Duncan Ndegwa

Former Central Bank of Kenya Governor Duncan Ndegwa displaying one of his four books he launched at the Continental Resort in Mombasa on December 17, 2021.


Ndegwa book reveals how Moi impoverished Kenyans

What you need to know:

  • Ndegwa argues that Moi and his inner circle of a political and civil service class deliberately set Kenyans up for economic disaster.
  • In all, Ndegwa is of the view that Kenya as a national entity was collapsing under Moi’s deliberate mismanagement.

A new book by Duncan Ndegwa, Moi’s Kleptocracy and Its Spillovers, makes interesting claims regarding the role that former president Daniel Arap Moi played in retarding Kenya’s economic development and impeding national unity by playing divisive ethnic politics, among other failures. 

I find the book useful for three main reasons. One, that it is authored by a key player in the civil service of both Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Moi presidencies, a position that no doubt allowed him a wider scope in perceiving the routine developments in the then young nation and which, therefore, predispose him towards a better understanding of the inner workings of government at a time when Kenya could have, but did not take the leap of economic growth and nation building that have been the desire of many Kenyans through the years. 

Second, Ndegwa’s new book is timely given that few others of his standing in government, especially those who served in the 60s through to the 80s, such as Charles Njonjo, have cared to voice their views regarding what exactly went wrong in the early years of independence, replacing the excitements of political freedom with the despair of dictatorship and primitive materialism. 

Third, and perhaps the most important contribution of the book, is that while the economic failures and draconian style of the Moi regime have largely been attributed to his intellectual frailties and personal cowardice, especially after the attempted coup of 1982, Ndegwa argues strongly that Moi’s failure was a deliberate and cynical scheme by a cold and calculating leader determined to undo the gains of his more charismatic and intellectually respected predecessor. 

Generally, Ndegwa’s take on Moi’s kleptocracy and its ramifications in contemporary Kenya is a worthwhile read, although one must be prepared to accommodate a fawning portrayal of Jomo Kenyatta and a resolute determination to overlook any redeeming attribute in Moi. 

The book has 11 substantive chapters, which collectively locate Kenya’s economic and political misfortunes in colonial and post-independence histories. Acknowledging that some of the colonialist initiatives could well have been useful, Ndegwa nonetheless argues that the colonial ideology of zoning the country along the logics of economic potential, the white highlands versus the native reserves, for instance, as well as assigning stereotypical attributes to the dominant ethnic communities spatially distributed in these zones, certainly proved politically useful to insecure post-independence leaders, the worst of them being Moi. 

Moi’s repressive apparatus

For instance, the politically engineered violence by the later colonial regimes left many people without land, limbs and lives. This had spillovers that later became useful to President Daniel Moi as he sought to entrench himself as a cultic, kleptomaniac ruler whose earlier obsession with Majimbo politics was a smokescreen for incorrigible tribalism. 

Positioning himself as Jomo’s more malleable vice president compared to the cantankerous Jaramogi or introverted Murumbi, Moi waited out as Jomo put in place infrastructural and production developments under the auspices of various parastatal bodies, including the ICDC, the Kenya Tea Development Authority, the coffee Board of Kenya, and the Kenya Industrial Estates. When his time came, Moi would systemically run down these and other institutions, placing them on the watch of his buddies who hollowed them out. 

Yet, they were never eventually punished, partly because they enjoyed Moi’s uncritical patronage, and partly because of a tame Judiciary that had ceded virtually all its ground to the tentacles of Moi’s executive and repressive apparatus.

Moi’s Kleptocracy

The front page cover of the book Moi’s Kleptocracy and Its Spillovers authored by former Central Bank of Kenya Governor Duncan Ndegwa.

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

Collectively, in Ndegwa’s view, Moi was determined to ensure that the bulk of his subjects were an impoverished lot that was more susceptible to his occasional handouts either in cash or token appointments to public positions. 

Whether Ndegwa’s interpretation of Moi’s version of scorched earthed destruction of the economic lives of Kenyans is overly cynical or actually objective is a different question altogether. What is critical, I think, is that it explains why even local initiatives such as the cooperative movements in coffee, milk, maize, tobacco, sugar, and other people-driven attempts at economic empowerment went under as soon as the Moi government showed interest in them. 

The initiatives were deliberately undermined, plundered and left mere shells. Kisumu Cotton Millers, Kenya Cooperative Creameries, Kenya Meat Commission, and others went this route, while many others in the sugar sector were barely functional by the time Moi left. 

In all, Moi oversaw a dangerous culture of client-patron politics that empowered a few cronies at the cost of the dignified lives of most Kenyans, facilitating theft of public funds to be spirited to foreign banks, abdication of duty, and near-collapse in service delivery.

Economic disaster

Given Moi’s penchant for obsequious behaviour from his underlings, a battalion of senior civil servants and politicians was a common sight wherever he went – and he was almost always on the road. They all drew huge allowances without working, thereby depleting the little that ordinary mortals had contributed to the economy. 

Ndegwa ultimately argues that Moi and his inner circle of a political and civil service class deliberately set Kenyans up for economic disaster. Even when they mouthed economic policies and initiatives, they were careful to ensure that these initiatives failed because their core purpose was to provide opportunities for a few well connected Kenyans to draw huge financial returns for private gain.

Two examples suffice. One was the pomp associated with the Nyayo Bus Corporation that was launched in 1986 after gobbling huge amounts of public funds. The buses were cannibalized and cheaply resold, but not before a few individuals pocketed the fare paid by the public. 

The second was so cynical that it warrants to hear Ndegwa speak for himself. “Some of the Nyayo projects were not only major drains in financial terms but also ecological and health disasters. Nyayo Tea Zones and research by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) on Kemron, a phony HIV/Aids cure are good examples.” Further, “hospitals around the country were forced to buy and store huge stocks of Kemron yet finances never reached the Treasury. Thousands of Kenyans may have died as a result of taking a non-effective drug peddled as the cure for AIDS.” 

In all, Ndegwa is of the view that Kenya as a national entity was collapsing under Moi’s deliberate mismanagement where corruption and theft became so rampant that, given our adjacency to war torn neighbours, we soon provided havens for terrorists, drug and human traffickers, money launderers, and all sorts of folks who would be unwelcome anywhere else. In short, Kenya was under siege, all because of Moi’s kleptomania, tribalism, and a deep-seated hatred for all the things that Kenyatta had achieved before him. 

It will take years, if at all, to undo the damage that Moi inflicted on Kenyans during his reign. This calls for a deliberate “crafting a soul for Kenya” by building on inclusive politics, appreciation of opportunities in resources across the country, such as the Lake Victoria Basin, the Lake Turkana Plateau, the North Eastern Region, the Coast, and the Tana and Athi River belt. All these regions can be progressively brought into mainstream economic life of Kenya, for the good of every Kenyan. 

The writer teaches literature at the University of Nairobi


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