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How Moi, Ngala fought for devolution in 1960s

By Benard Sanga and Patrick Beja | February 7th 2020

Former Nairobi Mayor Charles Rubia, his wife, and Deputy Mayor Isaac Lugonzo greeting Ronald Ngala at City Hall in Dec 1964. [File, Standard]

Retired President Daniel Moi’s political links with the Coast region is legendary, dating back to the 1960s. This was during the clamour for decentralised system of governance and inclusivity.

Like today, the country’s political discourse in the 1960s was about inclusivity and the system of governance, with Moi leading a faction that preferred decentralised system.

“It is like we have come full circle. In the 1960s, Moi and other Kadu officials espoused the same things captured in the Building Bridges Initiative report,” said Hassan Mwakimako of Pwani University.

Prof Mwakimako said Moi and the late Ronald Ngala’s push for federalism was born out of fear that small tribes would be marginalised.  

According to historical accounts, the Moi and Ngala-led Kadu successfully negotiated for the adoption of the federal system of government based on the then eight provinces.

Unitary State

The system was, however, abolished by the mid-1960s constitutional amendment and the country reverted to a unitary State. But the Coast residents continued with the clamour for federalism.

In 2010, the country’s new Constitution created devolved governments as a compromise after critics of federalism successfully argued that it could spark communal fights.

“The push across the country by Coast governors for the creation of a three-tier governance system is what Moi and Ngala wanted in 1960. It is federalism,” said Mwakimako.

Mombasa lawyer Gunga Mwinga said District Focus for Rural Development (DFRD) plan of 1983 was a testimony that Moi believed in devolution of resources.

“Even after the abolition of federalism in 1960s, Moi still believed the devolution of resources to the grassroots by establishing the District Focus for Rural Development,” said Mwinga.

Similar ideology

He said Moi and Ngala had a similar political ideology because of their backgrounds as teachers in schools in rural areas and most impoverished parts of the country.

“Moi and Ngala were socialists who believed that resources should reach all parts of the country. Oginga Odinga and Mzee Jomo Kenyatta were socialist and capitalist, respectively,” he said.

Mwakimako and Gunga concur that the current push for third-tier of governance is driven by selfish interests and was not similar to the one espoused by Moi and Ngala.

“The push to expand the executive and create inclusivity is what Moi cured by appointing at least one key political figure from each tribe to the Cabinet or senior State position,” said Mwakimako.

Noah Katana Ngala, who also served as a Cabinet minister between 1985 and 2002, said the proposal to expand the Executive was first agitated for by Moi and his father under Kadu.

“The proposal to expand the Executive to achieve inclusivity was at the heart of Mzee Moi and my father who were championing the interests of small tribes to ensure they were not left out of government,” said Ngala.

He said Kenyans should honour the former president by adopting the proposal to expand the Executive, adding: “I hope it will trickle down to all communities so that they feel a sense of belonging in the government.”

Acceptable and popular

Ngala, the first-born son of Ronald Ngala, said Moi was acceptable and popular in Coast because of his relationship with his father and was seen as a calm and humble leader.

At the Coast, Moi had key trusted figures that marshalled support for Kanu. His political popularity flourished at the Coast until the year he retired.

For instance, in 1992 Moi garnered 62.1 per cent of the region’s votes against his closest challenger, Raila Odinga, who got 11 per cent.

He repeated the same feat in the 1997 election, garnering 65.4 per cent of the votes in the region. Kibaki came second with 12.8 per cent while Raila garnered 6.1 per cent.

“Moi was acceptable at the Coast because of his past friendship with Ngala. He also formed commissions and committees to address the land problems at the Coast,” said Mwakimako.

Importantly, according to the political analysts, most, if not all Lands ministers during the Moi era, were from Coast.

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