I Refuse To Sanitize The Reign Of Daniel Arap Moi

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By Washington Osiro, California.

As someone born and raised in Kenya until the late Daniel Arap Moi assumed power in 1978, I have decided to fess up and come clean:

I am not fluent in “Memory,” one of the four languages Kenya’s award-winning author Yvonne Owuor (“Dust” and “The Dragonfly Sea”) wrote was spoken in Kenya. I thus cannot selectively cite malleable, fleeting, and convenient reasons to rationalize or excuse away incompetence and sub-human treatment of opponents by the country’s leaders – past and present. 

Likewise, I am not eloquent in the second language the 2003 Caine Prize Winner for African Writing also said is “spoken” in Kenya, the language of “Silence.” 

(For the record, the other two languages Yvonne wrote about were English and Kiswahili – to which I’d add the 40+ dialects spoken across the country.)

Since the February 4th, 2020 death of Kenya’s 2nd president Daniel Moi, the world has seen a country whose collective “memory” is torn between re-writing, revising, and sanitizing the life of the fallen ex-president AND opening the Pandora’s Box(es) that has hidden away the sheer evil that was the man’s twenty-four years in power. (Un)Fortunately, the trajectory of Kenya’s history has illustrated to those choosing the former that banalities such as “the peaceful transfer of power,” “national unity,” or “Nyayo” / “Footsteps” the man supposedly facilitated upon assuming power remain temporary, fleeting and frustatingly elusive – “national unity” in particular.

To quote The Elephant’s Patrick Gathara (“Moi and the Erasure of Memory”), Kenyans who’ve chosen to open their eyes and lend their voices to the atrocities committed by the Moi regime and previously discussed in hush-hush tones have refused to “bend the facts of history to fit the mould of their oppression” – under the man. I am one of those Kenyans who’ve chosen to pry open the Augean Stable that was Daniel Arap Moi’s government and the secrets buried in the bowels of Nyayo House. I am joining those who would rather speak out against the autocratic “survivalist” and so-called “benevolent dictator” whose lack of benevolence cut short the lives of many of his opponents while making survival for thousands more a nightmare.

Several touchpoints of Kenya’s history bear repeating because of the country’s short and selective memory – about its past:

– Jomo Kenyatta ascended to the top office in the newly-independent county, NOT because he was a competent, incorruptible leader, but because Jaramogi Oginga Odinga deferred in his favor when the colonialists offered him the mantle. Unfortunately and as forewarned, also by Jaramogi, his recommendation Jomo, the on-again/off-again “leader” of the Mau Mau Movement “with the black skin,” replaced the departing colonialists “with the white skin.” Along the way, Jomo and those around him retained the same tools and infrastructure of repression, divide-n-conquer, and exploitation that the colonialists used against the colonized Kenyans. (“Decolonization & Independence in Kenya: 1940-93” by B.A. Ogot and W. R. Ochieng).

– Daniel Moi was supposed to be a “passing cloud” who was to hand over power to someone from Jomo’s Mt. Kenya/Central region. Surprisingly, the unassuming “Christian” maneuvered THEN out-maneuvered those who saw him as such. He succeeded Kenyatta Pere and assiduously begun working to improve the state tools of co-option, divide-n-rule, violence, and murder his predecessor Jomo and Jomo’s predecessor, the Brits had used to maintain their iron grip over Kenya and Kenyans.

– Mwai Kibaki was a hobbled golfer whose political fortunes were “floundering on the rock of ethnicity,” (“I Don’t Regret Saying ‘Kibaki Tosha,’ Says Raila” – Standard October 2013). All that changed when Raila Odinga unified a fractured anti-Moi movement under the mantra “Kibaki Tosha,” i.e., “Kibaki is Enough” – to defeat Moi’s then-hand-picked successor Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2002 race. And back then, the same Kenyans who lionized, deified and sanitized Daniel Moi’s quarter-century “Reign of Error” this past week, mocked the same man with the “Yote yawezekana bila Moi” chant, i.e., “All is possible without Moi” – as his reign came to an ignominious end and power transferred to Mwai Kibaki. 

– The history of the current Jubilee Regime is still being written, but its first term from 2013 to 2017 is already in the history books as a certified failure thanks to widespread corruption and incompetence of the ruling coalition of the accused. I still don’t understand how some Kenyans thought that electing Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto – two former crimes-against-humanity suspects to lead them – would “build bridges” between the country’s warring communities. After all, the two men were accused of fomenting the very animus that brought Kenya close to the precipice of civil war. I don’t understand how these same Kenyans thought the two accused were the ones best-positioned to address the core issues that precipitated the post-election violence circa 2007/8 that brought the International Criminal Courts knocking. Notwithstanding, the election (and “re-election”) of the two men also validates the preamble to this section – as presciently foreboded by Jorge Santayana – about societies that refuse to learn from their history.

Summarized, to a person, each of the country’s president has failed to deliver on the two key ingredients that enabled Kenya’s Asian peers of the 60s and 70s to transition from former colonies or stratocracies into global standards of socio-economic excellence and the country’s media should stop pretending that Daniel Arap Moi wasn’t complicit in that failure because he was knee-deep in it.

Like Jomo, Kibaki, and now Uhuru, Moi failed to stem grand corruption during his two-decade in office. Similarly, Moi, along with his predecessor Jomo, his successor Kibaki and his protege Uhuru all failed to unify the country around a singular purpose or national ethos and away from the toxic circling-of-the tribal wagon winner-take-all national body politic. To conflate THEN push back against David Goldman’s assertion (“Daniel Arap Moi and the Politics of Kenya’s Release” – The Elephant), there was/is nothing contradictory about each man’s failure to do either. As noted by Dr. Wandia Njoya in an adjunct observation to the one made by B.A. Ogot and W.R. Ochieng, “By the time Moi became president, he knew how the system worked. If he was to maintain control of the state, he had to create a Kalenjin elite, the way the British created the Kikuyu elite that maintained Jomo Kenyatta in power.” (“Moi and the Simplification of the Kenyan Mind” – The Elephant).

The selfishness and insecurity of the man blinded him (along with his sycophants) to the impact corruption and tribalism/negative ethnicity was having on Kenya’s long-term development and viability as a socially cohesive and economically progressive society. Moi countenanced corruption and a balkanized Kenya even as he solidified his grip on power – by any means necessary – including liberal use of intimidation and violence. Again to refute Dr. Goldman’s claim, there was nothing contradictory about these elements of the man’s twenty-four-year-rule. He was as (in)human as his predecessor and arguably worse: 

Daniel Arap Moi was a hypocrite. 

The man was a despotic charlatan who quoted the Bible while overseeing a government machinery that fomented widespread division, murder, and gross misappropriation/theft of public funds and resources. As offered by Goldman, accurately this time around, Moi was “…..a corrupt and long-serving autocrat who cracked heads.”

Under Arap Moi, the “Willing Seller/Willing Buyer” machinations that the Kenyatta family and those in its inner circle used to amass tracts of land, assorted property, and wealth shortly after independence metastasized into full-blown cannibalization and hollowing out of parastatals and government agencies. In the process, almost overnight, a new coterie of millionaires mushroomed among his family and his friends. Additionally, the use of public office or access to tribesmen/women in power to self-deal was hyper-normalized. To paraphrase Goldman, this “…..political monoculture that was seeded by Jomo Kenyatta….” was “…..watered by Moi…..”

Thanks to the brutality meted out on his political opponents inside the dark chambers of the notorious Nyayo House, the erstwhile feel-good “oasis of peace in a dangerous neighborhood” narrative that Moi sold to Kenyans and to the outside world was exposed as a storyline of degrees aided by the country’s selective and revisionist “memory,” “silent” treatment, and blind eyes they gave the atrocities committed by their leaders of choice. The country shrouded itself in a kanzu of low expectations, including the “Yes-we-know-Moi-is-a-corrupt-authoritarian-but-at-least-he-is-not-as-bad-as-Idi-Amin-or-Mobutu” party line spin. Likewise, Kabarak court jesters and spinmeisters offered the parallel universe – that the violent tribal clashes fomented or instigated by agents of the Moi government were “not as ‘bad’ as the violence in Somalia or S. Sudan or in ‘other parts’ of the world.” 

As summarized by Daily Nation’s Julius Sigei, “(W)hile Moi flaunted Kenya’s peace credentials, he did not rule in peace.”

The pretext that the ’82 coup attempt forced the “humble Christian” to become a “head-cracking autocrat” is an insult to Christians the world over. To paraphrase author/journalist Robert Caro, having command and control of an army does not make one a tyrant, it reveals their propensity for tyranny. Instead of understanding and fixing what prompted the coup attempt, Moi chose to crack heads as most jittery and insecure leaders unable to root-cause or Ishikawa a crisis facing their organizations/governments are wont to do. Indeed Christians are called upon to “forgive” those who transgress against them – “not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matt 18:22) and none other than Raila Odinga publicly “forgave” the man who imprisoned and tortured him. On the other hand, it would be an outright lie for anyone to claim that Daniel Moi atoned for his sins against the likes of Matiba, Shikuku, wa Wamwere, wa Thiong’o, and others who not so lucky to survive his iron fist. To wit, Christians are cautioned that “if they go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth,” then they risk losing the sacrifice Christ made for said sins. (Hebrew 10:26). 

I don’t understand how anyone can describe the totality of Daniel Moi’s time in office as anything other than an example of someone who “sinned deliberately” – again and again – while ignoring the teachings of Matthew 26:39, the timeless “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” It is from this illustration of Agape Love that every expectation described in the Ten Commandments that Christians are urged to abide by flows from.

All told, until a critical mass of Kenyans can look in a mirror and see in its reflection, people responsible for allowing the violence and misrule visited on them by leaders such as Daniel Moi, the country will continue to flail along from one meaningless initiative such as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), to the next – hoping to find the silver bullet to cure the short-sighted selfishness of hypocritic demagogues such as the country’s second president.

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