Retired President Daniel arap Moi will be laid to rest today, marking the end of a fruitful yet eclectic life that spanned more than nine decades.
The outpouring of emotion since his demise last week attests to the fact that, despite his eccentricities, he had a grip on the nation’s psyche. In death as in life, he remained a towering figure.
Memories of President Moi evoke mixed feelings. He was a humble, God-fearing and down-to-earth leader who effortlessly fraternised with ordinary citizens. He did many personal things that endeared him to many. His populist streak was legendary. Yet Moi was incredibly vengeful, scheming, calculating and cunning.
Historians will document that Moi made an indelible imprint in the nation’s life. Starting off as a teacher during the turbulent colonial era, joining the liberation movement that culminated in political independence in 1963, serving in the first Cabinet and rising to become Vice-President and, ultimately, President for 24 years, Moi was a man with a higher calling.
For the two decades-plus, he presided over expansion and growth of the country. Agriculture, education, health, sports, among others, grew. Opportunities were opened up for the marginalised. Energetic and forceful, he was a political chess master — a self-proclaimed ‘Professor of Politics’. He ruled with an iron fist, commandeered the State and left no doubt who was in charge.
Earlier in his administration, he preached inclusivity and sought to develop every part of the country. But that was short-lived. His rule was characterised by severe economic depression worsened by a ravenous clique that plundered public resources shamelessly. Infrastructure development and resource allocation was skewed in favour of the loyalists to the exclusion of ‘oppositionist’ areas.
Under Moi the country plummeted to its lowest depths. His repressive regime brooked no dissent, muzzled critical voices, perpetrated human rights abuses, including political assassinations, and disempowered citizens. Some of the major corruption scandals, such as Goldenberg, were authored on his watch.
His constant tussle with the international community, who rebutted his administration’s excesses, depicted him as a typical intolerant African strongman who believed in his intuition even when all indications were that he was wrong. His modest education, limited intellect and little exposure undermined his ability to comprehend the realities of globalisation, political liberation and technological sophistication. He lived in a time warp.
To his credit, however, Moi rose to the occasion whenever circumstances so demanded — like acceding to the repeal of Section 2A of the independence Constitution that had outlawed multiparty democracy, in 1991, and a decade later peacefully handing over to Mwai Kibaki, who had defeated his protégé Uhuru Kenyatta.
Moi’s enduring legacy was the Nyayo triple mantra of peace, love and unity. Yet, nearly 20 years since his descent from power, those remain elusive goals. Kenya is peaceful only because it is not at war. Citizens grapple with daily struggles of social injustice, political intolerance, and economic oppression due to wanton plunder of state resources and sheer mismanagement, and insecurity. Love and unity are ephemeral. Political Balkanisation and brinkmanship, ethnic exclusion and ostracism, as well as social aberrations, are the order of the day.
We were worse off under Moi but his exit did not make much difference. The political violence after the 2007 elections and the acrimony after the 2013 and 2017 polls, as well as the current charged political contestation over the Building Bridges Initiative, monumental corruption under the Jubilee administration, exclusion in state appointments, rising national debt burden and crippling unemployment, among others, demonstrate that the country remains polarised, unjust and unfair just as then.
Current leaders should draw lessons from Moi. Legacy is not a script that one writes deliberately but is the collective sum of one’s actions evaluated independently based on what one actually did. It means fidelity to collective and personal morality; doing the right thing all the time, in private or in public.
Opinion is divided about Moi’s legacy but it is only fair that those harbouring deep grudges against the man forgive him. At the tail end of his presidency, he made the respectable thing of seeking forgiveness from those he may have aggrieved. He was human and fallible like all of us. As Mahatma Gandhi said, it is only the weak who do not forgive.
The world is a stage and all men and women are mere players. Moi played his part and has exited. May he go well.