alexa Moi had a soft spot for women, girls and has left them better off - Daily Nation

Moi had a soft spot for women, girls and has left them better off

Tuesday February 11 2020

Daniel Moi

Former MP Phoebe Asiyo. She recalls that former president Daniel Moi was a gender activist. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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As the second President of Kenya, Daniel arap Moi, is interred at his Kabarak home in Nakuru County Wednesday, many women are mourning him. Among them are prominent women who have served in and outside government, courtesy of the former teacher who ruled Kenya for 24 years from 1978 to 2002. Some were thrust into the national limelight by Moi.

In 1995, President Moi made Mrs Nyiva Mwendwa, the long-serving former MP for Kitui West, the first ever woman Cabinet minister in Kenya, giving her the Culture and Social Services docket. Prof Margaret Kobia, the Public Service and Gender Cabinet secretary, says that that paved the way for the appointment of more women to government.

Moi is also credited for starting many girls schools — mostly secondary, which bear his name — and championing girl-child education. Mrs Phoebe Asiyo, a veteran gender equality and women rights advocate and former Karachuonyo MP, says Moi also championed the economic empowerment of women through what she and others describe as “woman-friendly policies and programmes”.

Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation (MYWO), which was registered in 1952, transformed the lives of women and their families, especially in the rural areas. In the 1980s, however, it was affiliated to the then-ruling Kenya African National Union and would mobilise women to join the party. This did not go down well with donors and most of them cut off funding.

It was only after Kenya went back to multipartyism that MYWO disengaged from Kanu.

Mrs Zipporah Kittony, the Kanu Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation head for more than a decade and later nominated by the party as MP and senator in 2013, Mrs Mwendwa and Mrs Asiyo are among the famous women who served under Moi.


They credit him with “opening up the space for women to participate in leadership and decision making at a time when patriarchy was the norm.”

As the trailblazers in the women’s liberation movement were unanimous that The Third Women’s Global Conference on Women, which Kenya hosted in June 1985, during Moi’s tenure, “ushered in a national agenda for women’s empowerment and participation in all spheres of national development”.

There may be arguments and counterarguments as to whether, or how far, the late president championed, or otherwise, economic empowerment and the education of girls. What is clear, however, is that, in the initial years of his reign, violations and abuse of human rights of women were as rampant as they were for other sections of Kenyans, many of whom were detained for several years in deplorable conditions.

It is during the Moi era that elderly women, mothers of detained political prisoners went through untold humiliation and indignity as they protested and pushed for release of their sons from detention.

I encountered President Moi at “close’ quarters while working at the Daily Nation. As a parliamentary reporter, I would cover the State Opening of Parliament by the President.

The most touching story about Moi, however, may be that of a village in Rongai Constituency, Nakuru, known as Mercy Njeri. It was named after a little girl from a local primary school initially called Kiamunyi. A nearby new secondary school also has the name.

Pupils, including Mercy, used to stand by the roadside and dance for President Moi as he went home. Then she developed a heart condition and there was no money for her treatment.

Kanu’s man in Naivasha, Kariuki Chotara, presided over a harambee whose proceeds were not enough for Mercy’s treatment. One day, the headteacher joined his pupils. He sang himself hoarse and danced himself lame — until the Head of State noticed him.

When he told Moi about Mercy’s plight, the President helped to fundraise the required Sh250,000 and Mercy was taken to a London hospital. Sadly, the little girl died while undergoing a second operation.

Ms Rugene is a consulting editor. [email protected] @nrugene