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Daniel Arap Moi


Daniel arap Moi

Daniel arap Moi

President of Kenya

Born in 1924 at Sacho, Baringo District, Moi was a teacher between 1945 and 1957. He held ministerial posts in the interim administration once the British had decided to withdraw from Kenya and then was Minister of Home Affairs from independence in 1964 right through until 1978 when, as Vice-President and candidate of the only political party allowed, KANU, he succeeded Jomo Kenyatta as President. Initially seen as a technocrat, he has become increasingly dictatorial. The longer he has been in power, the more intolerant of dissent he has become.

Prosecutor’s notes to the team:
I came across this story recently which will help you get a handle on Daniel arap Moi. International aid donors, including the World Bank, were astonished to hear news of a proposed $84 million project to construct a third international airport in Eldoret. The project makes no economic sense, they say. True, but it is to be built in Moi’s home province. It would be located near Moi University and would relieve pressure on Moi Airport in Mombasa. And to think the press have been accusing me of delusions of grandeur…

For years Kenya was the West’s favourite protegé in Africa because of its hostility to socialism. But now that many other African countries have switched to the free market and have adopted multi-party democracy Moi’s consistently appalling human-rights record has been exposed. The story of Moi’s last four years in power show just how important international pressure can be. In 1991 donors suspended aid to Kenya on economic and human-rights grounds. Within a month political detainees had been released and a multi-party system had been legalized. Aid soon restarted but remained conditional on human-rights improvements. Then in December 1994 aid was renewed without any expression of concern over human rights. Within a month the Government had recommenced attacks on opposition forces.

Moi often seems crude but he is smart enough to know when to back off – he clamps down on opposition just as hard as he is allowed to. All the more reason to give him some grief.

[image, unknown] Persecution of ethnic groups associated with the political opposition. Since 1991 the Government has been responsible for unleashing terror and expelling certain ethnic groups from the Rift Valley Province. Around 300,000 people have been internally displaced and cannot resettle on their land because of the threat of violence. Around 1,500 people have died in ‘tribal clashes’, most of them belonging to ethnic groups associated with the opposition.

It’s hard to understand the background to all these human-rights abuses without understanding the ethnic complexity of Kenyan society. Moi himself is a Kalenjin, a formerly pastoralist group that forms only 11 per cent of the population but which dominates the government. The political opposition emerges from the Kikuyu, Luo and Luhya, who together make up 47 per cent of the population and it is these groups which have suffered most from the attacks and evictions. MPs close to Moi have repeatedly called for ‘majimboism’, under which all ethnic groups who were not in the Rift Valley before colonialism would be expelled – ethnic cleansing by another name.

[image, unknown] Presiding over widespread government corruption. In November 1994 President Moi accepted at an investors’ meeting in London that government corruption had deterred new aid and investment in Kenya – this was one of the factors which led to the suspension of overseas aid in 1991.

Stories abound of corruption at the highest levels. In 1993, for example, the European Union withdrew from funding the proposed Turkwell Gorge hydroelectric plant because the contract negotiated by the Kenyan Government involved so many kickbacks. People are not so much feathering their nests as furnishing their palaces.

[image, unknown] Silencing independent organizations and the media. In February 1995 two independent organizations were banned: Clarion, a research group which had just published a study detailing widespread government corruption; and the Mwaganza Trust, which has campaigned for constitutional and legal reform. A critical Catholic magazine, Inooro, was also banned.

And these are only the formal bannings. The offices of the Legal Advice Centre, which works to curb government abuses, were attacked six times in early 1995 by unknown assailants armed with guns and petrol bombs. The outspoken magazine Finance had its office doused with petrol and set on fire in February. And in April government officials stormed the premises of the printer of numerous independent magazines and promptly dismantled its printing machines. You could safely say Moi’s idea of ‘democratic space’ differs from other people’s.

[image, unknown] Harassment and persecution of opposition politicians. This has been a hallmark of Moi’s presidency throughout but has been particularly bad in the last year. In February Moi ordered that anyone who insulted him be arrested. In June he blocked registration of a new political party, Safina, and denounced one of its leaders, white conservationist Richard Leakey, as a racist colonialist; shortly after, 100 armed vigilantes stormed Leakey’s home demanding the departure of ‘the colonialist’.

Moi behaves like a spoiled child half the time – he has spent so long as head of a one-party state that he can’t cope with the existence of opposition parties which he was only forced to legalize by international pressure. He probably did win the first multi-party election in 1992, mainly because he had been so successful in splintering and undermining the opposition. But the election was still highly dubious, full of examples of intimidation and government supporters being bussed in to vote.

Moi’s paranoia can be fantastic, as when, in May, he accused the opposition of seeking money from the Ku Klux Klan. Our lead witness Koigi wa Wamwere, who is a Kikuyu, is plainly in jail on a trumped-up charge – and the Government is spinning out the legal proceedings as long as it can so as to keep him inside until after the next election.

Witnesses for the prosecution

Koigi wa Wamwere, who is on trial facing the
death penalty, smuggled this letter out of prison
to David Sullivan, an American observer in court.

Dear David
Thanks for coming to observe this our most interesting, albeit dangerous, trial. Here we have a proverb that says ‘a hiding antelope does not hate the one who sees it but the one who calls people to go and kill it’. Equally if we see evil and injustices but do nothing about them, they could last forever despite our knowledge of and hatred for them. When we see evil and injustices, we must expose and fight to end them. In this regard I am sure you are not one of those observers who will see and hear evil in this court but choose not to tell the world about it.

When I see people from other countries come to observe this trial, I really want to talk to them. But you have seen for yourself: our system is so oppressive and undemocratic that an accused person is presumed guilty before conviction and must be totally excluded from society, family and friends. And the problem is that it is not just the police, the courts or the prisons that are misfunctioning badly. It is the entire system that is rotten from top to bottom. As regards government’s refusal to let us talk to observers, it is the trial magistrate who is most keen to prevent us: he is afraid that we might criticize his extreme bias against us.

No matter. What I wished to tell you is this: we are 100 percent innocent of the charges for which we are being tried in this court. This trial has been most unfair and we expect no justice at the end of it. The real problem in this trial is President Moi. He is afraid that I might contest the presidency in 1997, so I must be destroyed now. Moi also wants to use this trial and the judiciary in general to effect his diabolical policy of ethnic cleansing against Kikuyu people who live in the Rift Valley. In destroying us, Moi’s chosen instrument is Mr William Tuiyot, the trial magistrate in this court. Knowing this, we have more than five times asked Mr Tuiyot to disqualify himself but he has refused to do so. And to be able to convict us, Mr Tuiyot has been heard to say that he will ignore all defence evidence – including our alibis, which the investigating officer refused to investigate.

More important, this trial is also meant for the consumption of Western donors. If Moi could, he would have detained us without charge or trial. But Western donors disapprove of detention without trial. Can Western donors now let Moi crucify his political opponents as mere ‘criminals’ and ‘robbers?’ This is what Moi wants to find out from this trial – unfair as it is, Moi will in future use the abuse of law and criminal justice to dispose of his other political opponents, in the same way as he would have done with detention without trial, and Western donors will continue to finance his dictatorship! When you go back, tell American taxpayers that it is not fair for their money to be used in the maintenance of this dictatorship.

Your coming here is proof that the world is now one and by threatening to do an injustice to us, Moi has also threatened to do an injustice to the entire humanity. Nevertheless, Moi takes refuge in the callousness of another African proverb which says that ‘eyes of frogs do not stop cows from drinking water’. As cows have great contempt for pleading but powerless frogs so has Moi for pleading but powerless humanity. For Moi to end his dictatorship, the world must do more than just plead with him. Western donors must impose diplomatic and economic sanctions. Only that can earn innocent people freedom and end the long-lasting suffering of Kenyans.

If ever we don’t manage to talk, go well and convey our best regards to the American people. And please remember to come back in better times.

One day, we shall also overcome.


Koigi wa Wamwere is an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. He has been on trial since April 1994 on a charge of armed robbery that faces the death penalty.

The Catholic Bishops of Nairobi,
in a pastoral letter issued in April 1995

We find no consolation in the praise for Kenya from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund…

The treatment of non-KANU [Moi’s party] political activities violates the basic rules of democracy and of constitutional and human rights...

Too many of our people are living in fear; it would seem there is no law, no justice, no protection, except for the powerful.

©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996

New Internationalist issue 275 magazine cover This article is from the January 1996 issue of New Internationalist.
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