Moi was a beneficiary of the authoritiarinism of not just Kenyatta ,but the entire era. In the late 70s when he took over,ideas of democratic competition,the so-called women's agenda or animal rights were as foreign as talk of homo rights or ancient Vietnamese architecture. Life was simple-citizens generally did what they were told and trusted the government in exchange for affordable consumer prices,peace and development. The equation worked til the early 80s.
At this period,for the first time ever there was genuine widespread discontent with the government. Inflation,in the wake of IMF.WB mandated cuts to the strength of the Kenya shilling,the usual 3rd world balance of payments problem coupled with torture of dissidents and talk of increasing corruption caused a silent sea change in the attitudes of Kenyans.
Kenya's most overambitious politician,Raila Odinga latched onto these narratives of disaffection to 'save the country' in a typically unsuccessful scheme that killed at least 1500,civilians,mutinying air force officers and loyal troops. The junior air force non coms kicked off a day early before their conspirators were ready, no doubt the booze in the mess the previous night affected their decision making even though how technicians such as ordnance men,radar techs and aircraft refuellers ,the overwhelming majority of any air force personnel were supposed to battle infantrymen was never seriously considered.
This was the result in most of Nairobi. A journo said of the scale of looting during the August 1 1982 coup,"they could have dismantled Kenyatta conference centre,brick by brick!"
By evening the coup leaders were in disarray,dead or in full flight. But not before hundreds of innocents caught in the crossfire were shot while others died in the orgy of rape and looting. The full effect of the coup upon the lives of Kenyans was seen in due course.
The story is told of how Julius Nyerere who was never the ever smiling,earnest Socialist he pretended to be but a ruthless schemer jealous of his larger Northern neighbour advised Moi on the down and dirty of complete political control. This account is from 2 separate senior Kenyan sources,one in intel ,the other in business.
Nyerere is alleged to have advised Moi Kenyans were too prosperous to be properly ruled and on the primary importance of controlling not just wealth but the 'avenues' of wealth,the parastatals,the coops that distribute our national produce indeed everything that directly or indirectly produced wealth in Kenya. Whatever the veracity of this tale in the mid 80s government sponsored interference in agricultural organisations from marketing to the appointment of personnel wrought havoc in the entire farm industry. Coffee,sugar,dairy and grains sectors suffered major dysfunctions of deliberate sabotage.
In the post coup atmosphere the Special Branch powers were increased without any semblance of legality. Lecturers were watched full time,politicians,academics and suspected 'disaffected elements' were often detained without warning ,armies of informers swarmed all meeting places reporting on everybody and everything. Politicians outdid themselves declaring loyalty to KANU ,the then ruling party,'the father and mother of the nation' and in extension Moi who said openly 'you must parrot after me'.
This period was the national political equivalent of the warlord era;district KANU bosses wielded more power than Cabinet ministers. Regularly they subjected suffering Kenyans to public insults,threats,warnings,unbridled hubris and all manner of ill considered boasts. Here are the most memorable,Kuria Kanyingi of Kiambu, JJ Kamotho of Muranga and Shariff Nassir of Mombasa.
J J Kamotho
As for Moi himself he veered very close into the Cult of Personality. His pronouncements,no matter how inane were the lead on the single station VOK and the 3 dailies throughout the 80s-yes,its true! There was a strictly followed yet unofficial rule stating he was to be the lead item in not only VOK but print media which though private had been reduced to a semi propaganda organ.
The experience of a personal friend in this oppressive political climate is instructive. Studying political science at the University of Nairobi he was picked up in mid1987 along with 10 or so students. Slaps,karate chops,punches and kicks were the starter in an effort to force confessions of working with foreign forces . Pliers were applied to testicles and at least one didn't survive.
Throughout the 80s such stories were legion. Compared to other nations on the continent or in S America,Kenya was a benign dictatorship but its estimated at least 400 to 1000 Kenyans disappeared in the 80s. By the onset of the 90s the Structural Adjustment Policies were taking a hitherto unseen toll on poor Kenyans with establishment of urban hunger. For the first time ever pockets of desperate poverty in Nairobi were seen. Kibera,Korogocho and Mathare grew exponentially as rural formerly subsidized farmers trekked to the capital looking for non existant jobs.
Increasingly all levels of government exhibited a level of lethargy compounding national disaffection. The telecom monopoly,Kenya Posta,perhaps the poster child of government lack of concern. At one time it was overstaffed by a factor of 3 yet as recently as the late 90s it was near impossible to make a landline call between the city centre and Mombasa Road or Embakasi. The city admin had collapsed almost everywhere and services like water and sewerage were provided sporadically or nor at all.
For months at a time residents of entire estates would buy water from friends in other areas. As the national unravelling exacerbated and crime spiralled urban areas began to fence or wall themselves off from the armies of petty criminals. Formerly ,for example,one could walk unrestricted through Magiwa to Ngumo near Wilson airport-by the 90s this was no longer possible.
Even when the government was innocent,public reaction was negative. The Ouko saga being the perfect illustration of relations between the ruled and rulers. When Moi announced his disappearance shortly after an official trip to Washington many pointed fingers in his direction. Matters weren't helped by an unbelievably clumsy cover up attempt where the pathologist,the late Jason Kaviti,who suffered the contempt of all Kenyans til his death years later alleged he committed suicide-he'd have had to shoot himself while on fire! A decade and a half later a Brit researcher accused his own government of the murder to forestall,a popular pro American leader in 'their' arena.Alas! By then we had all moved on.
When the global shift to multi partyism arrived Moi quite cynically manufactured ethnic violence that came to be known as land/tribal clashes. He gained 2 benefits: he punished the Kikuyu agitators for democracy and 'proved' to the West such democracy isn't for Africans. The same mentality internalised among his ethnic group culminated in the worst spate of killings in the 2007 post elections fighting.
The national trauma on the economic front,unfortunately wasn't over. A young Asian wheeler dealer,Kamlesh Pattni in 1990 had a genuine plan to increase the GDP by an export compensation scheme. Impeccable evidence now shows his idea was hijacked by the senior most intel operator at the time and turned into a personal cash cow,now known as Goldenberg. The late spy boss by the time of his death in 2008 owned a 5 star hotel and an entire block in London's most fashionable shopping district as well as another hotel at his personal home in Kiambu county,among countless other multi million dollar assets.
Along with the money handed out to the infamous Youth for Kanu operators to basically buy the first multi party elections,in the billions,inflation in late 93 peaked at 100%. Yes,you read that right.
At this stage,Kenyans,especially the middle class,just resorted to survival,a perfectly understandable reaction. Families living in solidly middle class estates like Buru Buru phase 3 or Donhoolm found themselves going distinctly downmarket relocating to Dandora or Huruma while those in the latter zones moved to the slums. KANU bosses would be often overheard joking "Kenya is simply Congo plus 10!"
Meaning in a decade this Kinshasa market scene would be replicated everywhere in Kenya,such was the dismal national trajectory.
For many ,latent hope was revived only in 1999 when the government signalled intent to licence the first mobile phone operator. The fact that Moi would finally surrender his stranglehold on the telecom network was a sign from the mountain that he was serious about relinquishing power.
The joy that greeted his departure in 2002 was of near biblical proportions. The architect of national poverty and trauma was seen as a near other worldly figure, a phantom sent by dark forces to try the patience of Christians.
Whatever the case many,including me believe he got off very lightly,too lightly for what he did to us as a nation. He's been unfairly blamed for the Goldenberg scheme and the Ouko murder but shall forever be held responsible for the systemic poverty and lack of development afflicting much of Kenya. Throughout the whole of his regime his government didn't initiate a single large scale urban housing project or invest seriously in energy or the railway-we all know where that has led us to.
So,young Dear Reader,next time someone says ,"Moi was better than Kibaki/Kenyatta/Kenyatta jr",don't argue- force feed them this.
The condition of Stanley Njindo Matiba,one of the fighters for the estbalishment of multipartyism in the nineties is instructive. Six or so years before his 1990 detention he climbed Mt.Kenya,while still MP ,running his business including his flagship Alliance hotel group,Hillcrest school and carnation export firm;a true paragon of productive energy.
After a few months detention he was wheeled into Nairobi hospital,more dead than alive,having suffered a near fatal stroke,during maltreatment. Luckily,the, Moi government didn't want a a martyr and he was released for further London medical care.
Though he improved and came a creditable second against the Moi machine in the first multiparty elections of 1992 he later served as the epitome of political and financial injustices inflicted upon dissenters by what had become a ravenous cannibal state concerned only with survival.
In the early years of the millenium the usurious lending practices of Barclays Bank Kenya saw him nearly lose everything. The courts sided with him and though he saved his hotels his empire took a hard knock and he is crippled by creditors.
The Matiba of the 90s who on his return from London in 92 filled the airport and the 15 km route to the city with an estimated 1.5 mn Kenyans.
Right thinking Kenyans correctly blame one man for this development.