Moi's education vision will outlive generations

One of the departments at Kabarak University, which was started by the late President Daniel arap Moi. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

It is a question no one has asked loudly: Why did President Daniel arap Moi retire to Kabarak after all the years he spent in the city? What didn’t he like about the city? How come the other retired president has not left the city? Would you prefer to retire in the city or the countryside?

The other curious question is, why did analysts and commentators avoid comparing President Moi with his successors or predecessors? One more, what criteria were used to select the speakers in the various functions as we mourned and gave a dignified send-off to Kenya’s second president?

Back to the city. Better access to medical services in old age, proximity to old friends and children keeps lots of elderly men and women around Nairobi. With time, Nairobi becomes your home and except family ties, you slowly lose contact with the countryside; you become a stranger there. It would be a life of loneliness if you retired in the countryside. Not forgetting, insecurity can be an issue at times in the countryside.

But truth be told, there is something enchanting about the countryside. The hills and the valleys, the dust swirls, the innocence and the slow pace of life. This would be ideal for retirement. The memories of growing up as you age, seeing familiar sights, would be soothing to your spirit. Rural counties should tap pension by making themselves more friendly to retirees.

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Retiring to Kabarak was a good decision by Moi. After 24 years in power and more as an MP, why retire to a bustling city full of noise and pollution? What would one be looking for in the city that he did not get in 24 years in power? Is retirement not retirement?

But Moi’s retirement had another angle that set him apart. Perhaps with retirement in mind, he started setting up institutions that would outlive him, 40 years before his departure from this small planet. Was it driven by his education background as a teacher or did he realise after years in government that the invisible hand of the market has failures curable by altruism and philanthropy?

Moi set up a chain of schools, from kindergarten to university. He, therefore, did not retire to a farm, he retired to an institution called Kabarak. He was surrounded by the next generation. He was never alone. He joined the students on important occasions, from baptism to graduation.

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Beyond a good diet, the sight and sounds of children, the next generation, might have given Moi a few more years.

Dimesse Sisters, a Catholic order has learnt a lesson too; they are setting up an elderly people’s home in Laikipia called Ann and Joachim, the grandparents of Jesus. They add a nursery school to keep the elderly young. 

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Kenyans rarely give credit or compliments and when they do, it must be qualified. On building institutions, Moi gets the credit. Do you recall the public schools he built through Harambee? Where would 100 per cent transition be without his input?

By coming up with schools,  Moi ensured his immortalisation. Generations of children will pass the schools he founded. And they don’t have to be his grandchildren or relatives. Noted the shortage of good schools in Kenya?

Philanthropic

Building schools seems to have been the philanthropic part of Moi. It was another way to ensure that Kenyans will never be economically orphaned.  With a good education, they can fend for themselves. And he touched the ordinary Kenyans where it matters.

I never had a chance to chat with Moi. But by setting up these institutions, and by extension making himself an institution, he could have ensured that there will always be a pipeline of leaders, elites and professionals to take up responsibilities in both public and private sectors - and in politics. And they must be nurtured from an early age. We often downplay the role of good schools in our socio-economic success.

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In the fullness of time, the long game in Moi’s strategic thinking will emerge. Every country in the world is led by an elite. That elite must be educated to master not just some knowledge but attitudes and even mannerism. Even countries like China have their elite schools where the next generation of movers and shakers are nurtured.

As the country matures, the private sector becomes key in nurturing this elite. Is Harvard a private or public university? By educating this elite you can control the next generation, shape opinions and the political landscape, and the economy too. Kenya will not be an exception.

In the fullness of time, the top schools from kindergarten to university will be private, unencumbered by the visible hand of the government and vested interests. The 100 per cent transition will accelerate this shift as elites seek exclusion in private institutions. Did Moi foresee this?

Long after leaving us, men and women will visit Moi’s resting place, Kabarak to pay their tribute. Again, contrast that with his peers. Others will pay their tributes indirectly as students. In time, Kabarak will become a monument to Moism, a spring where generations will drink to their fill from his inspiration. 

Retired US presidents have presidential libraries. Did that inspire President Moi? Will his papers and artefacts be housed at Kabarak, from his ‘rungu’ to even the shoes he wore? What about his appointment letter as a teacher and his payslip?

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The public reaction to Moi’s departure left no doubt that history has eventually become kind to him and it will not stop after his journey to the beautiful shore.

I hope there is a dedicated group of men and women out to ensure Moi’s dream will never turn into a nightmare; that Moi as an institution will outlive him.

-The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi

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Daniel arap MoiEducation sectorEducation