- October 9, 2018
I don’t know when it happened but somewhere along the line, the Kenyan Presidency lost its muscle, its ability to make us shake in our boots at the mere mention of the word- President- with a capital P. These days a President can’t sneeze without some nit- wit tweeting about it- usually the tweet is in the form of a complaint. The dissidence. The criticisms. The Kenyans on Twitter. I mean jeez- can we not give the man a break!
When his Excellency, Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi aka M-O- 1 aka Tan Toro was President, a President was treated, well, like a President. Today, we take a walk down memory lane and recap some of the things that happened when Moi was President, twitter didn’t exist and Kenyans knew their place.
1. ALL and I mean ALL news broadcasts on the national broadcaster started with “Mtukuf Rais”
When Moi was President, news broadcasts on the national broadcaster, and for a long time we only had one TV station, started with news about him. First there would be a picture of him that would be frozen on our screens for about 15 seconds- just in case you were a foreigner or had been living under a rock and needed to know exactly who the President of Kenya was. The next 15 to 20 minutes of the bulletin would go on and on and on about what he had done, where he had gone, who he had spoken to, what he had eaten, what he had seen- in other words all those things that could potentially make or break our country. The final ten minutes were then allocated to civil wars, world peace, student protests, environmental degradation, disease and all those other irrelevant things that would be going on in our country and the world at large.
2. If you upset Moi, he didn’t beat about the bush, he fired you- over the lunchtime news- on KBC
Moi didn’t ask ministers to step aside so that investigations would be carried out regarding their conduct- if Moi was over you, you wouldn’t see it coming… until it did. Word has it he would be laughing with you in the morning, perhaps even discussing a potential promotion and then in the afternoon: BOOM! IN THE GLARE OF THE PUBLIC! DURING THE LUNCHTIME NEWS!WITHOUT NOTICE! YOU WOULD BE DROPPED. And not directly by Moi but by the news presenter. Following this announcement, you would be managed off the premises (State House, your office or wherever you happened to be at 1 pm) by his handlers and cease to have any more access to the big man. If you worked under Moi (which all of Kenya did), you were well advised to always listen to lunchtime news- just to be sure you still had a job for the rest of the day. One of Moi’s biggest casualties was his Vice President of 13 years. He accepted his dismissal (like he had a choice) which leads me to the next point…
3. Moi left Kenya without a Vice President for 14 months- and felt nada!
The year was 1998. Moi sacked his Vice President, Professor George Saitoti (God rest his soul) over the lunchtime news- how else? Then reinstated him- but only after 14 months. During that period, Kenyans had questions: If Moi was abducted by aliens or incapacitated or God forbid, died, who would run the country? These were questions Kenyans asked, not on twitter, but in the hushed tones and in the privacy of their homes. Moi must have known about the grumblings of Kenyans but as he always used to say he was “like a chiraffe (read giraffe), he could see far”, and apparently he did.
4. Moi Dished out money- loads and loads of it
On this, I write from first-hand experience, it was all smiles and ass-kissing when he was there but the minute he was gone- the claws came out and everything went to the dogs. Clothes would be torn, punches thrown and all manner of injuries inflicted on the poor soul who happened to receive the mula…This one time I was a beneficiary, I had, in fact, performed for him, I did not see a single red cent of what he ‘paid out’. On the bright side, I didn’t experience any blunt force trauma injuries to my head.
Rumour had it that he kept big boxes of cash in State House and with every trip he took, he would stuff bundles in brown envelopes. What Kenyans didn’t know (actually they knew but didn’t care) was that Moi didn’t give out money because he was so generous. He gave it out because he knew that everybody had a price.
5. The term ‘roadside declarations’ was coined and ended with the Moi era
And former funny man Nyambane captures it beautifully in the first 2 minutes of this clip.
6. At one time, Moi got rid of the secret ballot system of voting and replaced it with mlolongo:
That way, this nonsense of hoodlums running away with ballot boxes in Migori or ghost voters appearing in Tharaka Nithi was a non-issue. Voters simply lined up behind the candidate of their choice. Polling officers were drawn from the provincial administration (read Moi’s cronies) then counted the voters. Candidates who were declared winners were those preferred by the Moi power Centre. So simple. So straightforward. So real.
7. Moi set elephant tusks on fire
I remember I was living in Europe at this time. In my 5+ years of living there, all I used to hear about Africa were stories of famine, poverty, AIDS and civil wars (like anything has changed). But this was a refreshing story. An African president standing up for things that actually mattered. He was my president. For the first time in my life, I was proud to be Kenyan. It was a PR stunt-but like any self-respecting PR stunt should, it did the job.
Kibaki and UK pulled similar stunts but do you hear anyone talking? No. I tell you these days; the presidency is a thankless job.
8. Moi built ornaments, named landmarks, institutions of learning, created public holidays and had songs composed in his name.
He also put his face on our currency. When Kibaki came into power, he put an end to what he could put an end to. Which is all good, but abolishing the public holiday? C’mon, that was a little harsh on hard-working Kenyans! But alas, Kenyans have said no to this abolition and so here we are- celebrating this auspicious occasion once again thanks to the last big man of our times. Happy Moi Day folks! Enjoy the day off. Or better still, find work that you love so that you never have to work a day in your life.