He often took his taste for sartorial elegance — he preferred his casual beige designer jacket, beige fedora, light colour shirt and matching trouser — for his grand entry into the Nyayo National Stadium or Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, to watch big football matches.
Daniel arap Moi, Kenya’s second President, was a very welcome spectator in the football stadium whenever the national team, Harambee Stars, or Gor Mahia played visiting teams.
His arrival was often met with wild cheers and riotous jubilation by excitable football fanatics, who often chanted political slogans ‘Nyayo Juu … Nyayo Juu, Moi wuod Odongo’ to welcome him and also excite his fragile, if palpable, man-of-the-people mien.
Always aware of such expectations, he would respond in kind, ordering all gates to be flung wide open for free entry.
Moi loved sports in general, but he adored football in particular.
He was a prolific footballer in his youth, and was a powerful striker and deep midfielder for his Kapsabet team in the 1940s, according to the late journalist and his friend, Leo Odera Omolo, who was playing for Jamji, one of the tea plantations in Kericho during that time.
Lee Njiru, his long-time press chief and spokesman, said Moi was a regular player for Bunge FC of 1960s where he featured alongside Cabinet colleagues Tom Mboya, Bruce McKenzie, Dr Robert Ouko, Samuel Ayodo, and others.
His love for football thus came naturally.
Fans often awaited expectantly his expert juggling of the ball after giving pep talk to teams before key matches, which he concluded by shooting the ball high in the sky, which were often met with accolades by accompanying dignitaries and team officials.
Even during national holidays, he would preside over the official programmes in the first half of the day, host invited guests for luncheons at State House, then return to the stadium to watch football matches, mostly ‘Mashemeji’ derbies (Gor Mahia vs AFC Leopards) arranged for the big occasion.
When it came to which side of the ‘Mashemeji’ he supported, the man from Sacho, who ruled Kenya with an iron fist for 24 years, played neutral to the Kenyan public, as a father would do.
But, even fathers have their favourite children, which they keep firmly under wraps.
In Biblical times, even Isaac favoured Esau over Jacob.
Through his actions and some decisions, Baba Moi appeared to lean towards Gor Mahia.
This was manifested in 1980 when Gor was spared the executive order for all societies and clubs to drop any tribal names.
Abaluhya FC dropped the name and were renamed African Football Co-operative (AFC) FC, but whose acronyms still represented Abaluhya Football Club.
Gor Mahia initially juggled with the decision to adopt a new name, Gulf Olympic Rangers, a cheeky move by the club’s elite supporters, to retain the key initials G.O.R.
David Opar, then chairman of the club, made the announcement inside the Kaloleni Social Hall, then ''collapsed'', amid talk among diehard followers that the spirits of K’Ogalo, that are domiciled in the omnipotent Luo legend, Gor Mahia wuod Ogada, ''attacked'' Opar for daring to remove his name, which fanatics believed, rightly or wrongly, was and still is the driving force behind the club’s runaway success.
According to a diehard Gor fan and long-time official, Oliech Kwaru, the then influential Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Robert Ouko, who was a loyal Nyayo supporter, was approached by the club officials drawn from the club’s “Rescue” in Kaloleni and “Kofoda” supporters branches, to plead with the Head of State to spare the club the ignominy of dropping their magical name.
Moi bid his time but surprised the Kenyan public one morning, while on his way to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Summit in Sierra Leone, when he announced, on the steps of his plane at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, that Gor could retain their name.
Predictably, the club rank and file, mainly comprising the equivalent of Franz Fanon’s lumpen proletariat, celebrated boisterously, complete with a new moniker, “Gor Sirkal” (Gor is the Government), which has stuck to date.
He often bailed the club out of financial doldrums, thanks mainly to Dr Ouko and the former powerful Permanent Secretary for Internal Security, the late Hezekiah Oyugi, who were the club’s “umbilical cord” with the Big Man.
To the duo and the larger club leadership, supporting the club meant commanding support of the entire Luo community, which the Head of State was very keen on to shore up his ratings.
Moi also helped AFC Leopards, like when the Head of State ordered the then Nairobi City Council to allocate parcels of land to the two clubs, on which they were to construct their own playing grounds, to bring them at par with Africa’s top clubs like Zamalek and El Ahly (Egypt), Simba and Yanga SC (Tanzania), Orland Pirates (SA) etc.
Of course, none of the Kenya clubs has constructed any training ground to date.
The crowning moment came in 1987 when Gor won the Mandela Cup after beating Esperance of Tunisia at Kasarani and Moi was there to hand the trophy to Gor captain Austin Oduor.
Kenya hosted the Fourth All Africa Games the same year (1987) in which Kenyan clubs dominated in many disciplines, but Egypt’s Pharaohs disappointed Moi and Kenyans when they beat Harambee Stars 1-0 in the final at Kasarani.
But by reaching the final, Harambee Stars, which featured nine Gor Mahia regulars, emerged as true heroes.
Moi emerged as a true African statesman after saving the quadrennial multidisciplinary sports competition, then hanging on dire straits due to Africa’s hitherto economic and political problems.
The Games had gone for a decade without getting a host, after only three previous editions — Brazzaville in 1965, Lagos in 1973 and Algiers in 1978.
Keen to capture global adulation and leave a legacy on the continent, like other African big men like Shehu Shagari and Mobutu Sese Seko, Moi gave the nod that the Games be hosted in Kenya following several delegations from OAU and its sporting wing, Supreme Council for Sport in Africa (SCSA).
SCSA Secretary-General Lamine Ba of Senegal, chairman Chief Ibrahim Odia of Nigeria and member Pascal Muasiposso Makongy of DRC, Egypt’s Abdel Asry, Uganda’s Francis Nyangweso, and others had traversed the entire continent looking for a host, to no avail.
When they came knocking on Moi’s doors, the Head of State welcomed them with open arms, recalls Lee Njiru.
“We travelled to China to negotiate the construction of Moi International Sports Centre specifically for the Games. In our delegation were Dr Sam Ongeri and Henry Kosgey. Mzee did this for the Kenyan youth, and ensured the balance from the construction of Kasarani was used to develop Nyayo National Stadium,” recalled Njiru.
Their effort was supported by Kenya’s SCSA chapter officials, Manasseh Oisebe and John Kasyoka (both deceased).
Job Omino, then chairman of Kenya Football Federation (KFF), joined the powerful team and it was all systems go.
The games were organised in record time.
Other venues were renovated like City Park Hockey stadium, or built anew, like swimming pool, handball and basketball courts at Nyayo National Stadium. Boxing was staged at KICC, and tennis at the Nairobi Club and Parklands Sports Club, which did not require renovation.
The games went on successfully between August 1 and 12 1987 when Kenyans were treated to the biggest sporting extravaganza ever, bringing to town some of the biggest names in Africa sports.
Nigeria’s then world class sprinters, Chidi Imo and Emmanuel Egbunike, Zambia’s then PSV Eindhoven star player Kalusha Bwalya, Egypt’s then Al Ahly top strikers El Khatib and Ramadan, Cameroon’s legend Roger Milla, Biyick brothers — Omam and Kana, Kunde and Tataw, Malawi’s Young Chimodzi, were just among the football celebrities in town.
Kenya had more than its fair share of stars from Harambee Stars’ Ambrose Ayoyi, Wilberforce Mulamba, Odembo Nyangi, George Onyango Fundi, Austin Oduor, Onyango Jogoo, Paul Wekesa, the Wakhungu sisters, Judy and Susan (tennis), John Ngugi, the late Paul Kipkoech, Rose Tata Muya (athletics), Julius Akumu, Peter Akatsa (hockey), boxers Robert Wangila, Harish Ouma, basketballers Ronny Owino, Dominicus Omach, Philip Omach, etc.
David Kebenei, fourth in the 1,500m, brought to the world Asbel Kiprop two years later, while Elkana Nyangau, who ran 200m at the Games, brought forth Mike Mokamba and Walter Moenga, while Barnaba Kinyor, another participant at the 1987 Games, bequeathed his 800m talent to his son Job, as did Billy Konchellah to his eldest son Gregory.
All those were spillovers from the All Africa Games, which Kenya hosted successfully and in which Kenyans stood with pride as a beacon of hope to the entire continent. Indeed, the games have since been held regularly ever since.
Kenyans excelled in football, track and field, boxing, tennis, swimming, rugby, name it. President Moi went to all venues and his visit spurred Kenyan competitors remarkably.
Prof Mike Boit, a scholar and former Olympian, believes the staging of the Fourth All Africa Games took Kenya’s then nascent sporting excellence to a level much higher and more diversified than the post-independence two-race horse that was posited by athletics and football.
“It gave birth to an entire generation of sportsmen and women and increased Kenya’s awareness in matters sport ten-fold. With the overwhelming attendance, the national sporting psyche went through the roof,” said the head of Department of Recreation Management and Exercise Science, School of Applied Human Sciences at Kenyatta University.
“The games made Kenyan society more cohesive and rallied them around a common objective, as you know sports brings people together in a manner that nothing else does. To that extent, the Games were a success and hosting them met the objective it was intended for,” said Njiru.
Moi was a sporting animal, often throwing his security detail in a spin whenever he encountered some roadside sports events going on during his many countrywide tours.
He would suddenly detour without alerting his entourage as he did one day at the University of Nairobi grounds while returning to the city from Kiambu, attracted by rugby and handball tournaments taking place at the university grounds.
By the time the security detail located the Big Man, he was thoroughly enjoying himself at the competition and the easy atmosphere, away from hard ball politics, and mixed freely with the youth, who reciprocated his gesture with chants of ''Moi ni wetu, Nyayo, Nyayo …'', much to his amusement.
Another occasion when Moi risked his own security for the sake of his love for sports was during the 1987 All Africa Games when a blackout engulfed the Nyayo National Stadium during a night football match between Harambee Stars and Malawi.
Moi stayed ensconced inside the VIP box for about 30 minutes, hoping lights would return, which never happened, forcing his detail to evacuate him.
The world-renowned Safari Rally, which was a World Championships series leg, was another classic sporting event attracting huge global attention to the Kenyan sports tourism, and which Moi flagged off religiously every Easter holiday.
Robert Ouko, a former Kenya AAA Secretary-General, maintains that it was during Moi’s administration that the Kenyan youth woke up to take up sports seriously.
“Even during his many travels abroad, Moi would make surprise visits to Kenyan competitors’ camps, like when we were in Rome for the 1987 World Championships. His arrival at the Olympic Stadium coincided with the marathon race, in which Douglas Wakiihuri won silver medal,” recalled Ouko.
Even his Cabinet emulated him and wanted to do his bidding. It was at this time that Kenya Breweries Limited, then under Kenneth Matiba’s reign, sponsored many successful sports clubs.
He shortly tapped Matiba into politics, and to his Cabinet, appointing him to the Culture and Social Services docket, which was responsible for sports.
The writer is an award winning veteran sports journalist, who has covered many local and international sports events for the past three decades.