In Summary

  • To succeed Kenyatta, Moi endured humiliation, some of it physical, from opponents that included powerful men who had access to Kenyatta. But Moi used, among other things, his open and unquestionable loyalty to Kenyatta as a stepping stone to power.
  • Having changed the Constitution to get rid of political pluralism, Moi moved to construct Kanu into an enormous monolith with massive powers shared in equal measure by leaders at the national level and the grassroots.
  • Angry demonstrations rocked the country as Kenyans decried what they saw as a return of political assassinations. Eager to keep his name clean, Moi invited the British Scotland Yard to investigate Ouko’s death.

Against the greatest of odds, Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, a shy and reserved former primary school teacher, took the oath of office to become Kenya’s President.

With the decisive hand of Charles Njonjo, the spirit and letter of the Constitution was enforced on the same day Mzee Kenyatta died.

“Daniel Arap Moi is now the president of Kenya for 90 days until an election is held,” Charles Njonjo told foreign correspondents.

“The Constitution says the VP will be sworn in and will be president for 90 days,” says Njonjo in an NTV documentary.

The 90 days elapsed, and Moi was confirmed president after being elected unopposed in the 1979 election. But those who worked hard to stop him from succeeding President Kenyatta dismissed him as a stop-gap president; and they had a term for it – a passing cloud.

“The people of central Kenya said he was a passing cloud,” recalls retired politician John Keen.

They were wrong, according to Moi’s press secretary Lee Njiru.

“Passing cloud because you think your backyard is going to determine who is a passing cloud and who is not to be? He (Moi) stayed on for 24 years, four months and eight days,” he retorts in an NTV interview.

But according to Mark Too, who would be Moi’s, Bwana Dawa (Mr Fix It), “Moi believed in destiny. I can tell you today Moi did not have a timetable.”

Observers of his ways say Moi made a career out of being undermined and touring the country delivering messages from Kenyatta.

“Kenyatta would not hear any nonsense. He would tell Moi’s detractors that ‘I saw Moi on TV greeting people in my name. What have you done for me?’”

To succeed Kenyatta, Moi endured humiliation, some of it physical, from opponents that included powerful men who had access to Kenyatta. But Moi used, among other things, his open and unquestionable loyalty to Kenyatta as a stepping stone to power.

Aware that he was regarded rather lowly, Moi’s immediate instinct was to fight for his own survival.

“Moi was hands on, he hit the road running,” says Lee Njiru.

In a move calculated at appealing to the Kenyatta base, Moi coined a slogan, Nyayo , Kiswahili for footsteps; his pledge to follow the ways of Jomo Kenyatta.

But skeptics saw it differently. To Raila Odinga, “It was artificial nyayo. In terms of content, they were totally different.”

Of the promise to follow Kenyatta’s nyayo, GG Kariuki who would be a powerful Moi ally says: “That is a saying anybody would say but find his own way.”

Moi retained much of the Kenyatta inner circle and specifically the man who ensured he became President, Charles Njonjo. In the circle, too,was GG Kariuki and the Vice President Moi had chosen, the urbane Nyeri politician Mwai Kibaki. Together, they constituted a form of collegiate presidency that saw them ride together in the presidential limousine.

Dr Richard Leakey recalls that Moi, Njonjo and Geoffrey Kareithi, the head of civil service, would have lunch together in one or two city restaurants almost every day of the week.

“We were with him for only three years. We were running the government that time,” recalls GG.

An event that happened exactly four years into Moi’s presidency changed the man forever. A group of disgruntled Air Force servicemen briefly overthrew the government on the 1st of August 1982, before being overpowered by loyalist forces commanded by Brigadier Mahmoud Mohommed.

“The problem was, of course, the 1982 coup,” says Muthaura. To Njiru it was the proverbial once beaten, twice shy.

From then on, an insecure Moi turned to the Machiavellian script, stripping the ranks, getting rid of Charles Njonjo and constructing his own power circle made of figures from his own Kalenjin tribe such as power man Nicholas Biwott and presidential fixer Mark Too.

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