Daniel Arap Moi, statesman and politician who was the second and longest-serving President of Kenya from 1978 to 2002, died last week at the age of 95. He served as third Vice President of Kenya from 1967 to 1978, succeeding President Jomo Kenyatta following at his death in 1978.
Born in the Kenyan Rift Valley, Moi studied at the African Inland Mission School. He later trained as a teacher until 1955 when he entered politics and was elected a member of the Legislative Council for Rift Valley.
As independence approached, Moi, in 1960 founded the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) as a rival party to Jomo Kenyatta’s Kenya African National Union (KANU).
Following independence in 1963, Kenyatta, who became the Prime Minister and later President of Kenya, convinced Moi to merge the two parties. Kenyatta appointed Moi into his government in 1964 and elevated him to Vice-President in 1967.
Despite opposition from the dominant elite, Kenyatta groomed Moi as his successor. And at the death of Jomo Kenyatta in 1978, Moi took over as President.
Mr Moi was initially popular both domestically and internationally as the Western nations saw his regime as countering against former Soviet Union’s communist influences from Ethiopia and Tanzania. However, Moi’s popularity plummeted around 1990 as the era of the Cold War ended in 1989 and the Kenyan economy stagnated.
Following popular agitation and external pressures, Mr Moi was forced to allow multiparty elections in 1991. He led his party, KANU, to victory in the disputed 1992 and 1997 elections. Now, constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, Mr Moi chose the son of his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, as his successor. But Mr Kenyatta, who today is the President of Kenya, was defeated by Mwai Kibaki in the 2002 election and Kibaki replaced Moi as President.
Despite his credentials as a democrat, Moi was largely seen as a dictator and autocrat especially before 1992 when Kenya was a one-party State. Assailed repeatedly by Human rights organisations, notably, Amnesty International, the United Nations, launched a special investigation into Moi’s alleged human rights abuses during his Presidency.
After he left office, inquiries held found evidence that Moi and his sons had engaged in corruption, including the 1990s Goldenberg scandal.
But at his death, Kenyans queued up in their thousands to view his body when it laid in state in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
Speaking before the body was taken through Nairobi, President Uhuru Kenyatta called him an “iconic leader.”
Mr Kenyatta said that as one of the leaders of the independence movement, his predecessor “helped shepherd our country out of the shackles of colonial rule.” He also praised him for a peaceful transition to multi-party politics.
While critics saw him as an authoritarian ruler, his allies especially in Kenya credited him for maintaining stability after the death of Jomo Kenyatta. Largely resisted by the elite of the dominant Kikuyu tribe elite, he ruthlessly dealt with his political opponents. He launched a crackdown on the opposition following a failed coup against him in 1982.
Moi was one of the rare African statesmen who out of power had remorse for their deeds while in office such that in 2004, he asked for forgiveness from “those he had wronged.”
At the Nairobi parliamentary building where long queues of people of all ages and from across Kenyan society waited to view his body, many Kenyans remember him for the way he touched their lives. While many praised him for being a great leader, others remember him as a generous man who readily provided milk and other provisions during their school days while he was in office. Others who came also remember him as the man who provided students bursary to complete their studies even in secondary school.
Kenyans will bid Mr Moi farewell with a State funeral Tuesday before his burial Wednesday at his private home, 200km from Nairobi.