Mourners revealed the Moi many didn’t know

Daniel arap Moi was one of Kenya’s most successful politicians, with a career spanning 47 years (1955 to 2002). He outwitted most of his competitors by projecting humility as a weakness, when it actually was his strength. After his death recently, he was given a dignified funeral befitting a former president. Respect and common sense prevailed over political shenanigans. During his burial, the Kenyan military became the centre of public admiration.

The military’s performance was exemplary during the entire State event, from Nairobi to Kabarak. Besides spectacular display of precision and ability to walk the long distance from State House to Nyayo National Stadium accompanying the flag-draped casket, the army ensured protocol was observed.

The attendance was high-level, with foreign dignitaries showing up to say how they knew Moi. The Djibouti president, despite Kenya’s differences with Djibouti over the UNSC seat, came to pay tribute. There was also Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, always present and commenting aptly. Moi, Museveni said, was very religious because when he learned that there was an African Inland Church in remote northern Uganda at Arua, he made Museveni take him to Arua for a church service.  

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There were others who brought out the man in Moi, not just the usual sanitisation of the departed. The temptation, in funerals, to paint verbal pictures that do not resemble the person people knew is especially big when it involves someone big. It was in that context that some dignitaries touched on some earthly realities associated with Moi. Among them was Nick Salat, who told everyone to ‘tingisha’ as a way of reminding prominent mourners that Moi had made all of them part of Kanu.

While Salat was simply entertaining, others made Moi normal. There was, for instance, David Silverstein, Moi’s doctor/friend who represented members of the Jewish faith and would accompany Moi on medical trips to Israel. While the common belief was that Moi was a teetotaller, Silverstein revealed that Moi enjoyed dinner wine in Israel. Other people who knew of Moi’s enjoyment of fine taste admitted as much.

Being very ‘religious’, Moi seemingly obeyed the instruction in the ‘Last Supper’ in which Jesus told his disciples, “Drink this in memory of me.” Thus, in controlled environments, Moi frequently remembered the Nazarene. Gideon, the heir to Moi’s political stock, also remembered his father disobeying doctor’s orders not to eat meat by quipping, “Unaona daktari hapa?”

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One man who publicly enjoys both meat and ‘remembering’ Jesus is President Uhuru Kenyatta and he too had personal stories to tell of Moi as a man, a father figure. Uhuru was in his teens when Moi became president in 1978. As vice-president, Moi and Uhuru had developed some kind of father-son relationship that grew deep with Moi as president looking out for Jomo’s earthly interests.

Uhuru’s wellbeing was a serious interest and so the ‘father’, Moi, did not hesitate to reprimand Uhuru when he thought the son was going astray. In discussing his mischievous escapades, Uhuru talked of his disappearance for a week, just to escape Moi’s wrath. When he showed up, Moi forgave his mischief. The ‘father’ that Uhuru talked about made Moi human.

Internal struggles

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Moi’s funeral had the temporary effect of downplaying regional and internal feuds. However, there were a few stray episodes that made the ceremonies a source of reflection by raising several questions. They relate to the psychological impact on the young, the behaviour of some politicians, and the lessons learned.

There were also subtle political plays reflecting Kenya’s internal struggles for power. As former Prime Minister Raila Odinga defended the right of the children of the powerful or prominent to seek leadership, there was an interesting ‘rungu’ handing-over ceremony symbolising ‘leadership’ transfer.

At times, there appeared to be confusion on how to handle sensitive happenings such as cultural and security concerns. Children were not allowed to view the body but at the same time they could see it on television for days and wonder what it meant. Psychologists worry about the long-term adverse effect on children, those in the age of Moi’s great grandchildren. Were media owners and managers sensitive to the long-term damage they might have caused to children? It also seemed as if security briefing at Nyayo Stadium was inadequate, which would explain VIP security scuffle.

Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU

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Nyayo National StadiumDaniel arap MoiPresident Uhuru KenyattaRaila Odinga