The shadow of influence that Daniel arap Moi cast on Kenya’s political landscape kept growing even after he retired in 2002.
The former president – who died on Tuesday – retained immense clout over many influential leaders within and outside successive governments.
Moi’s manifest hold on the mindset of the political elite in the country was self-evident in April last year when he lost his first-born son, Jonathan Toroitich.
Government officials, members of the Opposition and private sector mandarins outdid each other in a frenzied rush to Kabarak to offer their commiserations.
But what should have been private empathy missions were purposed into conspicuous political association posters.
That the visitors were in a hurry to share pictures of their visit with the public suggested the wind propelling the gesture was bigger than just putting their name down in a condolence book.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, ODM leader Raila Odinga, Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, trade unionist Francis Atwoli and politician Peter Kenneth were among those who trooped to Kabarak.
Dr Ruto’s aborted mission elicited emotional exchanges between his allies and those of Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, the former president’s youngest son. Ruto and the Senator are the most prominent leaders from Rift Valley.
The contest is a long drawn-out succession duel for the inheritance of the older Moi’s political kingdom. It is also a contest for a seat at the bargaining table for higher political office and representation of the vast Kalenjin community. That a photo opportunity with a man who left State House and active politics 17 years ago should be such a big deal speaks volumes of Moi’s sphere of influence.
Over the years, his Kabarak home was an important pilgrimage for influence peddlers and power seekers.
Being seen next to the late retired president – who ironically handed over power to his successor Mwai Kibaki to chants of “Moi must go!” at Uhuru Park in December 2002 – evolved into a much-coveted political postcard.
But there was good reason for the scramble for a piece of Moi.
In the nascent days of multi-partyism where ties with Kanu and Nyayoism were the equivalent of political suicide, Mr Kibaki famously quipped that few then could have genuinely claimed freedom from the party’s ‘bad odour’.
Virtually every notable politician had cut their leadership teeth in the independence party.
Serving time in Kanu was inescapable for whoever sought elective leadership in a single-party era. By extension, that meant serving under Moi and his political tutelage.
With his serving the country for more than 30 years as the president and vice president, even the most ardent of his critics would not have escaped his patronage. That may have been an incidental relationship.
A more assiduous and deliberate bond continued to exist between Moi and many of his political offspring. The latter are men and women who hold influential position and voices in the country’s political landscape. Almost all have Moi to thank for their political and material fortunes.
They are sometimes referred to as ‘Moi orphans’. Some are former MPs and ministers; a number of them have fallen on hard times and into oblivion with Moi’s exit from power. Others have arguably improved their stock since 2002.
But they still found themselves in need of an occasional drink from the Kabarak political fountain.
President Kenyatta is arguably the de facto leader of the Moi orphans. He had a father-son bond with the late president that goes back many years.
From Uhuru’s privileged childhood in State House to his labouring to become his own man before he was thrust into elective politics, Moi kept a close eye on the son of the founding president.
Some might argue that in watching over Uhuru, Moi was merely discharging an obligation on his own project. After all, it is Moi who got Uhuru out of inconspicuous privacy.
First, he engineered his appointment as the chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board. Mark Too was later prevailed upon to resign from his nominated parliamentary seat in favour of Uhuru after the Gatundu South electorate snubbed him. Moi put Uhuru on the express lane of those angling to succeed him in 2002.
However, the Kanu presidential candidate, who had risen to be party boss, was resoundingly beaten by Kibaki’s Narc.
But as Uhuru learnt to swim in uncharted waters as the official leader of the Opposition, he understandably wore his political debts to his mentor like a badge of honour.
But even among the 2002 election victors, Moi continued to loom large.
His long-serving vice president George Saitoti, Mr Musyoka, Mr Kenneth, Musalia Mudavadi, Moses Wetang’ula and others, demonstrating a hitherto unknown spine, defied Moi in favour of Kibaki’s Narc, which subsequently formed the government.
But with time, their anger at being overlooked for Uhuru dissipated, and they went back into Moi’s political arms.
Moi’s hold on his brood held true even for the remnants of the infamous Youth for Kanu 92 (YK92).
There may have been a bitter fallout post-92 elections between Cyrus Jirongo, William Ruto, Sam Nyamweya and other YK92 operatives with Moi. But like prodigal sons yearning for penitence, they never orbited too far from Mzee’s galaxy. No one sums up the apparent inability of Moi orphans to wean themselves off his political milk than Deputy President Ruto.
The former president reportedly spotted and built Dr Ruto’s leadership credentials. So trusting was Moi of Ruto’s capabilities that he tasked him with preparing and polishing Uhuru for a realistic stub at the presidency.
But the student appeared to have outgrown the teacher, with his stratospheric rise in political stature. This resulted in a love-hate relationship between Ruto and his godfather.
The DP and other heavyweights’ exodus from Kanu for ODM, and later TNA and Jubilee for 2013 and 2017 general elections, and their harsh criticism of Moi, appeared to have killed off their relationship. But the DP had a knack for reviving the relationship when it suited him, like a spouse returning home from self-exile.
The 2013 election ushered good tidings for Kanu orphans. They may have since abandoned the independence party, but in many ways, TNA, like its successor Jubilee, was essentially a rebranded Kanu.
Kabarak also helped restore the default settings for Kanu graduates and associates who took shelter in CORD and Nasa in 2013 and 2017.
Mr Odinga, Mr Mudavadi, Kalonzo and Kenneth, among others, never really let go of Moi’s political apron strings. Raila’s handshake with Uhuru, and the neutering effect it generally had, saw many politicians troop back to their bond with Moi.
It scarcely mattered that age, he was 95, had left him too frail for the muddle of politics. Merely being seen with him, they felt, was the perfect weight to tip the scales and restore favour.
While the former president has exited the stage, the influence he had on the political landscape is unlikely to wane soon.
Key political players will still play their cards carefully on issues that were dear to the man who bestrode the country like a colossus.
Do not miss out on the latest news. Join the Standard Digital Telegram channel HERE.