As we reflect on the life of our departed former President Moi (pictured), it is befitting that we take a holistic picture of his contributions to our nation’s political, social and economic wellbeing. There are two epochs in Moi’s public service. First, is Moi the teacher, pre-independence legislator, MP and Cabinet Minister and Vice President of the Republic.
Second is his role as second President of Kenya. We note that his service in the two broad categories amounts to a lifetime of service to humanity. As legislator during the pre-independence times, he was the voice for African teachers, and by extension children. He fought hard to support establishment of teachers’ unions and helped provide the legislative instruments leading to the formation of the Teachers Service Commission.
As Vice President, history gives him flying colours! No Kenyan leader traversed the depths of the country promoting the Harambe spirit like he did. President Jomo Kenyatta, as an aging leader had limited mobility and it is energetic Moi who was the face of the leadership. His imprints are all over the country. Communities named schools, roads, hospitals and other public facilities in his honour. Moi gave his time and money to help build Kenya. The Nyayo hospital wards were his brainchild, a cause that should be sustained.
When the nation faced serious political challenges, Moi’s sense of calmness gave hope. In 1967, debate on inclusivity and positions of small tribes in government were settled after Kenyatta appointed him Vice President. He was symbolically the voice of the marginalised. It is not lost to historians that Moi’s first major achievement after taking over from Jomo Kenyatta was to forgive and release those detained by Jomo’s ruling elite. This ability to forgive is part of his humility. And he repeated it after his presidency was over. He remarkably apologised for any wrongs that he did. That is a first in African politics.
It is a lesson that he continuously preached. Not only through his Nyayo philosophy (slogan of peace, love and unity) but by the way he lived and conducted his post-presidency affairs. Moi promoted education in the country. The impact of institutions such as Moi University among others is huge. When he came to power, Kenya had only one major university with constituent colleges but by 2002, the number was six full-fledged universities.
In 24 years of his presidency, he affected our national life and Africa in significant ways. Defying odds, Moi in December 1991 repealed section 2 (A) of the Constitution, which allowed multiparty democracy. Moi made the decision in spite of pressure from a Kanu National Delegates meeting resolution in favour of continuing with the single–party state.
And significantly, in marked contrast to many of the big men leaders of his time, Moi handed over power to President Kibaki. Moi kept the peace. He rarely criticised his successor. And when he spoke, it was with humility, believing that government had an obligation to help wananchi, especially the vulnerable.
Moi served as Chancellor of the public universities, including Moi, Kenyatta and Nairobi. By tying his nationalistic credentials to education, Moi encouraged using education as an instrument of national cohesion and development. He challenged the University of Nairobi to build its own car (Nyayo Pioneer). He wanted the university to be innovative. And he went a little further to focus on improved curriculums. The 8-4-4 system revitalised the country’s manpower development and helped reduce illiteracy.
President Moi supported African culture. He established the Ministry of Culture and on many occasions called upon Kenyans to be proud of their own cultures without politicising their ethnicities. He hosted the All Africa Games in 1987 and promoted sports as a unifying tool. His legacy on sports includes stadiums - like Kasarani and Nyayo, and the tremendous success among Kenyan athletes. We pay tribute to Moi as a strong voice for African freedom. Moi came from the generation of leaders that fought for independence. He too was a delegate at the Lancaster House Conferences that gave birth to Kenya’s freedom. We salute him as one of the founding fathers of Kenya and Africa’s sovereignty.
A good example of his belief in Africa’s sovereignty was when he addressed a meeting in Blantyre, Malawi in May 2002. Moi told the audience at Sanjika Palace that Africa was doomed to poverty and backwardness unless her leaders set themselves free of egocentricity. He called for African leaders to rethink their development strategies and form an “African League” to deal with issues concerning black Africans. We also honour Moi for being a champion of conservation. In 1989, Moi torched elephant ivory to discourage poaching. He built gabions to prevent soil erosion. Finally, it is important to recognise that after Moi quit Kadu for Kanu, he never abandoned the independence party. It portrays Moi as a firm believer in institutions and principles. This is a lesson for Kenya’s new generation of leaders.
- Tribute from Kenya Scholars and Study Association (KESSA), Prof Rotich is president and Prof Otenyo board member.
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