On Tuesday, February 4, condolence messages starting pouring into Nairobi, Kenya, following the announcement of former president Daniel arap Moi’s death. Although the cause of death was not communicated, respiratory problems and old age aliments are understood to be contributing factors.
The bereaved family’s representative and the former president’s son, Gideon Moi, told the media at the Nairobi Hospital grounds: “I would like to take this opportunity to tell my fellow Kenyans that Mzee (the old man) passed away this morning at 5.20am. He passed away peacefully. I was by his side and as family we have accepted God’s Will.”
President Uhuru Kenyatta described Mzee Moi as a great African statesman, pan-Africanist and a devoted Christian. Uhuru also declared national mourning in Kenya until the completion of Moi’s state funeral ceremonies. The main subject of conversation in Kenya and different parts of the world very quickly started turning towards Moi’s legacy and what he will be remembered for.
The public seems to have mixed reactions on how Moi will be remembered. Normally, when an important figure such as a former head of state, renowned politician or traditional leader passes on, positive statements are made about them, which is a sign that their contributions were highly appreciated, recognised and significant to society and their death will be seen as leaving a big void.
In the case of Kenya, there has been public expression of sorrow, sadness and affection for Moi, the nation’s second president (after Jomo Kenyatta), who was their longest serving president from 1978 to 2002.
In the period spanning more than 24 years under Moi, many Kenyans say there was peace and stability in the country at a time when other neighbouring countries (apart from Tanzania) experienced military coups. In the 1990s most, if not all, public going school children in Kenya were direct beneficiaries of Moi’s foresight with a free milk programme.
However, Moi’s critics remember him less favourably. The international media and political opponents summarise Moi as first, a tyrant and dictator whose reign was based on controlling the judiciary and parliament, pushing constitutional amendments in 1982 to make Kenya a one-party state, a decision that would be later rejected and reverted to multiparty State in 1991. Second, presidency marred with human rights abuses, assassinations and death of Foreign Affairs minister Robert Ouko. Third, allegations that Moi was highly intolerant, did not like being criticised, created divisions among local communities, consequently arrested and tortured political opponents. Fourth, several allegations of nepotism and unfair awards of multi-billion government contracts. Fifth, overwhelming illegal land allocation and corruption.
According to Forbes magazine, Kenya is the largest economy in East Africa with GDP of $71 billion. But the Moi family net worth alone, according to media reports, is estimated at $3 billion. The direct source of their accumulated wealth is not stated.
Moi was also known to be one of the largest land owners with several business links in real estate as well as the Siginon Group Limited, a large indigenous integrated logistics provider in Kenya. Worldwide, a trend emphasising public resources accountability and recovery of unexplainable wealth acquired during presidential terms seems to be building momentum.
According to Jersey’s Civil Asset Recovery Fund, $300m considered to be stolen public funds from Nigeria under Sani Abacha’s regime in the 1990s and hidden in offshore bank accounts, was returned to Nigeria.
In South Africa, an arrest warrant was issued for former president Jacob Zuma over a $2b arms deal case.
Ms Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of former Angolan president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, was recently charged with corruption-related crimes and embezzlement of millions of dollars. It is, therefore, important for our leaders to know that their legacies will be affected by how much unexplained wealth they accumulated while in power.