Why Ruto should consult Uhuru about the Moi effect

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BY DR KEN OUKO

None more than Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta knows how damaging it is to have retired President Daniel Moi on the campaign trail. In the few days remaining to the historic referendum date, the de facto leader of the ‘No’ side Mr William Samoei arap Ruto is best advised to rest Moi from the campaign trail. Should he be in any doubt about this, Ruto should seek counsel from Uhuru.  

Accruing from strong conviction that Kenya needed a fresh and youthful beginning in the name of Uhuru Kenyatta as President, I lent my intellectual and participatory energies to the \’Uhuru for President\’ 2002 campaign.  We traversed this country rubbing in the fact that in Uhuru, Kenya\’s youths had the best chance to bury the \’leaders of tomorrow\’ tag that the old guard have always used to scuttle any attempts by the dot.com generation to step into leadership. Anyone, including William Ruto who was on that energy sapping trail knows full well that had it not been for the Moi-effect, Uhuru would have easily beaten Mwai Kibaki to State House.

Everywhere we visited, the son of Jomo would wow the crowds with his father-like oratory. Uhuru\’s grounded charm offensive magnetised Kenyans who had not had a chance to really understand and hear him prior to this. If ever there was a time Uhuru\’s charisma emerged, it was on the 2002 campaign trail. Everything was going well until Daniel Moi decided to hit the campaign trail ostensibly to reinforce what we were doing. Like the fabled cookies, all the votes we believed to have secured for Uhuru began to crumble right before our eyes. Everywhere Moi went, he effortlessly unwound whatever gains we had made on the ground.

As typical as the Domino-effect, Uhuru\’s undoing was wrapped in Moi\’s favourite sentence: "Mki patia kijana kura, mme nipatia" roughly translated as "If you vote for Uhuru, you will have voted for me". Whenever Kenyans heard this sentence they definitively and terminally axed Uhuru from their list of prospective presidents.

The day Moi saddled his horse and galloped onto the No campaign trail is the day William Ruto\’s goose was cooked.  In primary school, we had a History teacher whose grasp of history was mesmerising to say the least. Yet this teacher\’s class was second only to the math lesson for the number of yawns. In our elementary wisdom, we cheekily but quite happily gave this teacher the nick-name "Zinjanthropous" or simply Zinjan. The appropriateness of this nick-name was encased in both the ancient looks of the poor man as well as his apparent love of things past. To us, he was history itself!  Everything about Moi reeks of history. Unfortunately, there is nothing nostalgic about Moi\’s history that Kenyans can embrace with an ounce of enthusiasm.

Land and its manner of acquisition is one thing Moi should never lecture Kenyans on. To me, Moi\’s outburst about land grabbers was the epitome of the No campaign\’s tragedy. The final nail was driven into the No coffin when days later, Moi\’s son Gideon quavered on the podium at the historic Kapkatet grounds in Kericho about how "tulitoa jasho kununua hizo mashamba tunazo" (we sweated to purchase the land we own). If only Kenyans had enough vuvuzelas to drown such grossly laughable utterances.

A student of mine shocked a class discussion recently by his simplistic reasoning about quality of leadership when he remarked that the greatest indictment on Moi\’s leadership is the fact that the retired president used the Nairobi-Nakuru highway almost weekly to and from his Kabarak home yet the highway remained one of the most deplorable in the Republic of Kenya. The young man reasoned that since African leaders are famed for favouring their regions, all he expected of Moi in the 24 years was that the retired president would divert funds from elsewhere and build a dual carriageway all the way to Kabarak! In his reasoning, the simple fact that Moi never acted thus, is a worse indictment of his leadership than a stagnant constitutional process.

If we were to borrow from such simplistic reasoning, then maybe we would all understand Moi\’s resistance to the constitution. Here is a man who watches in old age as his own political student in the name of Mwai Kibaki amplifies his inequities for Kenyans to see more clearly. That it took President Kibaki less than two years to have the highway leading to Moi\’s home district rebuilt to international standard must be unbearably embarrassing to the retired president who could not do it in two decades. From my student\’s pedestrian parallels, it appears that for Moi, the most excruciating pain would be for him to be witness yet another grand achievement n the name of a new constitution which again, for all his rhetoric he could not enact in 24 years.

(Dr Ken Ouko is a lecturer in sociology at the University of Nairobi)

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