The giraffe that sees far
Daniel Toroitich arap Moi was born on September 2, 1924, at Kurieng’wo, Sacho, Baringo District. He was the fifth child of his father’s senior wife. Moi was named Toroitich, which means “welcome the cattle home”, a clear indication of the central role of cattle in his culture.
Moi’s father died when he (Moi) was only four and his elder brother, Tuitoek, became the guardian. It was Tuitoek who influenced him to go to school at an early age so that he could escape poverty and colonial injustices. In 1934, Moi started school at the Africa Inland Mission School, Kabartonjo, about 45km from his home. On October 20, 1936, he was baptised Daniel. In 1938, he was transferred to the African Inland Mission Kapsabet and later to Government African School Kapsabet, where he was school captain and captain of the football team. He took menial jobs in and out of school to meet his basic needs.
In 1945, Moi was selected to join Alliance High School but, to his disappointment, the colonial administration did not allow him. Instead, he was sent to a teachers training college. Questions have lingered over this: Why did the colonial authorities deny Moi the golden chance to study at Alliance? What is it they had seen in him?
When he completed the teaching course, he was posted to Kabarnet as headteacher. He studied privately and passed the London Matriculation Examinations. In 1949, he was promoted to the rank of P2 after a brief course at Kagumo College. He was then transferred to Tambach Government African School as a teacher trainer. Moi married Helena (Lena) Bomet in 1950 and they have eight children — three daughters and five sons.
In 1950 he attended a course at the Jeans School (now the Kenya Institute of Administration) and was later posted to the Government African School, Kabarnet, where he taught up to 1955 when he joined politics. Moi’s entry into politics followed a meeting with a group of freedom fighters under the command of Brigadier Daniel Njuguna who visited him in June, 1955. He was sympathetic to their cause and after feeding and protecting them for two weeks, he gave them food and Sh500.
In October, 1955, an electoral college picked Moi from a list of eight nominated candidates to fill a vacancy left by Joseph ole Tameno, who had resigned from the unofficial benches of the Legco. As Moi sat in the Legco with only other four African members on October 18, 1955, he did not know what was in store for him. He, however, adapted to the new challenges and, in 1956, moved a Motion demanding that African teachers be allowed to form their own association. The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) was formed and registered in 1957.
He worked with other leaders, such as Eliud Mathu, Ronald Ngala and Masinde Muliro, to agitate for the release of Jomo Kenyatta from detention and for greater African representation in the Legco. In 1959, he led a group of leaders to visit Kenyatta in detention in Lodwar.
In 1960, Moi and other African members of the Legco participated in the constitutional talks at Lancaster House in London in preparation for Kenya’s independence from Britain. On their return, they intended to form a national political party. But differences among them led to the formation of two parties — Kanu of Gichuru, Odinga and Mboya at Kiambu, and Kadu of Ngala (president), Moi (chairman), Muliro (vice-president) and Martin Shikuku (secretary-general) at Ngong.
Moi and the others in Kadu, who were from minority tribal groups, rejected Kanu alleging that it represented the interests of the dominant communities, the Luo and the Kikuyu. They thus formed a multi-tribal coalition.
In the 1961 elections, Kanu won 19 seats against Kadu’s 11. But Kanu refused to form a government until Kenyatta was released. But Kadu agreed and Moi was appointed Parliamentary Secretary (Assistant Minister) in the Ministry of Education in 1961. He later served in the ministries of Education and Local Government.
In the 1963 elections that ushered in independence, Kadu failed to present enough candidates to challenge Kanu, now headed by Kenyatta after his release from restriction in 1961. Kadu lost and became the Opposition. Kenyatta became Prime Minister.
As Kadu chairman, Moi saw the intricacies of politics and opted for a united and nationalistic approach. This was the rationale that led to the dissolution of Kadu in November, 1964. The members joined Kanu and Kenya became a one-party state in fact, though not in law.
Kenyatta appointed Moi the Minister for Home Affairs, a portfolio he retained even when he became Vice-President. Home Affairs was a critical docket because he was in charge of the prisons, the police and the Immigration Department. Africa Confidential of June, 1990, noted of Moi and the Home Affairs docket: “He made friendships which were to stand him in good stead in later years. His responsibility for issuing passports brought him into close touch with the Asian business community and British business houses. It was Moi’s responsibility, too, to make appointments throughout the police, prisons and immigration services. This was to be useful in later years when the police services were riddled with Moi appointees.”
But Kadu’s entry did not calm the political waters. Instead, it led to bitter wars in the original Kanu, pitting two factions, one allied to President Kenyatta and the other to Vice-President Odinga. By 1966, the differences had reached a point of no return and when Odinga was ousted as Kanu vice-president at a Limuru conference, he quit the party and formed KPU.
Joseph Murumbi, a Cabinet Minister, was appointed Vice-President. But he did not last a year. In January, 1967, Kenyatta appointed Moi, 43, Vice-President following Murumbi’s resignation. Political analysts point out that Moi was appointed because he is from a minority tribe in ethnically divided Kenya.
He was said not to have a powerful political base and was not a participant in the Kikuyu-Luo confederacy of the 1960s. As VP, Moi was perceived as bland and unassuming. But as Odinga pointed out in his 1967 biography, Not yet Uhuru, Moi was like “a giraffe with a long neck that sees far”.
He weathered many storms, including a 1976 Change-the-Constitution movement that wanted the law altered so that the Vice-President would not automatically take over in an acting capacity for 90 days in case the Presidency became vacant. He had been Kenyatta’s Vice-President for 11 years since 1967.
When Kenyatta died on August 22, 1978, Moi became President with the consent of Kanu and the help of powerful Kikuyu leaders, such as Finance Minister Mwai Kibaki and Attorney-General Charles Njonjo. Moi named Kibaki Vice-President. Other influential Kenyatta-era politicians and State officials retained their positions.
Moi stressed continuation of Kenyatta’s policies in his slogan of Nyayo or “following the late President’s footsteps”. The first thing Moi did was to travel the country and visit all communities. He also introduced the free milk programme for primary schoolchildren, released political detainees and abolished the land-buying companies that had exploited small landholders for decades.
Moi ruled the country for 24 years and handed over to Kibaki after the December, 2002, General Election, which saw Kanu routed after 39 years in power by the National Alliance Rainbow Coalition (Narc).
Moi handed over power at a ceremony that had one of the largest crowds ever seen in Nairobi. That capped Moi’s 47-year political career. Since independence in 1963, he had won all elections as an MP for Baringo Central and as the President in the single-party era. He was elected unopposed in 1979, 1983 and 1988. He won again in 1992 and 1997.
Moi is now in retirement. But he occasionally stirs the political scene with barbs aimed at the Government and his opponents.