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How tipsy veterinary doctor made Moi Kenya’s second president

For starters, the mistress of Moi’s wildest dreams never kissed the lips of political ambitions

Omundu strong: Moses Mudamba Mudavadi was an education officer in the Rift Valley. He reassured Moi that his teaching job would be intact if he found politics a tough call. It was the beginning of Moi’s 40 year’s in politics and government. The Mois and the Mudavadis, who were neighbours at Kabarnet Gardens off Ngong Road, have been tight ever since.

BY GW Ngari


@Undercover KE

The alcoholism of a veterinary doctor gave Kenya its second president, a dictator whose 24 year rule was a study in social waste, economic ruin and political grief. 

President Daniel arap Moi, who has closed his gate aged 95, was never meant to lead a country. But he did, the combination of fate and destiny. He appeared like a good man, God fearing and  all. But the heady political circumstances in Kenya made Moi the embodiment of the Big Man syndrome and all its megalomaniacal excesses.

The man who often quoted the bible verbatim, who rarely missed church service, would later turn into a merciless Machiavellian schemer on whose pole many political dreams were hanged, where people’s lives were ruined, a country went to the dogs.

But for starters, the mistress of Moi’s wildest dreams never kissed the lips of political ambitions. He was content to be a head teacher in rural Baringo, in the then Rift Valley Province.

 But the gods can play cruel jokes, in Moi’s case, through a veterinary doctor who loved his tipple.

 It so happened that all eight provinces in Kenya at the time were politically represented at the Legislative Council (Legco) by a Kenyan African of their choice. The Rift Valley had Dr John Ole Tameno, always high like a kite.   

The Rift Valley demanded a replacement, someone who never cut a drop. And Daniel arap Moi,  the God fearing headmaster, a teetotaler with a young family, fitted the bill.

That was in 1955 when Moses Mudavadi, the OId Guy of Musalia Mudavadi, was the District Education Officer in the Rift Valley where he gassed his battered Land Rover to collect fees, pay teachers and inspect schools dressed in khaki shorts. That was how Mudavadi Senior met Moi.  
But there was a problem. Moi feared if he found politics a tough call, his teaching job would be gone.
  Mudavadi assured him the job would be intact, complete with its old salary. Moi bought a Land Rover similar to Mudavadi’s and gassed to Nairobi after a few rudimentary driving lessons from his friend Paul Chemirmir.

Slow of speech and coming from a small, and then backward tribe, Moi hardly appeared politically threatening

That was how the ever tipsy Dr Tameno- the vet who treated Jomo Kenyatta’s cows when they suffered from anaplasmosis in his Gatundu farm- paved way for Moi’s 40 plus years in politics.

Moi represented Rift Valley in the Legco, and at independence in 1963 would be elected MP for Baringo Central. Slow of speech and coming from a small, and then backward tribe, Moi hardly appeared politically threatening when Jomo Kenyatta appointed him Vice President in 1967.

Moi was humble, like the biblical lamb. Unlike those in Kenyatta’s court who quaffed alcohol, smoke cigars and cigarettes, Moi was a verse quoting teetotaler. He never smoked or went to wild dances at the then Starlight Club along Valley Road.

Weep not, child: Former Attorney General Charles Njonjo (left) shielded Moi from the Kiambu Mafia when he was a besieged Vice President. Moi was to later make Njonjo cry in the toilet. Young Uhuru Kenyatta (right) seems to have been a keen political student of his time.

As Vice President, he was often cold-shouldered and demeaned by hirelings in the Kenyatta administration. Coast politician Ronald Ngala often wondered aloud why he allowed himself to be treated like a doormat and he retorted: “Take it easy, our time will come”.  

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That time came when Jomo Kenyatta died on August 22, 1978 and after surviving succession upheavals fronted by what was later termed ‘Kiambu Mafia’ Moi became Kenya’s second president.

And having been Vice President for more than a decade, he had learnt from the best.

The man they considered a ‘passing cloud’ and looked down as a weak senior bachelor,  would spend 24 years as President who stared down at Kenyans from the currency notes and mandatory portraits in every office and business premise. His name was on streets, schools, stadiums, university, airport, and monuments. He gobbled half the news time on radio and TV, where he was always the first bulletin item.

Ministers wore lapel pins with his photo on them. Indeed, one Cabinet minister in the Moi government, William Odongo Omamo, had a dozen suits, each with its own pin lapel… just in case he forgot and wore the wrong suit!

Moi was felt in the education system, in which students recited a loyalty pledge, learnt about the Nyayo philosophy in GHC (geography, history and civics) lessons, and drank Nyayo milk. In the remotest parts of the country, the local chief was the president’s eyes and ears.

 British historian Charles Hornsby in Kenya: A History Since Independence, notes that “as president, Kenyatta was the aged king whose word was law, and Moi inherited and adapted the model of authoritarianism and the administrative structures that supported it.”

. Having come from a small ethnic community, Moi needed political legitimacy mostly bought through loyalty and by 1979 he had begun warming his way into the hearts of Kenyans with various projects, most notably, the Nyayo school milk programme and populist stopovers during countrywide tours.

But things started changing, his true colours showing when  Moi’s henchmen began rigging elections to control his survival via concentrating power in his own hands, closing political space and creating a new ethnically centred power structure notes Hornsby, adding that his men “drove redistributive policies that did not always prove to be in the interests of the masses.” 

Kenya rungu: A loyalist soldier patrols city streets in Nairobi after the abortive coup of August 1, 1982. There were two other coup attempts in 1971 and 1981 but which were stillbirths. Social, economic and political stagnation triggered the coup when it touched on soldiers.

To make matters worse, Moi had inherited an economy which had been galloped by the Coffee Boom, a Kenyatta regime that was corrupt but delivered services, worked throughout the 1970s. But by 1979, a year after he took over, quadrupling oil prices caused by the energy crisis created a global recession. The worst hit were developing countries like Kenya where Moi was still trying to shake off the Kiambu Mafia which had harassed and humiliated him in the 11 years when he was president.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, many independent era African governments were being overthrown via military coups. There were two military coup attempts in Kenya but which were nipped in the bud. The first were plans to assassinated President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta as he presided over the Easter Safari Rally outside KICC in April 1971.

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But a drunk military officer spilled the beans in a London bar not knowing his drinking buddies were British M16 officers who let Nairobi know what was cooking. Army Chief of Staff Major-General Joseph Ndolo, Yatta MP Gideon Mutiso and Chief Justice Kitili Mwendwa were implicated and eased out of government. That coup was a Kamba Affair!

Another coup attempt was also stifled 10 years later when military officer James Waore Diang’a, masterminded one in 1981. While he was imprisoned at Kamiti Maximum Prison, his sidekicks, most of them Luos, did not let the dream die.

It was time for another coup attempt which ended Moi’s age of political innocence

In Diang’a’s book titled, 1982, he justified the 1981 coup plot as having been triggered by among others; Luo’s being politically short-changed- as Moi only had only three Luos in government- besides Luos being under-represented in the army.

But that was just one cog in the wheel of lamentations. It was time for another coup attempt which ended Moi’s age of political innocence when junior Kenya Air Force officers led by Senior Privates Hezekiah Ochuka and Pancras Oteyo Okumu, staged the abortive coup of August 1, 1982.

Though it was quashed by loyal forces led by General Mahmoud Mohammed, it changed Moi for the worse and took Kenya a long way-in the wrong direction.  

Every uprising, bloodless or otherwise, has triggers. The 1982 coup attempt was precipitated by, among others, official corruption, abuse of power, and economic degradation. Turning Kenya into a single-party state, besides the more apparent poor conditions in the armed forces — particularly the lack of recognition for non-commissioned officers — also fueled discontent within the forces.

But turning Kenya into a single party state that March was like a prostitute sinking her stiletto into the heart of Luo officer in the army. Effectively, the political dreams of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, were killed as he  was left clutching at a toothless Opposition party called Kenya People’s Union (KPU). Jomo Kenyatta had abandoned the Luo Nation and consigned Jaramogi to political wilderness after he left government in 1966. And here was Moi following in Kenyatta’s footsteps-Fuata Nyayo!

Aftermath: Destruction of property in Nairobi following the abortive coup of August 1, 1982. It changed President Moi for the worse as Kenya went far, in the wrong direction. The coup was a Luo Affair in which Jaramogi and his son Raila Odinga played central roles.

The 1982 coup was a Luo Affair in which Jaramogi and his son Raila Odinga played central roles. It condemned the Luo Nation to Opposition politics for which they have gained little and they’re at the end of their wits on what to make of the ‘Handshake’ between Raila and President Uhuru Kenyatta.

For Moi though, the 1982 coup was God sent.

The frosty political atmosphere provided a besieged president with an arsenal to settle political scores with the Kiambu Mafia besides providing him with a chance to assert himself through consolidation, centralization, and personalization of power while neutralizing disloyal elements, real and imagined. It was the beginning of an oppressive one-man state more through default of Moi’s making, than design of the situation at the time.

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In his book, African Successes, David K. Leonard notes that the coup attempt was “a piece of good luck” for Moi and it also gave him a chance to reorganize the command structure of the armed forces and the police thus neutralizing them. 

With the disciplined forces in the hands of handpicked loyalists, the political structure was next.

Moi uprooted opposition leaders who posed a threat besides enacting a Bill granting him emergency powers. The provincial administration and civil service came under the Office of the President, for the first time in post-independence Kenya. In effect, a DC could stop an MP from addressing his constituents.

Next was Parliament, whose privilege to access information from the Office of the President was revoked, thus subordinating it to the presidency. The Legislature could only rubber-stamp — not check — the excesses of the Executive.  That is how, in 1986, it imposed limitations on the independence of the Judiciary, where Joseph Kamere, Attorney General at the time of the coup, was replaced with Cecil Miller, the Mr Blunders who suspended the Bill of Rights!

The freedoms of the press, expression, association, and movement were curtailed. Kenya became a police state

Parliament also gave police powers to detain critics of Moi’s authoritarian regime. Detention without trial, which had been suspended in 1978, was reintroduced through a constitutional amendment: George Anyona, Koigi Wamwere, Gitobu Imanyara, John Khaminwa, Gibson Kamau Kuria, Kiraitu Murungi, Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia, among others, were detained in inhumane conditions. Many fled the country afterwards. Others died.

It did not end there. The freedoms of the press, expression, association, and movement were curtailed. Kenya became a police state.

The coup provided Moi with the opportunity to crack down on lawyers, authors, activists, scientists, and (especially) university lecturers perceived to be critical of his authoritarian rule. Most were detained for what the State called “over-indulgence in politics” and having “Marxist leanings”. Among these were Prof Edward Oyugi, Mukaru Ng’ang’a and former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, then a University of Nairobi law lecturer. 

Other university lecturers did not fare any better, such as Mau Mau historian Maina wa Kinyatti, Al-Amin Mazrui, Kamonji Wachira, Prof Micere Mugo, and Dr Kimani Gecau, who fled to Zimbabwe.

Mlolongo: President Moi’s Kanu was Baba na Mama in Kenya, a single party state which introduced open-air queue voting. But alas! candidates with the shortest queues were declared winners. There was no appeal. Kiambu coffee picker Mukora Muthiora “defeated” the late Njenga Karume for the Kanu sub-branch chairmanship, yet he never even participated in the election.

The University of Nairobi, which Moi called a “den of dissidents with foreign backing”, was closed for almost a year after the coup. It was never the hotbed of “intellectual pyrotechnics” again.

Kanu replaced the secret ballot with the ‘Mlolongo System’ where voters lined up behind candidates as the case in the 1988 elections. Parliamentary candidates who secured more than 70 per cent of the votes did not have to go through the process of the secret ballot in the General Election in what was more or less a “selection within an election”.

In case of disputed polling over a head-count, a repeat was not possible. Kenyans lost their right to vote for parliamentary candidates of their choice, with ridiculous consequences.

Take the case of Kiambu coffee picker Mukora Muthiora. He “defeated” the late Njenga Karume for the Kanu sub-branch chairmanship.

Karume was then a former assistant minister for Cooperative Development. Provincial Commissioner Victor Musoga declared Muthiora the winner, yet he never participated in the election.

That Kenya went to the dogs, would be an insult to the dogs. According to Richard Sandbrook’s The Politics of Africa’s Economic Stagnation, what grew under Moi’s presidency was government: the number of civil servants ballooned at a rate of 5.4 per cent annually — faster than the population, faster than the private sector, and faster than the gross national product. 

All these because one veterinary doctor-Dr John Ole Tameno- could not hold his drink!

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