By Boniface Mwangi
We live in a country where truth is mistaken for bitterness and hate. Where people are afraid to speak their mind.
Moi was an evil man. He ruled Kenya with violence and brutality. He plundered our nation and destroyed it. It will take generations to redeem this country from the rot Moi left us with. During his tenure, critics of his regime were tortured and detained without trial. He left a virus in Kenya that still affects our politicians and eats the people to date. An article of a few hundred words isn’t enough to capture his evilness and the damage he did to our nation, but l will try. Moi political orphans can mourn their father all they want, but they will not bury the truth. We owe it to ourselves to speak it.
When Moi became President, he promised to follow the footsteps of Jomo Kenyatta. Who was Jomo? Jomo, the father of Uhuru Kenyatta, had assassinated General Baimungi, Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya and JM Kariuki. Freedom fighters like Jaramogi and Bildad Kaggia, who had sacrificed for our country, were punished for challenging Jomo’s kleptocracy. Detention without trial started with Jomo Kenyatta; both Martin Shikuku and Ngugi wa Thiong’o were detained at that time. Jomo Kenyatta also started the massive grabbing of land, acquiring over half a million acres, while his wife, Mama Ngina Kenyatta, was killing elephants and exporting ivory. All this is documented history, but never taught in our schools.
Moi was silent when Jomo grabbed land and killed off his opponents. He was the one who lied to the country, in 1975, that JM Kariuki was in Zambia when he was, in fact, lying dead inside Ngong forest, after being tortured and killed by senior government officials. Joseph Murumbi, one of the most principled politicians Kenya has ever had, resigned as Jomo’s Vice President after serving only nine months. He couldn’t compromise his principles. When Murumbi resigned, Moi was then appointed Vice President in 1967. He was Jomo’s VP for 11 years and in 1978, Moi ascended to power after Jomo died.
Oduor Ong’wen, in his article titled ‘Moi as l knew him’, wrote “Barely a year into his presidency, he in 1979 banned student union – the Nairobi University Students Organisation (NUSO) – and expelled the entire leadership comprising among others Rumba Kinuthia, Otieno Kajwang’, Mukhisa Kituyi, Josiah Omotto and Wafula Siakama. Simultaneously, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) and Maendeleo ya Wanawake were co-opted and later made affiliates of Kanu, the only political party.” Moi had started solidifying his power by arresting and detaining academics without trial. Before the coup happened, there were academics in jail arrested for allegedly being in possession of “seditious” materials; men like Maina wa Kinyatti, Alamin Mazrui, Edward Oyugi, Kamoji Wachira, Mukaru Ng’ang’a and Willy Mutunga. President Moi was already uncomfortable with academics and anyone who had an independent mind was harassed by the special branch, now renamed National Intelligence Service.
1982 ATTEMPTED COUP
In August 1982 there was an attempted coup to overthrow Moi. Moi knew about the planning of the coup beforehand, but instead of arresting the plotters, he ordered that they be left alone. He wanted to use the coup as an excuse to ruthlessly clamp down on his real and perceived enemies. He disbanded the Air Force and hundreds, if not thousands, of Kenyans were executed in the streets by the military. People don’t speak about the raping and looting perpetrated by the army as they sought after “rebel soldiers.” The coup is used as justification to show that Moi was forced into becoming a ruthless leader. That’s not true, however. The coup just unveiled the real evil that was Moi.
The man who crushed the coup, General Mahmoud, became the Chief of General Staff. Like Mulinge, who acquired thousands of acres for free from Kenyatta, Mahmoud and his family now “own” Garissa County, as a reward from Moi. He was even given land belonging to Kenyatta Hospital, to build townhouses, along Mbagathi Road. Joshua Kulei took the adjacent piece of land, earmarked for the expansion of City Mortuary, and built flats on it. Moi mastered the politics of reward and punishment, gifting cronies and sycophants with public property, while incarcerating, or eliminating, those with whom he didn’t see eye to eye.
As a result of the 1982 attempted coup, Moi decided to ‘Kalenjinise’ the Police Service, without due regard to qualifications. He hired so many Kalenjins that, today, the official language of the police is broken Swahili with a Kalenjin accent. The employment of unqualified people in the Police Service is what has also led it to become one of the most corrupt police institutions in the country. Moi used the Police to control and instill fear in people and you could (and still can) be arrested for flimsy reasons like walking without an ID, vagrancy, gathering in a group, loitering, etc.
0n 10th February 1984, at the Wagalla Airstrip, 5,000 Kenyan Somali men were taken to the airstrip and prevented from accessing water and food for five days, before being executed by Kenyan soldiers. Those who escaped the executions died of torture, hunger, thirst and the extreme weather. More than 3,000 people died, yet no one has ever been held accountable for that crime against humanity.
Moi decided to control people’s minds by creating a sense of his omnipresence. He was everywhere, all the time. Every news story began with his name. Countless songs were sung in his praise. He was the all-knowing, ever present father of the nation. Creativity was constrained during his time and thinking differently was considered a crime. There was a ban on the importation of musical instruments and filming equipment. Any international filmmakers coming to Kenya to film, or photograph, anything other than safari images, would get their equipment impounded at the airport and directed to film studios to hire equipment from there. Such directives stifled the growth of the arts industry in Kenya. Many things were renamed ‘Moi’ or ‘Nyayo’, including roads, schools, buildings, beans, and even potatoes. Everything was about him. He was the Chancellor of all public universities. He deployed special branch officers to all universities to ensure lecturers weren’t teaching or saying anything ‘seditious’.
In a building still bearing the name, Nyayo House, Moi had special chambers constructed, where people considered anti-establishment were picked from the streets, lecture halls, homes, and taken to be tortured and confess to things they hadn’t done. A critical comment against Moi during a drunk conversation in a pub, or even a joke about him could get you tortured or killed. People became fearful of speaking their mind and that is how Kenya’s national language became silence. People who had finances and felt they could challenge Moi were financial ruined. Loans would be recalled, clients would be threatened and before you knew it, you had been auctioned. If you were employed, Moi would ensure you’re fired. Even today, people like me who oppose the culture of impunity and fight for good governance cannot get loans, my bank says, am a PEP (Politically Exposed Persons). The Moi effect.
There is a great collection of stories of Nyayo torture chambers survivors, read here https://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/kenia/01828.pdf
MOI THE ‘CHRISTIAN’
My son asked me the other day whether Moi was a Christian and if he was going to Church? I replied that he was. “Did he go to a church that taught him how to steal?”, my son continued. I didn’t know how to respond to that. Moi was a Christian. He was educated by missionaries and never missed a Church service. His dilemma was he couldn’t say he was a Christian and then jail religious leaders. He found a way to buy their silence by bribing them with land to build their Churches. Moi took public land and donated it to religious leaders to build houses of worship. The rise of charismatic churches rose during Moi’s time. People were suffering, they were poor, and they turned to religion.
Religion was a powerful weapon used by Moi to blind the masses to his excesses. The Church became a lie, a pacifier, misleading people to accept that “leaders are chosen by God”, instead of leading them to protest the oppression perpetrated by Moi’s regime. My own mum, a good person and the daughter of freedom fighters (her father was in Manyani Prison for 6 years), was very religious, and her Church’s leadership convinced her to join a prayer warriors’ group that was praying for Moi to die. She spent years praying for Moi to die and he ended up outliving her by 20 years. Leaders are voted by the people and only the people can vote them out. Change doesn’t come through prayers alone, but through action. There is an Arab saying, “Pray to Allah, but tie your camel”.
Moi’s pacification of the Church also took a deadly twist when a few brave religious leaders were killed by his regime. Bishop Alexander Kipsang Muge died under suspicious circumstances in a car accident along the Eldoret-Busia highway in 1990. Muge was a vocal critic of Moi’s bad governance and a strong defender of the voiceless. Peter Okondo, one of Moi’s henchmen had warned Muge that, should he dare to step inside Busia, he would not leave alive, a threat that eventually came to pass. Another vocal cleric, Father John Anthony Kaiser, would soon follow suit. Kaiser had testified, in the Akiwumi Commission investigating tribal clashes, that Moi organized and funded them. In 1999, he had also helped two girls who had been raped by Julius Sunkuli, a Cabinet Minister in the Moi government. Sunkuli had offered money to procure an abortion, but one girl, a fourteen-year-old named Florence, decided to keep her baby. Kaiser put the girls in touch with the Kenyan Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA-Kenya. Sunkuli was alleged to have raped the minor in his ministerial car, but even after the evidence was submitted to the government, Sunkuli was never charged. Moi’s government tried to deport Kaiser, claiming that his work permit had expired and when that plan failed, he ended up dead, shot in the back of the head with a shotgun, at close range. Prosecuting Julius Sunkuli risked exposing President Moi’s similar habit in girls’ high schools where willing, and unwilling, headmistresses ended up having affairs with him in order to survive.
Moi managed to turn some members of the Kenyan-Asian community into his channel for looting. He had Kenyan-Asian business partners and he also extorted many others to fund his numerous harambees and election campaigns. In return, the Asians would exploit indigenous workers in their factories and employ them for decades, without medical cover or benefits. In 1992, Kenneth Matiba started a racist slogan, “Asians Must Go”. It wasn’t that Matiba hated Kenyan-Asians, but because they were a conduit for Moi’s looting. Kamlesh Pattni the architect of Goldenberg and stole Sh100 billion from public coffers said that Moi was his business partner. That’s he was never jailed. To jail Pattni, you had to prosecute and jail his partner in crime, Moi. Goldenberg whistleblower David Munyakei was hounded, victimised, shamed, and lost his job at the Central Bank of Kenya. He died a dejected man.
In 1992 Dr. Robert Ouko was assassinated. His partially burnt body was found at Got Alila, his leg was broken in two places, with a single bullet through the head. A parliamentary report claimed that the then Foreign Affairs Minister Robert Ouko was killed at State House, Nakuru.
To win the 1992 election, Moi detained his political opponents, killed Masinde Muliro and organized pre-election violence to displace opposition voters in the Rift Valley. The killings were to continue, in 1993, as punishment for those voters who refused to flee and voted for their alternative preferred candidate. This started the tactic, now popular in Kenya, where you create fear in a community and threaten them with violence and death if they vote for an alternative to the preferred candidate. Moi was responsible for ethnic cleansing in the Rift Valley. Moi killed people in the Likoni clashes. Moi allowed politicians who supported him to have gangs, who roamed and killed anyone who opposed him. They sustained their activities through extortion and robbery, and as long as they dealt with Moi political enemies they remained untouched.
Moi was very corrupt. He built his private schools on grabbed public land. He acquired his billions through theft. Moi was a thief. He allowed his cronies to grab public forests, playground, parks and even cemeteries. It was Moi’s leadership that turned Nairobi from the green city in the sun to the garbage city it is today. The decline and the destruction of Kenya was overseen by Moi as he siphoned money and hid it in offshore accounts. I have received many messages from scores of people to lay off Moi, saying that he already asked for forgiveness. If you rape, steal and kill and then give a 30 second apology after you’ve lost your grip on power, should you be taken seriously? Luke 19:8 says, “But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’” Moi is being buried today, in one casket, can the country start recovering the billions he stole and the public land he grabbed? Anything short of that isn’t justice.
As Nanjala wrote, “By 2002 when Moi’s rule ended there were an estimated 2.6 million Kenyans living abroad. The country’s population was only about 20 million at the time. No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” The people who died because of Moi’s leadership are in their hundreds of thousands while an entire country still suffers the effects and trauma of his dictatorship.
The emotional and economic damage of Moi’s presidency will be felt for generations to come. Our national language is silence. Thanks to Moi, President Kibaki was never detained or arrested during the fight for multiparty democracy. During the height of Moi’s oppression, when the Nyayo torture chambers were flowing with blood, Kibaki served faithfully as Moi’s Deputy President. That explains why Kibaki when he became president refused a proposal by Human Rights Defenders to turn Nyayo torture chambers into a museum.
Kibaki commissioned the Kroll report, on what Moi stole, received and then shelved it, without taking any action. The extent of corruption perpetrated by Moi and his cronies was clearly exposed in the report, prepared by Kroll Associates, an international risk consultancy firm. The report laid bare a web of shell companies, secret trusts and front men that Moi, and those close to him, used to siphon more than a billion dollars of public money, which they then hid in nearly 30 countries.
We live in a country where truth is mistaken for bitterness and hate. Where people are afraid to speak their mind. Moi famously told Wangari Maathai that she had insects in her head, simply for standing up to him and speaking the truth. Jomo, Moi, Kibaki and now Uhuru are in the same Wozzap group, people who misused State power to benefit and enrich themselves, silence critics and defy the very Constitution they vowed to protect. Their evilness outweighs their goodness, but in the end the silence must be broken, and the truth spoken.
REFUSE TO REWRITE HISTORY
In conclusion, we must refuse to rewrite history to please some people. We owe ourselves the truth. If you think the people praising Moi will fight corruption and redeem Kenya, you’re a fool. What can you do? Organise locally, in your churches, schools, mosques, come together and educate yourself on our history, decide what individual role you can play to make Kenya better and then get your voters card ready, because therein lies your power. Your vote will decide if BBI will pass or not, it will determine who your next leader will be, so choose wisely. 2022 isn’t far, start getting ready now!
Ps: On July 7, 2009, l got an unexpected phone call.
“Mzee wants to meet you. Come to Kabarnet”, the caller said.
By Mzee, the caller meant retired President Daniel arap Moi, the man who had ruled Kenya with an iron fist for 24 years.
Apparently, Moi was interested in seeing my images of the post-election violence and wanted to meet the young photojournalist who had documented it. For me, the irony was that this was the man whose presidency represented ethnic cleansing and grand corruption. I grew up hearing his name being whispered in fear. As a Boy Scout, I had once marched in front of him during national day celebrations and was later rewarded with bread and soda. During that march, my young mind had wondered why the hundreds of armed soldiers and police officers could not use their guns to overthrow him. He had been blamed for so many ills. Surely, not all these soldiers could love the President. I asked one of the soldiers how many bullets were in his gun and he said none. “We don’t have bullets during national celebrations to avoid firing by accident,” he said. Or, I thought to myself, to avoid assassinating someone.
Kabarnet Gardens was supposed to be the official residence of the Vice President but became Moi’s preferred home when he became President in 1978. He hardly ever slept at State House during his rule. And even after he retired, the Narc administration allowed him to keep the house. I found Moi seated in a room, watching TV. He sat at the centre, like a king in his palace and the people who welcomed us kept bowing in his presence. July is a cold month in Kenya and the room had no central heating system, so his minders had placed a heater next to him. I switched on my laptop, inserted a flash disk and, as the retired president looked at it strangely, Lee Njiru explained that the small gadget was enough to carry all the information in the world. I played the first video, Tribal Politics, the story of Kenya’s post-election violence through the lens of a photojournalist. Moi was very shocked after watching. He then told me how you cannot trust politicians but added the rider that he used to “own” them. After Moi watched the video, I gave him a copy of Kenya Burning – a visual narrative of the post-election violence. He told us stories, which I found pretty Machiavellian. All in all, though, I found the meeting underwhelming. The man who had terrorised Kenya for 24 years was only human after all.
Boniface Mwangi is a photojournalist and an activist. He first published this article on his social media platforms