Report reveals America's view of Moi's presidency

Retired President Daniel Moi. His press secretary says he will return soon. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Why the CIA feared that Moi would be assassinated was because of the risks he was taking after the attempted coup.
  • The report reveals that it was General Jackson Mulinge who urged President Moi to replace a number of political and security officials.
  • But the Americans were only worried of a radical government taking over from Moi and cancelling the military access agreement.

Former President Daniel Moi was a darling of the Americans — or so we thought.

But you need to read through a secret document authored by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1980s and which now sheds light on what Washington really thought about the man from Kabartonjo.

The document, which had input from various intelligence agencies, including Defence Intelligence Agency and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research — which provides all-source intelligence to US diplomats — describes President Moi as “uninspiring and ineffective” — and thought he would either be toppled or assassinated.

They also thought in private that Moi compensated for his lack of substantive knowledge and higher education with innate political instincts.

But in public, they would praise him as a man of “wise thought” with “candid insights”.

At least, that is what President Ronald Reagan said of Moi when he visited White House’s Oval Office on September 1981.

“After our meeting this morning, I now fully understand the meaning of Nyayo, the watch word of your administration… the path on which you have embarked on demands courage and perseverance. I want you to know that you have our respect.”

Reagan — according to his declassified speech notes on Moi’s tour — then lifted his glass and presented a toast saying: “Nyayo!”

He then wished President Moi a safe journey to Australia — where he was to pay a state visit. But beneath those felicitations was a man they thought would not last long.

The Regan administration’s main worry — especially after the 1982 attempted coup — was that Moi was running the risk of “making new enemies and driving diverse groups to co-operate with one another and to consider extralegal tactics against the government”.

“A coup or an assassination would be the most likely cause of his ouster before the (1985) elections,” the Secret document dated November 1982 says.

Whether that fear of a coup or assassination is what led to the fallout between Moi and his minister for Constitutional Affairs, Charles Njonjo, is not clear.

But Moi’s biographer Andrew Morton, writes in his book, Moi: The Making of an African Statesman that “Njonjo represented a stumbling block if Moi were ever to be recognised as an effective head of state both at home and abroad. A parting of ways became inevitable.”

Read together with the CIA views, it would appear that Moi’s regime was seen as fragile and that his hold onto power was not guaranteed because of the weaknesses he had.

But the Americans did not envisage the rise of a radical regime in Kenya — if Moi was toppled or assassinated.

“We believe the conservative senior military leadership would intervene to ensure the succession of a moderate regime,” the 39-page report says.

Why the CIA feared that Moi would be assassinated was because of the risks he was taking after the attmpted coup.

“He has insisted on risking his personal safety by appearing in public and mingling with the people.”

Although Moi had survived the August 1982 coup-attempt, the CIA believed that a coup by radicals in the Army “similar to the uprisings in Liberia and Ghana is possible, although the opposition of senior military leaders would continue to weigh against the chances of a radical takeover”.

The US fear was that a radical regime in Kenya would “almost certainly” cancel the military access agreement, which Moi and Reagan had signed in return for military support.

The agreement authorised US access to Kenyan air and naval facilities and the rapid staging of US forces in Kenya and expansion of Mombasa airfield to accommodate the Lockheed C-141 “Starlifter”, the US military’s first jet-powered troop and cargo carrier — and perhaps the most important aircraft in the 1980s.

The reason that made Moi sign the accord was to get the US to protect him against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Soviet subversion.

“He believes his acceptance of the US military access agreement has given Washington a special obligation to help Kenya,” the report says.

“Moi views the United States as Kenya’s principal protector against possible Libyan and Soviet subversion…”

While Moi, especially as chairman of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was publicly cordial to Gaddafi, he was always worried about the Libyan schemes in Kenya.

The CIA reported that Libya was “giving money to Kenyan politicians with pro-Arab views” and wanted to buy a Kenyan newspaper.

Also, the CIA reported that Nairobi was the transit country of Ugandan dissidents heading to Libya for training, a fact that was supported by President Yoweri Museveni, the guerrilla leader who became president.

Moi’s inability at that time to control government spending and inefficiency in the parastatals, the CIA reported, was because he could not “afford to alienate powerful political interests associated with Kenyatta family”.

It also reveals that it was General Jackson Mulinge who urged President Moi to replace a number of political and security officials.


But according to the CIA report “they appear more interested in settling old scores by removing their enemies from power than in trying to improve the efficiency of the government.”
More so, the coup attempt ended the “traditional apolitical posture of the military” — and Moi blamed it on the Luo and Kikuyu.

The Americans saw Charles Njonjo and Mwai Kibaki as the two leading civilian contenders to succeed Moi — even though both were rivals; much to Moi’s advantage.

The report says that “Moi (had) tried to use the split to keep Kikuyu from uniting against him. Their rivalry is likely to intensify even further if Moi’s position continues to decline…”

But while he was worried about the Kikuyus, the same could not be said of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga who had been criticising the US military access agreement.

“Odinga and his Luo colleagues do not represent a serious threat to Moi by themselves.

"Despite their contacts with Kibaki, the Luo leaders probably would be reluctant to ally with him because of their concern over a resurgence of Kikuyu political influence.

"They would prefer Kibaki to Njonjo, because of the latter’s involvement as Attorney General in the jailing of Odinga and other Luo leaders in the late 1960s. A Luo-Kikuyu alliance, although unlikely, would be a major threat to Moi’s position.”

But Njonjo was strong having “placed and developed allies throughout the bureaucracy” and he had also realised that jailing Odinga “would trigger serious unrest among the Luo”.

“Because Moi appears unable to prevent his political fortunes from declining, he is likely to adopt increasingly harsh measures against his opponents,” the CIA says, perhaps explaining the reason Moi regime started torturing political opponents and why Kenya became a de facto one party state.

But the Americans were only worried of a radical government taking over from Moi and cancelling the military access agreement.

By then, they were happy that the public opinion of the United States in the Kenyan press was “favourable” and Kenyan papers “regularly carried negative commentaries about the USSR that point out deficiencies in the Soviet system”.

Their concern was however the letters to the editors pages which – “offer the best view of the grassroots level of Kenyan public opinion and contain the most negative views, frequently expressed in harsh, derogatory terms about the United States”.

The criticism, which was picked up by CIA, emanated from the case of Frank Sundström, the American marine who was released on a free bond of Sh500 after killing a Mombasa girl, Monica Njeri.

And if you thought that President Moi was a darling of the West, think again.

The Americans were only interested in the military facility in Mombasa.