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Presidential library: The Mois gave us fimbo ya Nyayo, military regalia, Bible

By Eric Nyakagwa | October 10th 2020 at 08:00:00 GMT +0300

Military officers place grave cover during former President Daniel arap Moi burial ceremony at Kabarak in Nakuru county. [File, Standard]

This Moi Day on October 10 will see the release of Moi Cabinets, a two-part biographical tome on late President Daniel arap Moi and ministers who served under him during his 24-year rule. Moi died in February 2020 and what was previously Moi Day has since been renamed to Huduma Day.

The two-part biographical tome is the second such after Kenyatta Cabinets, which was launched by the Kenya Year Book in 2012. Both books will be part of Presidential Libraries to be inaugurated before President Uhuru Kenyatta’s exits office.

The libraries are repositories for preserving important speeches, papers, books, artworks, artefacts, gifts and other materials as part of national heritage. The plan to create the Presidential Library, Museum and Exhibition Centre was unveiled in March 2018 but has since been renamed the Office of Presidential Libraries and Archives (OPLA) under former television reporter Munira Mohammed

Mohamed’s remit was to head Presidential Libraries starring relevant materials of former Presidents Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki for permanent and temporary public exhibitions and research.

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The State Department of Heritage was also to be roped in and Mohammed, also the deputy head of the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU), told The Nairobian that her team has made significant progress as “we have benchmarked extensively how other nations set up their Presidential repositories as well as consulted with key conservation and heritage experts for best practices.”

But there is that small matter of location, as families of the former Presidents might prefer to have Libraries in their home constituencies.

Her office proposed a single complex for all Kenyan presidents, though the Director of the Kenya National Archives approved the home of founding President Jomo Kenyatta in Ichaweri, Gatundu, Kiambu County as the permanent repository of his historical records in a Gazette notice of November 22, 2019.

With regard to which materials will be publicly available, Mohammed stressed the importance of legal instruments for guidance on the collection of all Presidential materials to ensure such records become the property of Kenyan people, as in any case “we are not reinventing the wheel, we can learn from the best practices, in such a case the US.”

There, a 1943 Act of Congress and the 1978 Presidential Libraries Act bestowed any president’s records and any gifts as President valued at over $350 (Sh35, 000) are kept in a Presidential Library but belong to the American people and “in case a President decides not to have one, the materials are transferred to the National Archives for safekeeping,” says Mohamed.

She adds: “In our Kenyan context, yes, materials generated through one’s Presidency, are under State House and other public entities such as the National Archives. But when it comes to personal papers, artefacts and other mementoes, they are in the custody of families of former Presidents. I can give you an example when we did Mzee Moi’s posthumous exhibition displayed at three locations, Parliament buildings, Nyayo Stadium and the National Archives, the family was gracious enough to allow us possession of his precious mementoes, like the famous Moi’s rungu,  his military attire, one of his traditional gowns, his favourite bible and other things. We returned them after the exhibition,” added Mohammed, adding that the families of past Presidents are critical and “we have been working very closely with them as plans are underway to create a well-run Presidential Library system in which a country retains control of its presidential institutional memory.”   

Before 2019 to designate his Ichaweri home as a presidential museum, the bulk of Mzee Kenyatta’s private records were only available at the Kenya National Archives along Moi Avenue/Tom Mboya Street in Nairobi where they’re available to the public after paying entry fees. It is still not clear how much of the archives has been relocated to Ichaweri. 

But, unless the law explicitly provides for public access to Kenyatta’s records, Kenyans might never gain access to intimate records such as Mzee Kenyatta’s marriage certificate to Edna Clarke, which implicates him as a bigamist as he married her after also marrying Grace Wahu under Kikuyu customary law. This is unlike in the US where love letters and mash notes of former Presidents John Adams, Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon B Johnson and Ronald Reagan to their future wives are available in the presidential libraries.

The only exception is the stash of 100 letters Warren Harding wrote to his mistress of 15 years, Carrie Philips, which were discovered by historian Francis Russel in 1964 while researching his 1968 biography, In the Shadow of Blooming Grove: Warren G. Harding and His Presidency.

Harding’s heirs successfully sued to have the letters sealed from the public for 50 years, so they were not included in Russell’s book, but they were finally released to public view and posted online by the Library of Congress in 2014.

While Kibaki is yet to settle on where his historical records will be stored, in 2015, the former President presided over the launch of a Sh4.6 billion Mwai Kibaki Presidential Library at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, where he was an alumnus and faculty member.

The only other such projects in Africa are the Olesegun Obasanjo Presidential Library in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria and the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library at the University of South Africa (Unisa), Muckleneuk Campus in Tshwane.

Though the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library last secured the archives of Ghana’s independence leader Kwame Nkrumah, his daughter, Samia Nkrumah, is also on her way to establishing the Kwame Nkrumah Presidential Library in Volta Lake, Ghana.

The difference between these three and Kenya’s presidential libraries is that the latter will be publicly funded.

Mohammed stressed that a Presidential Library is unlike a normal Library as they are interactive centres of learning, breathing life to former presidents and their time in office and her office.

Presidential libraries began in the USA after Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President proposed them to end the culture of hoarding historical presidential materials as private property in 1939.

Though Mohammed’s team did benchmarking tours in the USA, they will adopt a different Presidential Library model of housing them in a singular complex comprising the museum, archives, resource centres and leadership training facilities. 

Moi Day Huduma Day Moi Cabinets
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