Let’s not revise history on Moi; he’s reason we are still in ashes

Kenyan President Daniel Moi arrives at Nyayo National Stadium for Moi Day celebrations on October 10, 2001. PHOTO | PEDRO UGARTE | AFP

What you need to know:

  • By the time he was forced out of power by term limits, he left Kenya a broken country.
  • Our economy, our politics, our humanity, our spirit, and our conscience were gone.
  • Since then, we’ve haltingly been trying to pick up the pieces.

The past week hasn’t been an easy one for me. That’s because Daniel arap Moi, the Kenyan dictator who passed away on Tuesday, has come back to haunt me in death. That’s not because Moi has done anything to me since he died. No – it’s because I’ve been re-traumatised by a building national consensus to pass him off as some angel. We are a sick nation, and people. It’s clear to all and sundry that there’s an elite protection racket in Kenya. That’s why the ruling class, the intelligentsia, and the media are fawning – and falling over each other – to sanitise, launder, and immortalise Moi, one of the world’s most notorious dictators. We are a nation of hypocrites.
This is how Moi’s epitaph should read: “Here lies the dictator who looted Kenya dry, completely impoverished it, and committed gross and grave human rights violations”. I don’t know how history can be rewritten, even by leading propagandists, to revise this painful truth. The truth is too naked, raw, and obvious to be white-washed. Its pungent stench still hangs over Kenya like a malignant giant mushroom cloud. Moi’s name will forever be printed in the sands of time along with his fellow dictators – Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, Philippine’s Ferdinand Marcos, Somalia’s Siad Barre, Ethiopia’s Mengistu Haile Mariam, and Romania’s Nicolai Ceausescu. Those will undoubtedly be his roommates in the afterlife.
Let me highlight just a small spectrum of the abominations that Moi wrought to Kenya. It’s true that Moi inherited an already corrupt and tribalised state from Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, his predecessor. But the humble – and barely literate – man from Sacho put Kenya on graft and tribal steroids. He minted a new class of kleptocrats who had no conscience and no moral compunction. With them, he looted Kenya dry and bled its economy to death. The Goldenberg scandal, which brought the country to its knees, was Kenya’s nadir. Nothing was ever done to the thieves because Moi was their godfather. Our infrastructure decayed, as did our educational system. We became a metaphor for poverty and despair.
Kenya is the land of the political assassin. Before Moi took the helm, already politicians Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya, and JM Kariuki had been dispatched to their maker under Mzee Kenyatta. Moi didn’t miss a beat. Under his watch, Foreign Minister Robert Ouko, Bishop Alexander Muge, Father Kaiser, and university student Titus Adungosi were murdered in cold blood. Their killers have never been found and sanctioned to this day. Chillingly, media reports suggest that Moi may have supervised the killing of Dr Ouko. The killings were supplemented by the liberal use of detention without trial, and so-called ethnic clashes against groups perceived to be his political opponents. Police brutality and indiscriminate violence were meted regularly.
On the constitutional and legal fronts, the rule of law and governance reached their lowest points. The Judiciary became a part of the Executive and the Legislature turned into a rubber stamp especially after the introduction of the de jure one-party state. Even after the repeal of Section 2A to abolish the one-party state, Moi ruled as an imperial president wielding all power. In the end, the man ruled for 24 years – I repeat – twenty four years. By the time he was forced out of power by term limits, he left Kenya a broken country. Our economy, our politics, our humanity, our spirit, and our conscience were gone. Since then, we’ve haltingly been trying to pick up the pieces.
I have heard it said in the 1960s, Kenya was at the same developmental stage with the Asian tigers like South Korea and Malaysia. There are a number of reasons why we’ve been mired in poverty while the Asian tigers have reached First World status. But the biggest have to do with our myopic and corrupt ruling elites in business, among the intelligentsia, and the media. We are our own worst enemies. We admire crooks and thieves and support them. Moi is one of the major reasons we are retarded as a country. Imagine if those 24 years we were ruled by enlightened democratic leaders? Not even the sky would’ve been our limit. He doomed us.
Let me finish with a personal anecdote. I was a young law student at the University of Nairobi when in 1981 I was detained and then forced into exile for protesting the predations of the single party state. I would stay out of Kenya until 1991 when multipartyism was allowed. Moi was responsible for my exile for a decade because I fought for basic human rights. Unlike others, I got off easy. Many were killed and others were broken and destroyed. Before Kenyans celebrate Moi, they must think about his abominations. We can’t forget, or forgive. If we do, we will continue to repeat our horrible history.

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished ProfessorProfessor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua.