Contrasting lifestyles of three former presidents

Kenya's former Presidents; Daniel Arap Moi (left), Mwai Kibaki and Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. [File, Standard]

More than any other Kenyan president, Daniel Moi loved music, comedy and humour.

He seemed to have borrowed most of this from his predecessor, President Jomo Kenyatta.

Little of that can be associated with Kenya’s third president Mwai Kibaki.

It is a narrative around lifestyle and culture; from music, art, dressing style and social public wit that separated Kibaki’s leadership style from the former two.

Moi always carried his symbolic rungu, otherwise referred to as fimbo ya Nyayo. The founding father never left his fly whisk, his symbol of power. Kibaki never had any of these.

During his reign, former President Moi treasured entertainment, not only as a means of enjoyment but also a tool to exert power and pull the country together.

Like Kenyatta, school choirs, cultural singing and dance troupes, choirs and even comedians played major roles during national day programmes.

He would join them in dance, jubilantly so a tickled man.

Former President Daniel arap Moi raises his baton to salute Kenyans during the 34th independence day celebrations in Nairobi, 1997. [Reuters]

State House was open to them and artists would frequently make welcomed visitors. The official residence of the president was filled with enjoyment where music composers would earn handsome proceeds for making the president lighten up.

This is a lifestyle Kenyatta had mastered during his reign, a regular practice he had both in State House and down at his Gatundu home where he would laugh away his free time.

From the legendary composer and choir director Arthur Kemoli to the celebrated Muungano National Choir director Boniface Mghanga, songs like Tawala KenyaFimbo ya Nyayo and Fuata Nyayo epitomised Moi’s rule, dominating the airwaves and tantalising crowds wherever Moi went. Popular comedy group, Vitimbi was a permanent fixture wherever the big man went.

When Kibaki came to into power in 2002, all that razzmatazz took a back seat. National holiday celebrations were no longer gatherings dominated by entertainment and fanfare. Kibaki was not the man to rib crack through comedy. State House was no longer the place of ‘ugali’ and amusement.

“There is no single song that has ever been composed in praise of Kibaki. He was not keen on that. In fact, he seemed more focused on development issues than anything else that would keep him in the limelight. After he came to power, very few artists made it to State House and only few groups participated during national day celebrations as the entertainment session had been reduced in time by almost a half,” says veteran singer and composer John Katana of Them Mushrooms band that entertained both Mzee Kenyatta and Moi. Katana received State commendation in 2019.

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta addressing a political rally in Nakuru, September 1974. [File, Standard]

Kibaki not only contrasted other Kenyan presidents on music and cultural issues, but also in style. Unlike Mzee Kenyatta, Moi and even the current president Uhuru Kenyatta, he hardly wore military fatigues. He never appeared in public in military regalia as the Commander in Chief.

Jomo Kenyatta appeared in public wearing the red tunic uniform in 1971 while his predecessor Moi donned the same during the 1980 Jamhuri Day celebrations.

On several occasions, Uhuru has appeared in public wearing the red Kenya Army ceremonial attire as well as the jungle green camouflage uniform. The latter is usually worn in the field during operations.

In his home town in Othaya, a bar attendant at Silent Lodge in the town Shem Macharia recollects how the former president would visit the joint. According to 65-year-old Macharia, for 30 years, Kibaki would frequent the establishment in the company of his friends including Njenga Karume and John Michuki for his choice drink, a warm White Cup.

“The visits were regular and consistent when Kibaki was Vice President. He only stopped coming after he was sworn in as president in 2002,” Macharia explained.