the 24 years that President Daniel arap Moi bestrode Kenya’s politics like a colossus, his expansive 2,300-acre Kabarak home remained the citadel of his power.
At Kabarak, where Moi loved to stay when in Nakuru or its surroundings, careers were made and broken, with Cabinet Ministers, MPs and other leaders who did not toe the line facing Mzee's wrath.
It was also here that politicians “saw the light”, walking home with bundles of new, crisp notes — owing to the legendary generosity of the president, who dished money at will.
According to Jesse Karanja, a member of the popular Youth for Kanu 1992 (YK-92), Moi, who was laid to rest last Wednesday, used the delegations to gauge the political atmosphere.
“At any of these meetings, he would take a bundle of new notes from one of the shelves and hand it over to the leader of the delegation, announcing the amount he had given out. I remember we once visited the Kabarak home and he gave each one of us Sh5,000,” said Mr John Kuria.
BRIEFCASE FULL OF MONEY
YK-92 was an influential outfit formed in 1991. It consisted of youthful leaders in their mid-20s or early 30s, who campaigned for Moi in the 1992 elections.
“Moi was very generous and during the delegations, he would give visitors money as a token of appreciation. Some people left Kabarak with briefcases full of money, of course, after eating and drinking,” recounted Mr Karanja.
Mr Michael Koech, a former Kimuchul ward, Bomet East, civic leader, relived an experience when Moi handed him a small briefcase full of money, which he was to share with his fellow councillors after a meeting.
"I brought the briefcase all the way to Bomet. But, on the way, I forgot the combination lock. We literally had to use an axe to break it and in there lay wads of Sh200,000 in denominations of brand new Sh50 notes," said Mr Koech.
And, in 2002, when Moi handed over power to President Mwai Kibaki, he boarded a Kenya Air Force helicopter straight to his Kabarak home escorted by two fighter jets, and would spend most of his retirement there.
Moi’s long-time Press Secretary Lee Njiru describes Kabarak as a ''palace'' where the King retreated to after ruling for 24 years, four months and eight days.
The home can be described as a self-contained palace. On the expansive farm stands multi-billion-shilling properties including Kabarak Primary School, Kabarak High School, Kabarak University, Kabarak Guest House, a church, garage and farms.
The Moi family is also constructing a Sh45 billion hospital. The property is part of the late president’s multi-billion-shilling empire.
A brainchild of Moi, Kabarak University Teaching, Research and Referral Mission Hospital will be constructed within the Kabarak home.
The project is said to have been conceived by Moi in 1978 alongside the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital.
Perhaps the beacon of Moi’s contribution to the education sector is the Moi High School Kabarak, which he built in 1979.
To cap it all, he later built a university and a primary school on the farm.
Inside the farm, Moi has a palatial home sandwiched by a lush green lawn dotted with flowers that make the compound look like paradise.
Several water fountains are strategically placed in the compound. There is a massive garage that can accommodate up to five vehicles.
The house, which is sandwiched between Kabarak University and Kabarak High, is next to an airstrip.
Perhaps a sign that Moi was a conservationist, all the Kabarak establishments, including his posh home, are dotted with trees.
Moi was laid to rest next to his wife, Lena. He had asked to be buried next to her “when my time comes”. She died in 2004.
Even after Moi's retirement, the home remained the heart of the country’s politics, particularly as campaigns for the 2022 elections intensify.
He played host to a number of politicians especially after the 2017 elections. The visits increased following the March 2018 ''handshake'' between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition Leader Raila Odinga.
But Deputy President William Ruto — whose domination of the Rift Valley politics saw the humiliation of the former president’s family, with Moi’s sons Gideon, Jonathan and Raymond losing parliamentary elections in 2007 — was not allowed to meet Mzee.
Interestingly, almost all the meetings had one thing in common — Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, who would usher in the visitors, with Kenyans left to speculate on the agenda; Gideon is likely to contest the top seat in 2022.
Back to the Kabarak home, stories have been told of how Mzee Jomo Kenyatta pressured Moi to buy the farm.
It was at the point when Mzee Kenyatta had decreed that land would be acquired from Britons, who were exiting Kenya, on the basis of willing buyer willing seller, and as many leaders rushed to buy these parcels, Moi, to Kenyatta’s surprise, did not seem interested.
“Kenyatta at one time challenged Moi that he had several farms across the country, but he (Moi) did not, prompting Mzee to acquire Kabarak and other farms,” former Defence minister Njenga Karume narrated in his book, Beyond Expectations: From Charcoal to Gold.
And since then, the home has become synonymous with Moi’s name. So significant is it that in November 2018, at Moi’s application, the Kenya Industrial Property Institute issued him a trademark licence.
This means that no organisation could sell or market any goods or services under the name “Kabarak” without the express permission of Moi.
“Kabarak was like a political hospital during Kanu days, as any politician who visited the home and received blessings from Moi won elections,” said Mr Joshua Toroitich, a Kanu official in Nakuru County.
Additional reporting by Vitalis Kimutai