Tuesday, February 4, 2020 12:56 pm
By Nehru Odeh
It was William Shakespeare who said cowards die many times before their death but the valiant never taste of death but once. This truism does not apply to Kenya’s former President Daniel arap Moi who just died at the age of 95. President Uhuru Kenyatta announced his death, saying the nation had lost a “great man”.
But the truth is, Moi was never a coward but a valiant who fought mamy battles before his death. However he also died many times before his death through the rumour mill and the mouth of critics
Lee Njiru, the press secretary of Kenya’s former President said “people of ill will” ‘killed him 14 times since 1983″ before his actual death on Tuesday.
“From 1983 I have been counting on a piece of paper he has died 14 times. That is according to the ill will of people, but this is real death. This is final,” Njiru, who has been working for Moi since August 1978 was quoted as saying.
Moi, who was Kenya’s longest-serving president, was in office for 24 years, until intense pressure forced him to step down in 2002.
Still, he has left behind an image that leaves a sour taste in the mouth. His critics saw him as an dictator who oversaw rampant corruption, but his allies credited him for maintaining stability in the country.
However Moi was a president who knew when and how to sheathe his sword. In 2004, Mr Moi asked for forgiveness from “those he had wronged”.
He ruled over a one-party state from 1978 until 1991, when he was forced to adopt a multi-party system of government following mass protests and diplomatic pressure from Western powers. He won two subsequent elections, which were marred by rigging.
Constitutionally barred from seeking a third term in office, he agreed to a peaceful transfer of power to Kenya’s third President, Mwai Kibaki, in 2002.
In office, he was feared and admired in equal measure, and was accused of human rights abuses. He was a more populist politician than Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta and his legacy was tarnished by economic stagnation and accusations of corruption.
Born on 2 September 1924 into a farming family, he was a close ally of Kenyatta in the run-up to Kenyan independence in 1963.
He served as home affairs minister from 1964 and in 1967 he became the country’s vice-president. Until the introduction of multi-party politics, Mr Moi was elected unopposed as president in 1983 and 1988.
He survived a coup attempt in 1982, which led to a brutal crackdown on his opponents. He also scrapped the entire air force, whose members had taken part in the foiled coup.
He appeared to dominate almost every aspect of life, an impression aided by the state-run media.
His critics see his rule as the lost years, a time when Kenya was bedevilled by corruption, ethnic conflicts and human rights abuses. They say he stymied economic progress by personalising the state, using government resources to award loyalists and withholding them to punish those who did not toe the line.
For example, roads and factories were seen as gifts to be given and rewards for communities if their top politicians worked with the ruling party, Kanu. This entrenched a culture of political patronage that has become part of Kenyan politics.
But defenders of Mr Moi’s legacy point to his often-repeated line that he kept Kenya “peaceful”, while several African countries were experiencing strife.
The debate about how Kenyans will mourn the former president began long before he succumbed to his recent health problems. The 95-year-old was loved and loathed in equal measure; his supporters will mourn him as a patriot and a consummate politician who they fondly nicknamed “professor of politics”, but others will choose to remember him as a brutal dictator.
Defenders of Mr Moi will point to his often-repeated line that he kept Kenya “safe and peaceful”, noting that while several African countries were imploding into civil war the country remained stable.
Whichever version is favoured, the legacy of one of the last surviving independence leaders lives on as many of today’s top politicians, including President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, were protégés of the second president.
Kenya has changed a lot since Mr Moi left office but his influence can still be felt.