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Sharp contrast in Moi, Kibaki styles

By | December 30th 2009

Andrew Kipkemboi

Seven years after Moi stepped down from the presidency, Moi the man and Moi the institution refuse to fade away.

Indeed, it would have been impossible to think that the former President would straddle two regimes or that the country’s politics would be in thrall to the former Baringo Central MP despite the buckets of bile poured on him.

Make no mistake, I am under no illusion, but some things will have to be looked at in different light as the decade that dramatically shaped the politics of the country comes to an end.

Like him or hate him, many may have misunderstood and underestimated the former President. The fear, the revulsion and how Moi has carried the yoke for much of the failings of his officials still confounds.

After the change of guard in 2002, it is apparent that most of the agitation to dethrone Moi was less because of the failed policies of his government than because most of those leading the so-called Second Liberation movement just wanted a turn to grind their noses in the trough and unwittingly helped spruce up Moi’s tattered image.

For all his faults, it is still intriguing how Moi became president. Many were inspired by Moi’s meteoric rise from a herdsboy to school teacher to President. His story is a study in personal triumphs of those who have scraped by on nothing, but their strong will. The feeling now is that political dynasties are taking root and the chances of a herds boy making it to the high table are remote.

Moi exited the stage a hated man. There was a feeling (perhaps wrongly) that at last Kenya had found the panacea for all its ills. The unity exhibited then was exhilarating. Despite that, for most of his first term, Kibaki’s presidency was strewn with difficulty. For a while it seemed like Kibaki’s presidency was a walk in the park until tragedy struck.

A minister died in a plane crash and his trusted vice-president died at a London hospital. The President’s family’s faux pas added the grist to the mill for a public whose patience was fast wearing thin.

Tide of criticism

What is not lost is that Moi’s successor might be getting it wrong somehow, but the tide of criticism is not as threatening.

In the Moi State House, according to Moi’s biographer Andrew Morton, most of the now graying revolutionaries represented "a deafening chorus of articulate and principled domestic criticism." They provided to the donor community and the international media an endless supply of the shenanigans that shaped and some may think, misrepresented Moi’s legacy.

Seven years later, cynics will want to look at the glass as half empty, the optimists would like to look at the brighter side of things: Free Primary Education, economic recovery programmes and perhaps a President who has stayed away from the fray letting things to run their course.

Nonetheless, President Kibaki’s absence from the thick of things has bothered both friend and foe. For keen observers, as the tussle over who had won in 2007, played out at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Kibaki was silent because perhaps he considered himself too mature to get embroiled in the electoral fray. Kibaki’s presidency is characterised mostly by an astonishing aloofness and the it-is-our-turn-to-eat politician.

The violence that erupted in the wake of the disputed 2007 General Elections last year holds vital lessons about post-Moi Kenya. What went wrong and how it went wrong is a matter of conjecture.

Indeed Morton says Moi has never disowned his past nor changed his character. He has walked with kings, but has never lost the common touch, the panache. Moi’s accessible and spontaneous style is legendary. "I can walk down the street among my people. They know me," he says in his biography.

But what the aftermath of the last General Election portends in the light of accusations against Moi is a subject of contention because while it is true that the buck stopped with him, it is also true that most of our current crop of leaders were a cog in the Kanu wheel and, therefore, cannot escape rebuke for whatever went wrong. No doubt, many are perturbed that the rebirth Moi’s successor embodied in 2002 has morphed into a calamitous status quo.

Free and better

Unlike his predecessor, Kibaki never or hardly ever seems to appreciate what he represents as President of Kenya. In the Moi days, it was as if when Moi walked the country walked too. He stopped and it stopped. What is not lost is that Kibaki seems to have abdicated and let tribal chiefs sow seeds of discord that ultimately led to the near implosion last year. No doubt, Kenya is freer and better under Kibaki.

But certain questions that the former President asked still linger: What use is democracy to a man without shoes?

In his biography, The Making of an African Statesman, Moi says "tribal roots go much deeper than the shallow flower of democracy? In the end, therefore, Kibaki’s successes may count for nothing if he bequeaths his successor a deeply divided and an embittered people.

The writer is The Standard’s Foreign news editor

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