To move forward, we should all internalise Moi's 1978 speech

Kenya's longest-serving president, the late Daniel Arap Moi. [File, Standard]

On February 4, 2024, President Daniel Arap Moi's family and close friends assembled at Kabarak to celebrate the late president's fourth death anniversary.

In developed democracies, they curate their national history without leaving any of their past leaders behind. In every leader that a democracy produces, there are lessons to be learnt. These lessons act as foundations to steer a democracy toward the desired state.

Forty-six years ago, Moi took over the helm of post-independent Kenya after Jomo Kenyatta's death. At the tender age of 54, Moi became president of a country with only his predecessor, Mzee Kenyatta, to learn from, and he committed to doing so in his “Nyayo” (footsteps) philosophy.

Immediately after he took over, Moi started conjuring a philosophy, which took 24 years to mature. Unfortunately, we rudely personalised it and emotively threw it away after Moi retired from politics in 2002. Eighteen years later, on February 4, 2020, former president Moi died, and the whole nation was cast into an apologetic mood. Even those who chastised the retired president at his lowest moments expressed, in daylight, their longing for the long-gone Moi era moments.

All and sundry revived memories of a paragon of statesmanship; a man who never fought back and reached out to forgive and be forgiven even when he had the power not to; a man who practiced what he preached for 24 years. The country spoke in one voice—and it was not hypocritical talk spoken of every man and woman upon their death. Of all the takeaways from the second president, his philosophy of peace, love, and unity is a universalisable socialist mantra that should have been pursued after he departed from politics.

It is a foundational philosophy upon which all other national values, if any, should be built upon. Nothing captures the vision that Moi had for Kenya than his first Kenyatta Day speech as the second president, three months after Jomo Kenyatta’s death. His October 20, 1978, speech outlined what he thought was the best for the country to move forward. He called all Kenyans at the time to rededicate themselves to the service of the nation. He did not promise Kenyans heaven on earth like our current politicians who, according to Nikita Khrushchev, “promise to build bridges even when there are no rivers.”

However, he stressed that “rededication means that we must uphold the love for our country and one another.” Moi never talked of heavy infrastructure, which was highly needed at the time - he first needed to build values among the citizens. Further, Moi conjured rededication to mean “love for our country and one another.” He said, “If you love Kenya, then love your fellow Kenyans.” No wonder the last songs, calls and acts of patriotism ended with his era. 

Our most significant deficiency in today's leadership is love for the country and other citizens. We have a breed of political leadership who have no love for the country, as exemplified by their mostly uniting for personal interests instead of the country's. President Kenyatta and Moi used to encourage Kenyans to work hard and earn their living—our leaders today lie to us that once we elect them, they will sort all our problems. In the same speech, Moi said, “Rededication is recognition that we must continue to work hard. As we all know, there is nothing free in this world. In particular, we must recognise that the responsibility of developing our country is entirely ours.”

This way, everyone felt responsible for working and feeding themselves, their families and their fellow citizens. Therefore, delinking our country from Moi's Philosophy, which he built upon the foundations set by his predecessor, Jomo Kenyatta, tossed us into darkness, and since then, we have been trying to re-establish ourselves as if we had no foundation.

-Dr Ndonye is a senior lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, Kabarak University