HOW WILL MOI BE REMEMBERED (AND QUICK LESSONS M7 CAN PICK FROM MAN WHO RULED KENYA FOR 24 YEARS)
By Mulengera Reporters
Kenya’s second President Daniel Arap Moi passed on aged 95 Tuesday morning at Nairobi Hospital where he had been hospitalized. The country is mourning, and will do so for days. But when the celebration of the life of a man who ruled his country for 24 years has ended, his legacy will be debated by his friends and enemies and by those who have praised him as great and those affronting him as a depraved dictator. The discussion of his legacy will be dominated by his political policies, particularly his clampdown on opposition, tribalism, the economy and corruption.
Moi did all he could to hold onto power for 24 years. During the largest part of his tenure, he banned opposition political parties, reopening the political space to multiparty politics at the end of 1991. In 1982, Moi abolished multi-partyism and also ditched the use of secret ballots in elections in favor of the mlolongo system or the queue system that involved party members lining up behind photographs of their preferred candidate. This system was used in the 1988 election.
In 2018, Uganda used this method for her local council elections. President Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party recently resolved to use the same in the primaries for choosing flagbearers for the 2021 general elections. But some voices within the party, opposition forces and civil society organisations have opposed the system, saying it could cause enmity and divisions among the electorate.
Between 1982 and 1991, Kenya was one-party state under KANU. But even then, elections held post-1991 were marred by glaring irregularities. In his condolence message to the Moi family and all Kenyans, veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga noted that the 1982-1991 period played dominant role in Kenya’s politics. “The decision by his [Moi’s] administration to make the country a single party state became a major point of disagreement in our politics that caused the clamor for the repeal of Section 2 (a),” said Odinga.
“To his credit, President Moi gave in to the clamor for change and allowed the country to return to multiparty politics. He was constantly able to ease pressure in the country through incremental reforms.”
In December 1991, following heightened pressure from opposition forces, Moi told a KANU delegates meeting at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi he had repealed Section 2A of the constitution, consequently declaring Kenya a multi-party state. The repeal came with term limits to the Presidency, making Moi ineligible for reelection in 2002.
Compared to other post-colonial African leaders, Moi will be forgiven by many across Africa, such as in Uganda, for not tampering with the Constitution again to further cling onto power. With state machinery behind him, Moi would have extended his rule beyond 24 years like the president of Kenya’s western neighbor, Yoweri Museveni has done twice.
Museveni came to power eight years after Moi had ascended to Kenya’s top seat. Museveni has since knocked term and age limit clauses from the country’s Constitution to extend his rule. Now in power for 34 years, and still thirsting for more, Museveni has so far seen two Kenyan presidents come and go-and will soon see off the 3rd one in Uhuru Kenyatta. But Moi respected the term limit clause instituted 11 years earlier and quit. It is this gesture that Ugandans like opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye will remember Moi for.
“From humble beginnings and with a humble and submissive demeanor, President Moi emerged to become a skillful statesman! His main legacy is affording Kenya a peaceful transition to another leader,” Besigye tweeted Tuesday after news of Moi’s death broke.
Besigye’s thoughts have been reechoed by his colleague in Uganda’s opposition, Democratic Party President General Norbert Mao. Mao told Mulengera News he will remember Moi for setting a great foundation for a democratic Kenya and for influencing the region in the area of peaceful political transitions despite blemishes on his track record on observance of human rights.
“I remember him as an icon and an architect of today’s Kenya despite his repressive rule especially the brutality with which he quelled the 1982 military coup. He introduced multiparty rule and presidential terms which have greatly influenced the democracy in Kenya,” said Mao. “He has also influenced the region like in Burundi [where President Pierre Nkurunziza isn’t seeking reelection] and DR Congo [where Joseph Kabila peacefully handed over to Felix Tshisekedi].” Like Besigye, Mao thinks Museveni should “emulate that [spirit of peaceful political transitions] because he is now like an isolated island in the region.”
PEACE & STABILITY
Compared to Kenya’s neighbors, particularly Uganda, Kenya was relatively peaceful during Moi’s time as president. As Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament noted in her condolence message, Uganda saw seven regime changes during Moi’s tenure and most of these changes came with bloodshed, destruction and displacement of people-some fleeing to neighboring countries. That is how we ended up having a huge Ugandan exile community in Kenya during the turbulent Amin and Obote II period.
Like most African leaders, Moi superintended over a corrupt regime with billions lost in huge scandals. For example, the central bank had lost at least $1bn in the Goldenberg scandal before government realized Goldenberg International had not exported any gold or diamond jewelry but had been receiving the compensation from government for earning ‘fictitious’ foreign exchange. This scandal, alongside others, is infamous for almost sinking the Kenyan economy.
Even when he is credited with leading a relatively peaceful Kenya, Moi will be remembered for claims of unlawful detentions and torture of his critics. Places such as Nyati House in Nairobi will remain a living memory of torture of Moi’s opponents. Moi did not even spare University students. Some of those detained without trial included vocal opposition lawyer Miguna Miguna who claims he had been picked from his residence at University of Nairobi and detained without trial for opposing Moi. The Northern region of Kenya, particularly in Wajir, will always remember the 1984 executions of thousands of men as Moi moved in to rid the community of ethnic skirmishes. Scores of other people were also killed after the 1982 failed coup.
An ethnic Kalenjin, and the only non-Kikuyu to rule Kenya since independence, Moi will also be remembered by many as a leader who perpetuated tribalism, put his tribe above tens of others. Top government jobs were occupied by his Kalenjin tribesmen. Tribal tensions intensified in 1992, with land disputes sparking off clashes between the Kalenjin and Kikuyu ending up in the death of at least 5,000 people and displacement of over 75,000 in the Molo Region of the Rift Valley.
Kenyans who were in school in the 1980s and 1990s will remember Moi for his free school milk program or Maziwa ya Nyayo. Under this program, Kenya’s education ministry would give all primary schools three packets of milk to help improve the health of school children under the age of 13. Moi’s milk program saw school enrolment rise from about 3m in 1978 to close to 3.7 million in 1979. In its 20 years of implementation, Maziwa ya Nyayo was considered a blessing to farmers (who got market for their produce) and made Moi a darling of many children and parents.
Kenyans will also remember Moi for the 8-4-4 education system that he introduced, as a way of focusing on practical and vocational training. This system established eight years of primary, four of secondary and another four of tertiary education.
In the end, Moi’s legacy will remain a pottage of praise and ridicule, depending on who you speak to. For some, he will remain a respected statesman while for others a brutal dictator who repented of his sins and sought to chart a way forward for a democratic Kenya. Like all leaders before him, and those after him, Moi had his highest and lowest moments and of these he was aware. And as he, little wonder, stressed in his final speech as President, it seems forgiveness is the only way anyone can celebrate Moi and thus: “If you have wronged me, I forgive you. And if there’s someone who I have hurt, forgive me.” Rest in Peace baba Moi.