Former President Daniel Moi planting a commemorative tree during his 90th birthday. Hassan Paul (right). [Photo: Kipsang Joseph]

News about former President Daniel arap Moi's death hit Paul Hassan, Moi's gardener for four decades, hard.

The relationship between the two began when Moi was Vice President under Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. By the time the former president died on Tuesday, he was still his gardener's best friend.

Hassan's friendship with Moi began through Mzee Kenyatta. In the early 1970s, Hassan was working for the defunct Nakuru Municipality and was on his normal duties when Kenyatta's convoy drove by.

How they met

“I was planting trees in Nakuru town when Kenyatta found me. He stopped and gave me an appointment to the Nakuru State House, where he offered me a gardener's job. I worked for him for eight years. During this time he introduced me to his then Vice president Daniel Moi,” recounts Hassan.

 Hassan Paul [Photo: Kipsang Joseph]

After Kenyatta died, Moi took in Hassan to be his gardener at his home in Kabarak. In his role, the gardener would also accompany Moi to every public function across the country, always carrying a tree.

"In every corner of this country, Moi has planted a tree. He would select the seedlings from his home nursery and I would carry them wherever he went," says Hassan.

The 82-year-old father of six still has a passion for trees. During a visit to his home in Mang'u, which is across the street from Moi's Kabarak home, he was busy tending to trees in the compound.

On one end of the compound stands an elegant timber house that he says was constructed for him on Moi's orders. It stands on a piece of land given by the former president.

“When he became president he gave me this land. He then directed Kenya Prisons to construct the house for me to ease my access to his home,” said Hassan.

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 Hassan Paul during an interview at his home in Mangu, Nakuru County [Photo: Kipsang Joseph]

Mounted on the house is a telephone network adapter. This, he says, was installed to ensure the president could reach him whenever a need arose.

Presidential calls

Hassan had developed such a personal relationship with Moi that the president would regularly call to ask about his family.

“In most cases, he came home during the weekends. He directed Telkom company to install a telephone in my house. There were two lines, one specific for him and another which he allowed me to call any other person from,” he says.

Hassan was also the first person to have electricity connected to his house in Mang’u following a directive from Moi.

“One night he called asking for some details I had written on paper. I told him I could not read them because my house was dark. He directed Kenya Power and Lighting Company CEO Samuel Gichuru to have my home connected to electricity. It was done within a day,” he says.

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 The house was constructed in Mangu, Nakuru County [Photo: Kipsang Joseph]

The cool breeze beneath indigenous trees that dot the compound of Kabarak University is all Hassan's work under the instructions of Moi.

“When the High School section began in 1979, there were very few trees. He entrusted me in selecting the type of trees to be planted, and where. He was specific that they were to be indigenous,” said Hassan.

A number of trees in the compound were planted by Moi himself. During all his birthday celebrations or public occasions at the institution, the President led the rest of the staff in planting trees.

After planting, the trees would be under the care of Hassan, a job he undertook for 40 years, until he retired in March last year. For this Hassan received a recognition award from Moi through his son and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi.

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 Hassan Paul [Photo: Kipsang Joseph]

This was not the first time Moi was recognising Hassan's dedication to service for him and the government. During the 1992 Jamhuri Day celebrations, Hassan was awarded the Order of Grand Warrior (OGW) of Kenya.

The Presidential Award recognises individuals for outstanding or distinguished service rendered to the nation in various capacities and responsibilities.

“I thought I was being invited for celebrations in Nairobi like any other person. I was shocked when he announced that he was awarding me with the OGW medal for my work,” he recounts.

Relationship with workers

During his four decades' service for the former president, Hassan says Moi never publicly rebuked him or the rest of the workers.

“He never embarrassed his staff. He would call you to his office and reprimand you privately. After tendering an apology, you would leave the office with a smile on your face and still friends with him,” he says.

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 Hassan Paul [Photo: Kipsang Joseph]

He describes Moi as a generous man who always gave an ear to anyone who sought his assistance. “I don't believe any of his employees can complain about how he treated them. He didn’t discriminate against anyone based on their education or designation”.

With Moi gone, Hassan says he has lost a personal friend and mentor. "I owe him what I have. It was a great honour serving him. He became a personal friend with whom I would sit down and have a cup of tea with," he says.