Biography of Daniel arap Moi

Name: Daniel arap Moi
Bith Date: September 2, 1924
Death Date:
Place of Birth: Kuriengwo, Kenya
Nationality: Kenyan
Gender: Male
Occupations: president, politician
Daniel arap Moi

Daniel arap Moi (born 1924) first became president of Kenya, by appointment, following the death of Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta.

Daniel arap Moi first became president of Kenya in 1978. For most of his years as president, Moi and the ruling party have had absolute authority over the country's political and judicial systems. Moi is a tough, experienced fighter, with "country boy cunning" and craftiness in exploiting tribal divisions. As the pro-government Sunday Times said: "Moi may not have studied politics at anyone's university, but he has proved himself a real `Professor of politics' in the practical sense." In 1982 Moi pushed legislation through making Kenya a de jure (by right) one-party state, although it had been a de facto (actual) one-party state since 1969, when the opposition was banned and KANU had begun overriding Parliament in decision-making matters.

Domestically, the Kenyan government had repressed pressure for political change by detentions, torture, and killings, and by control of the media and the courts. Internationally, demands for a more just society only came in the early 1990s, with the collapse of the eastern European bloc countries and the Soviet Union. Western donor countries, alarmed by misappropriation of aid money and human rights abuses, began exerting pressure on the Kenyan government to legalize opposition parties and hold multiparty elections. U.S. State Department officials estimated that President Moi had accumulated a personal fortune equal to that of Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko, who is reported to have $4 billion outside the country, according to Blaine Harden in Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent. The pressure from other governments seemed to take its toll, and Moi held multiparty elections in late 1995. The democracy was short-lived, however: Moi suspended the entire Parliament one day after they were seated.

Moi's formal educational background consisted of mission and government schools. He received further training at a teacher training college. From there he went on to teach at government training schools. Before he entered politics, his last posting in education was as assistant principal of Tambach Government African Teachers' College.

Moi's father died when Moi was young. His mother raised the family single-handedly but they were poor. Moi's paternal uncle, Senior Chief Kiplabet, arranged for Moi to attend mission schools. Born Toroitich arap Moi, he took the name Daniel when he was baptized at the Karbatonjo mission school. Moi took menial jobs at the mission schools and during his school holidays he herded cattle. He passed his London Matriculation Examination and also got a certificate in public accounting from London through a correspondence course.

Political Introduction

Moi's introduction to politics came in 1955 when he was selected to be an African representative to the British colonial Legislative Council, or Legco. In March of 1957 Moi and seven other African members of the Legco formed a lobby group, the African Elected Members' Organisation. Others in the parliamentary pressure group included nationalists Tom Mboyo, Oginga Odinga, and Musinde Muliro.

In 1960 as members of Legco, Moi and other nationalists participated in the constitutional talks held in London in preparation for Kenya's independence from Britain. On their return, they formed the political party Kenya Africa National Union (KANU). Eventually Moi and others from minority tribal groups broke away from KANU because it represented the interests of the dominant tribes, the Luo and the Kikuyu, and formed a multi-tribal coalition, the Kenyan African Democratic Union (KADU) as an alternative to KANU. Moi became chair of the new party.

In the transition period to independence Moi was appointed parliamentary secretary in the ministry of education in 1961. In this position he represented Kenya at the UNESCO Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and he traveled to India. In the pre-independence coalition government Moi was appointed minister for education and later minister for local government.

National Elections

In pre-independence national elections in 1963, KADU failed to present enough candidates to challenge KANU, now headed by nationalist leader Jomo Kenyatta. As a result, Kenyatta became president of the new republic in 1964, and Moi lost his ministerial portfolio. To bring the opposition into his government Kenyatta appointed Moi minister of home affairs after KADU dissolved itself in November of 1964.

No sooner had the new legislature had been sworn in than Moi set his government on a confrontational course with the opposition. With his power as executive, he suspended Parliament indefinitely and told the legislators to return to their constituencies. Many of the opposition parliamentarians were articulate, independent-minded professional people who would challenge the ruling party, if given the opportunity. Several opposition publications were confiscated and editors of two publications, one church-sponsored, were charged with sedition for publishing articles critical of Moi.

Moi is a Kalenjin from the Rift Valley, a minor tribe in ethnically divided Kenya. His tribal heritage has been a significant factor in his political career. Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first independence president in 1964 and a Kikuyu, selected Moi as vice president in 1967 partly because Moi lacked a powerful political base and was not a participant in the Luo-Kikuyu fight.

As vice president, Moi was perceived as bland and unassuming. But, as political rival Oginga Odinga related in his 1967 biography, Not Yet Uhuru, Moi was like "a giraffe with a long neck that saw from afar." As minister of home affairs, a position Moi retained when he became vice president, he was "responsible for the prisons, the police force, and the immigration department, [and he] made friendships which were to stand him in good stead in later years," according to Africa Confidential of June 1990. "His responsibility for issuing passports brought him into close touch with the Asian business community. His job of issuing work permits brought him equally close to British business houses. It was Moi's responsibility too as the minister of home affairs to make appointments throughout the police, prisons and immigration services. This was to be useful in later years when the police services were riddled with Moi appointees."

The Presidency

When Kenyatta died in August 1978, Moi became president with the consent of KANU and the help of powerful Kikuyus like attorney general Charles Njonjo. Moi named Kibaki, a Kikuyu, vice president, and other influential Kenyatta people retained their positions and parliamentary seats. Moi stressed continuation of Kenyatta's policies in his theme of "Nyayoism," or "footsteps."

As president, one of the first things Moi did was to travel the country to rural areas, visiting every tribal group. He introduced free milk programs for school children, released all political detainees, and abolished land-buying companies that had been gouging small landholders. Popular appeal, however, was not enough for Moi to hold power, especially as he came from an insignificant power base. Moi began rewarding loyalty and, as a consequence, the government became enormously corrupt. Kickbacks demanded on major government projects jumped from between 5 and 10 percent under Kenyatta to between 10 and 25 percent under Moi, according to a Kenyan economist cited by Harden in Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent. "Under Kenyatta, a spending project would be approved because it was a sound project and then it would be padded," the economist said. "Under Moi, there were a number of projects that would not and should not have been approved except for corruption."

Official corruption and abuse of powers, plus a deteriorating economy, exploded in a 1982 coup attempt by Kenya air force officers, most of them Luos, dissatisfied with their people being excluded from power and access to the national treasury. The army remained loyal to Moi and put down the coup. The president then detained most of the 2,100-strong air force, and created a totally new force. He eliminated Kikuyu and Luo officers from the military and put in Kalenjin and non-ethnic challengers; for instance, he named General Mahmoud Mohammed--an ethnic Somali--army chief of general staff. Government handouts co-opted military leaders. Officers above the rank of major got free farms, gifts of the government. Moi gave the military plentiful reasons to remain loyal to him.

On the grassroots level, the KANU youth wing conducted a massive membership recruitment drive, which was reported to have attracted four million new members and raised millions of dollars for the ruling party. Even at the market level, buyers and sellers could not trade without a party card. The general services unit, a paramilitary wing of the police force with a reputation for brutality, quashed pro-democracy activities and demonstrations.

As part of his effort to rid the inner circles of government of Kikuyus, Moi orchestrated the spectacular fall from power of his Kikuyu attorney general and backer Charles Njonjo in mid-1983. Moi arranged for Kenya's byzantine political network to brand Njonjo a traitor to the nation, forcing him to resign from the Cabinet and Parliament. "You know a balloon is a very small thing," Moi said to Harden in explaining his control over political cronies. "But I can pump it up to such an extent that it will be big and look very important. All you need to make it small again is to prick it with a needle."

Africa Watch

In July of 1991 Africa Watch, a human rights organization with offices in New York and London, published a scathing attack on the Moi government, accusing it of committing torture and gross human rights violations. In Kenya: Taking Liberties, Africa Watch documented incidents of torture and deaths of political detainees and pro-democracy advocates by the security forces.

Pressures for change were building for other reasons as well. In 1990, Minister of Foreign Affairs Robert Ouko was brutally murdered shortly after returning from a trip with Moi for meetings with U.S. State Department officials in Washington, D.C. Moi's head of internal security Hezekiah Oyugi and Minister of Energy Nicholas Biwott were prime suspects in Ouko's murder. Moi stopped investigations into the murder, leaving widespread belief among Kenyans that he covered up the crime by his two top associates. As much as anything else, that provoked an outpouring of domestic and international demands for an end to Moi's one-party autocracy and the holding of multiparty elections.

As demands for elections increased, the government stepped up its repression: opposition leaders and university students were detained and tortured, their families beaten, their homes burned; publications were removed from the newsstands; and an outspoken cleric died in suspicious circumstances. On July 7, 1990 (in Swahili the date is Saba Saba for 7-7), security forces brutally put down a rally held by the opposition in defiance of a police order banning the meeting. Police charged 1,000 people with "riot-related offenses." Officials said 20 people died.

In November of 1991 the international lending agencies suspended payment of $350 million in aid to the Kenyan government. With the economy in poor condition, tourism declining, and low export commodity prices, Moi and the ruling party bowed to the pressure. He ordered Parliament to amend Kenya's constitution to allow the establishment of political parties other than KANU and to permit multiparty elections.

If the opposition parties had united behind a single candidate they could have defeated Moi, even in rigged elections. But the opposition parties, legalized only in December 1991, were divided amongst themselves. The divisions tended to break down along tribal lines. For instance, former Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga (in his 80s) headed the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD Kenya). Odinga belongs to the Luo, one of the largest tribal groups in the country. Mwai Kibaki, another former vice president and a Kikuyu, lead the Democratic Party. Wealthy Kikuyu businessman Charles Matiba was the presidential candidate for FORD Asili ("original"), a spin-off from FORD Kenya. Thus, the opposition was split between two of the largest language groups, and the largest of these groups, the Kikuyu, was further divided. The egoism of the opposition leaders played neatly in Moi's favor.

Once the campaigning began, KANU distributed money to woo supporters through its youth wing, Youth for Kanu '92. Some of these funds were diverted from the National Social Security Fund, according to Africa Confidential in its October 1992 issue. The government flooded Nairobi with newly printed currency during the election campaign. Local newspapers reported the government nearly doubled the nation's money supply by distributing new Kenya shilling notes worth about $1.5 billion.

On December 29, 1992, in the first multiparty elections in Kenya in 26 years, incumbent Moi was elected president by a minority of voters. Moi took just over 34 percent of the popular vote and the three major opposition candidates split nearly 64 percent of the vote. The ruling party won 100 parliamentary seats and the opposition 88.

The elections that returned President Moi and the ruling national party, the Kenya Africa National Union (KANU), were marked by violence and intimidation. Shortly before the elections, tribal fighting occurred in the Rift Valley between the Kalenjin--Moi's people--and the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest tribal group, leaving approximately 700 people dead and 10,000 homeless. In 16 of the Rift Valley constituencies, no opposition candidates for Parliament ran against the ruling party. KANU supporters physically prevented either the candidates or their agents from submitting their registration papers. The deaths and registration intimidation supported opposition parties' claims that Moi and KANU employed violence and threats to win the elections.

International election monitors brought in at the request of the opposition parties refused to certify the elections as free and fair. In their report on the elections, the Commonwealth Observer Group criticized KANU for not curbing the "worst excesses of their supporters," for "widespread bribery, a lack of transparency on the part of the Electoral Commission, intimidation, administrative obstacles and violence ... and the reluctance of the government to delink itself" from KANU. Despite all these reservations, the Commonwealth observers said the election "results in many instances directly reflect, however imperfectly, the expression of the will of the people."

In December of 1995 elections were held and a new multiparty Parliament was elected. One such opposition party was led by the famous paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, who was born in Kenya and used to head the Kenya Wildlife Service, with Moi's backing until they had a fallout. On January 27, however, one day after being seated, the government was prorogued, or suspended by decree. The country's disarray continued, meanwhile, with violent bandit attacks on the rise and tribal fighting causing hundreds of deaths. Garbage was piling up in the cities, and electricity was sporadic. Rwandan Hutu refugees, many accused of the genocide in that country, fled to asylum in Kenya with the support of Moi.

With an election looming in 1997, Kenya's opposition parties continued to be crippled by infighting, unable to unite behind a single candidate or agree on an agenda with which to challenge Moi. Furthermore, violence against opponents of President Moi and against the press escalated to pre-1988 levels.

When the constitutional amendment that had made Kenya a one-party state in 1982 was repealed in 1991, the presidential term of office was limited to two five-year terms. Although Moi won the multi-party elections of 1992, the elections were, as already noted, marred by massive fraud. International monitors also criticized the election of 1997 as being fraught with violence and vote-rigging. Ethnic clashes were reportedly stirred up by those in power. As it turned out, Moi was elected with substantially less than half the popular vote due to fragmentation of the opposition. But an analysis in 2001 by the US Central Intelligence Agency concluded the elections of 1997 generally reflected the will of the Kenyan people. By 2002, after nearly three decades of continuous amendments, Kenya's constitution gave Moi virtually dictatorial powers.

In October 2002, Moi, who was constitutionally required to give up office by 2003, dissolved the Kenyan parliament in preparation for national elections the following December. Moi chose 41-year-old Uhuru Kenyatta, eldest son of Kenya's founding father Jomo Kenyatta and his fourth wife, as his heir apparent. Moi's critics dismissed Kenyatta, who had never held political office, as Moi's puppet, saying that the aspiring politician had been chosen to keep Moi and his family from facing criminal prosecution after the election. Still, given what promised to be a divided opposition in the election, Kenyatta's prospects for a victory were highly favorable.

Heading into the election, Moi seemed to symbolize almost everything that was wrong with the country. His face was on all the currency, including the paper shillings that now bought less than ever. Many of the schools that had been named after him had been closed down over protests about lack of funding for education. And traffic controllers had recently walked out at Moi International Airport. Meanwhile political activists were protesting Moi's decision to handpick his successor.

In response to his critics, Moi pointed out that Kenya, unlike some of its neighbors, had experienced 39 years of peace. The New York Times quoted him in 2002 as saying, "I wish people would go to the neighboring countries and then speak." The president's backers pointed out that he had held Kenya together despite fierce rivalries among the country's dozens of ethnic groups. To his credit, his supporters also noted, Moi had spoken out forcefully on AIDS, and had led a ban on ivory trading.

Whatever the outcome of the elections, it was expected that Moi would remain chairman of the ruling KANU party, if only, as some suggested, to protect the vast wealth he had accumulated during his 24 years in office.

Associated Organizations

Historical Context

  • The Life and Times of Daniel arap Moi (1924-)
  • At the time of Moi's birth:
  • Calvin Coolidge was president of the United States
  • The Ottoman Empire was officially abolished
  • Liberia rejected Marcus Garvey's plan for resettlement of African-Americans
  • The first Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade was held
  • Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain published
  • The times:
  • 1939-1945: World War II
  • 1950-1953: Korean War
  • 1957-1975: Vietnam War
  • 1991: Persian Gulf War
  • 1992-1996: Civil war in Bosnia
  • Moi's contemporaries:
  • Jiang Zemin (1926-) Chinese president
  • George H. W. Bush (1924-) former president of the United States
  • Jimmy Carter (1924-) former president of the United States
  • Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961) prime minister of Congo (now Zaire)
  • Fidel Castro (1926-) Cuban president/revolutionary
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American civil rights leader
  • Selected world events:
  • 1929: U.S. Stock Market Crash started Great Depression
  • 1930: Gandhi lead Salt March in India
  • 1936: Arab revolt in Palestine resulted in a civil war
  • 1939: Francisco Franco seized control of Spain
  • 1946: First session of UN General Assembly opened in London
  • 1951: Farouk I of Egypt abdicated his throne
  • 1961: Peace Corps established by John F. Kennedy
  • 1969: Neil Armstrong was first person to walk on the moon
  • 1980: Cable News Network (CNN) went on the air
  • 1991: Soviet Union was officially dissolved
  • 2001: World Trade terrorist attacks

Further Reading

  • Days, Drew S., and others, Justice Enjoined: The State of the Judiciary in Kenya,Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, 1992.
  • Harden, Blaine, Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent, W. W. Norton, 1990.
  • Christian Science Monitor, March 5, 1997, p.19.
  • Kenya: Taking Liberties, Africa Watch, July 1991.
  • Africa Confidential, June 1, 1990; December 6, 1991.
  • Daily Telegraph (London, England), October 17, 2002.
  • Daily Telegraph (London, England), October 26, 2002.
  • News Release (Nairobi), Commonwealth Observer, January 1, 1993.
  • New York Times, September 29, 1996, p. 1-14.
  • New York Times, October 15, 2002.
  • The Standard (Nairobi), January 5, 1993.
  • Sunday Times (Nairobi), December 27, 1992.

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