Monday was Moi day. A while back Drew asked me, in an email, to talk a bit about the man, his presidency and how he is regarded by Kenyans. I wanted to do it on Moi day but we had no power. It seems so appropriate.
One of the other VSOs got a SMS from a family member saying something like “I think the existence of a Moi day reflects badly on Kenya” (how did it go, C?). By all accounts I have heard, the president was a murderous crook. But still people speak fondly of the man, if not of his reigeme. Perhaps there is still a shadow of the former fear of being persecuted for detracting.
His most notable habbit seems to have been giving stuff away. He gave a bus to the school near us, and there are stories of him stopping his car in a rural area and getting out and giving money to local people apparently without provocation other than their provocative poverty. And perhaps also the provocation of an impending election.
There is also the “joke” that the Wakamba (the people of Ukambani where Tala is located) can be bought for one bag of maize. A drunk mzungu with a french accent whom I met in the toilet of a posh mzungu bar in Karen recently told me this. He also said that President Kenyatta had made plans to build dams and irrigate Ukambani but those plans were shelved when Moi came to power (Moi was the deputy and took over when Kenyatta died, I think). My french friend at the urinal said that this was so that he could keep the Kambas starving and buy their votes by giving them food when elections loomed large.
Certainly his personal gifts did not amount to the deficit in public spending during his term in power. The money was being diverted by graft and corruption at every level and nobody could raise a finger. But the presidents acts of generosity seem to have endeared him to the hearts of many — a lovable rogue rather than an evil dictator.
The holiday this year took folk by supprise. It wasnt held last year I think. Im told that there is a plan to remove it from the official national calendar but that the official processes to effect this are slow and have not yet come to fruition. There was a bit of a public debate before the weekend as to whether the day would be ‘celebrated’ or not. In the end it was. Plenty of Kenyans were happy to take the extra day of holiday (there were so many traveling to Kangundo on Saturday, when I was trying to get back from Nairobi, that there were no vehicles for them and I was stranded). A last free handout from the old rogue.