Moi: Professor of politics, defender of Western imperialist interests

Thursday February 6 2020


By Karoli Ssemogerere

The old man, the sage from Kabarak Daniel Toiritich arap Moi, Kenya’s second president (1978-2002), has rested. Moi is one of the few Opposition leaders who ascended to the presidency from the Opposition benches. In 1964, Moi and his neo-federalist MPs from the Kenya African Democratic Union, crossed from the Opposition benches to government.

Moi, a Kalenjin, a primary school teacher and former herdsman in his youth, became minister of Home Affairs. Kenya had not really given up on a multi-party system.

In 1966, Kenya had another brief experiment when members of the Kenya Political Union (KPU) from Luo Nyanza crossed to the Opposition before KPU was banned altogether and its leaders led by the first vice president Jaramogi Oginga Odinga (father of former prime minister Raila Odinga) was arrested and later put under house arrest for years.

In August 1978, Kenyatta died in his sleep. In an effort to prevent degeneration of the Kenyan State, Kenyatta had tasked his Attorney General Charles Mugane Njonjo, who recently turned 100, with wrestling the succession from powerhouses of his region, Njenga Karume, Mbiyu Koinange, etc. The coup was sealed with the elevation of Mwai Kibaki to vice president and minister of Finance.

In the region, Kenya was the model of the imperialist State, having acceded most of its key resources and land to foreigners, Kenya grew at one country two speeds. In this dualist environment, the majority of the locals remained quite impoverished, a source of unrest and seeds of unrest among groups like labour unions, student groups, etc.

In the 1980s, Kenya, for long a bastion of stability, became a centre of untold corruption. Maintaining the one-party State and the patronage that came with it, came at a great cost that brought the Kenyan State to its knees. Kenya, unlike Uganda, never became a mivumba State, but came close. At the time Kenya returned to multipartysm, the country had degenerated into formal tribalism that still has its roots entrenched today.


In 1992, Moi organised a multi-party election where his accolades as a political spinmeister were tested. He had run into a number of vice presidents at the time - Kibaki, Karanja, etc.

Taking advantage of a divided even though more popular Opposition, he scrapped through with 30 per cent of the vote. In the 1992 Constitutional compromise, the ruling party had allocated itself 12 Nominated MPs, and the ruling party installed its permanent members like Moi’s relatives Zipporah Kittony, Mark Too, and Ruben Cheshire.

He then poached from all the Opposition parties. In one scenario, he got Odinga (Ford), Kibaki (DP) and Kijana Wamalwa (Ford Kenya) leaders to compete for the seat of Leader of Opposition in Parliament. In another scenarios, he negotiated a merger of KANU-NDP led by Raila Odinga with 21 seats. Moi produced a cabinet of 50 ministers with two ministers in each ministry bringing the tired economy to its knees.

These deals were necessary to reduce the pressure for investigations into all sorts of scandals, including Goldenberg, where his successor Kibaki had to agree to pay $100 million to settle some of these claims in order for Kenya to access the international financial markets. Moi and his right-hand man, Nicholas Biwott, had personal matters to answer for the death of Dr Robert Ouko, Foreign minister (and former industry minister), who was executed in 1990 in a dispute with a European company. This case lingered for years and has never been settled for good.

Moi’s political legacy was cemented when he made a bold decision to hand over power (not like Julius Kambarage Nyerere to his party) to the Opposition in 2002. Moi was genuinely tired.

In 2013, his successor as Leader of KANU and protégé of the man who discovered him politically, Jomo Kenyatta, became president.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate