Daniel Arap Moi, Strongman Who Ruled Kenya for 24 Years, Has Died
(Bloomberg) -- Daniel Arap Moi, who ruled Kenya as president for almost a quarter of a century while banning opposition groups and fending off accusations of corruption and human-rights abuses, has died at the age of 95, the presidency said.
“It is with profound sadness and sorrow that I announce the passing of a great African statesman,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a proclamation emailed by his office. Moi died at the Nairobi Hospital in the capital on Tuesday morning in the presence of his family, according to the statement.
Taking office in 1978, Moi moved to centralize rule under his authority, assuming emergency powers and curbing the independence of the judiciary. He also amended the country’s constitution in 1983, abolishing the multiparty system and enabling the Kenya African National Union to rule unchallenged.
Torture was widespread, driving Kenyans, such as novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o, into exile and others, such as Raila Odinga, who served as prime minister during Mwai Kibaki’s presidency two decades later, into detention. In 1982, Moi survived a coup attempt by junior air-force officers in which as many as 1,800 people died. The incident led to a further clampdown on opposition to his rule.
Moi oversaw “the real entrenchment of a system of patronage in Kenya,” John Githongo, the then executive director of Transparency International in Kenya, said in a 2002 interview with British Broadcasting Corp. He oversaw “the systematic destruction of our institutions,” Githongo said.
Moi’s administration also presided over the Goldenberg corruption scandal in the 1990s, which involved payments to Goldenberg International to subsidize fake gold and diamond exports. The scheme cost the country an estimated $1 billion, equivalent to 10% of gross domestic product at the time.
Following sustained domestic and international pressure, Moi allowed the re-introduction of multiparty politics in 1990. Presidential elections followed in 1992, which Moi won against opposition parties led by politicians such as Oginga Odinga, a former vice president under President Jomo Kenyatta. Moi secured a second and final term in 1997 against Kibaki and Raila Odinga.
Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi was born on Sept. 2, 1924, in the village of Kureing’wo in Baringo district, 155 miles (250 kilometers) west of Nairobi. His father, Kimoi Arap Chebii, was a herdsman whose ancestors had migrated from the slopes of Mount Kenya to avoid conflict with the Maasai tribe in the 19th century, according to Kenya’s presidency.
Moi was the fifth child of Kabon, the senior wife of his father. From age 4, when his father died, Moi was raised by his elder brother, Tuitoek, and he attended the African Inland Mission school in Kabartonjo, requiring him to walk 28 miles from home. He later transferred to mission and government schools in Kapsabet.
Moi then trained as a teacher and he was heavily influenced by Christianity. He became a head teacher at Kabarnet before training others in his profession in government schools.
Entering politics in 1955, Moi began serving on the country’s legislative council under U.K. colonial rule. After Kenya gained independence in 1963, he was appointed home affairs minister before Jomo Kenyatta appointed him as his deputy four years later. A member of the Kalenjin ethnic group, Moi became president after Kenyatta, of the majority Kikuyu group, died in August 1978.
His pledge to follow a more nationalist agenda appealed to Kenyans who argued that Kenyatta’s policies had favored the Kikuyu and excluded other ethnic groups. Among the first steps taken by Moi when he became president were the freeing of political prisoners and a crackdown on corruption that resulted in the resignation of the police chief, Bernard Hinga.
After winning all elections as a member of parliament for Baringo Central and as president since independence, Moi stepped down on Dec. 30, 2002, and handed power to Kibaki.
Moi married Lena Moi in 1950 and they divorced in 1974. Their children included daughters Jennifer, Doris and June and sons Raymond, John Mark, Philip and Gideon. Their eldest son Jonathan died in 2019.
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