President Daniel arap Moi that I knew from 1960 to 1975 was a quiet man. As his nickname suggests he was also a very alert and watchful man. Most Kenyan politicians, especially the Kikuyu underestimated the former teacher, Daniel arap Moi. Among them was the man with whom I worked closely on the Foreign Affairs circuit, Foreign Minister Njoroge Mungai – the man who always carried a revolver somewhere on his body, anytime, anywhere, except at his wedding where I jokingly asked him if he was packing and just laughed. But it was no laughing matter on those times I supped on Aquavit, Champagne and Caviar in the Norfolk Hotel saunas. The question of who would succeed President Kenyatta was always hot in the air and it was not different that we discussed it and each time his answer was: “Moi will not succeed Mzee.”
But that is not democratic, I argued. “It will be. A Kikuyu will succeed Mzee and it will be done democratically.”
Will it be you? “Who knows, maybe!”
That was the tenor of conversations on that subject. Mungai was always very irked (and I had to be on my guard because I had learnt never to be casual with the minister who had a reputation of being a hard man, even alleged to have fired the first shot into the crowd of Luos … thus starting the massacre that cost (from memory) 11 or 17 people their lives, including an infant in the arms of her ayah … at Kisumu where Jomo Kenyatta at come to challenge Oginga Odinga and the Luo people after the death of Tom Mboya, often heralded as Jomo’s best man to succeed the Presidency). Yes, the name that irked him often was Charles Njonjo. He never told me what his problem was with the attorney general but I know of one instance: In and 1971 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Singapore, on the day before meeting of the Heads of Government, it was agreed that Njonjo would be leading the delegation and put Kenya’s case for the anti-arms sales to South Africa campaign (which Mungai had worked on for nearly three or four years prior). I spent some time with Njoroge Mungai and his specialists at meetings that night preparing of the big meeting the next day. Moi did not know the intricate details of the campaign but was aware of it. Sometime in the early hours of the morning, Mungai’s phone rang and he was informed that Moi, and not Mungai, would be leading the delegation.
That previous afternoon, while everyone was relaxing the swimming pool and talking about the arms campaign, Njonjo said he could not understand when Kenya and other people were bothering with this anti-arms sales thing. If it was up to him, he said, he would open an embassy in Pretoria “tomorrow”. Following several minutes of stunned silence, Moi led the laughter celebrating the Njonjo joke, except Njonjo was not joking because I think he knew it was all a waste of time. If he knew, he was right. The next day, the British Foreign Secretary nuked any discord in the house by getting everyone to agree that heads of government would discuss the matter as a family and come to an agreement. Naturally, Mungai was fuming and frothing. His four years of work around the world, coaxing Africans, Asians, Canadians and everyone else in the Commonwealth to support the campaign had been nuked in just a matter of minutes.
Meanwhile, Moi had nothing but a momentary twinkle in his eye and after he brushed it with his handkerchief, a think smile creased his face.
I ran with the pack and came across Uganda’s Milton Obote and several other leaders offering an impromptu press conference. I was first to draw and show: Mr President, how could you all have allowed that to happen … the anti arms sales to South Africa campaign nuke by a procedural motion …
Obote butted in: “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, this Cyprian Fernandes, who is an imperialist stooge … working for the Americans and the British …”
My colleagues, butted in a chorus of: “Answer the question!” Obote and his fellow heads of government just turned around, shook some frenzied fly-whisks in the air and departed.
A couple of hours later, I headed off to Hong Kong, only to learn that Obote had been overthrown and I return on the East African Airways Comet (I think) which took an unplanned left turn to pick him and for me to score an exclusive of sorts.
Throughout all this, Daniel arap Moi went about the business of seeing something of Singapore. One night when Njonjo and I joined him for dinner, Moi broke into torrents of derision when he was that we were having escargot for entres … (Nini na kula dudu (in kitchen Swahili (mine), translation: “you are eating bugs” or words to that effect.
I had known that he was a teacher in the Rift Valley. I had also known that he had been on a teacher training course at Jeanes School Kabete and had quickly come to realise the value of athletics coaching and had returned and urged every school to have at least one teacher trained in coaching. It did not happen overnight but it did eventuate … how could it when the Rift Valley came to conquer the world in middle and long-distance running. In the very early 1950s, Moi was Vice President of the African and Arab Athletics or Sports Association. We often discussed athletics and he was always mightily proud that so many young people from the Rift Valley were showing promise of following the footsteps of Kipchoge Keino and the other pioneers who had shown what could be achieved.
When Kenyatta eventually died, Mungai and others tried to change the Kenya constitution to stop Moi from succeeding to the Presidency. Charles Njonjo strongly fought off the attempted move on the constitution. That made it even more clearer that the feud between Mungai and Njonjo would continue forever.
More on that Botswana trip: My friend John Kamau (The Nation, The East African), one of the great investigative journalists of our time, has resurrected a story first published in 2013 about Mama Lena, Daniel arap Moi’s first wife, who died in July 2004. The marriage ended in divorce 1974 which was finalized in 1979 but not without some bitter incidents.
God bless Kenya as it continues to struggle with the destruction of that era, in particular, the emotive land issue which is at the root of almost everything today due to roadside declarations and cronyism in dishing out state resources.
“We left Kenya because of you Mr Moi made things hard and so l don’t have anything nice to say but had to leave my beautiful Kenya where l was born and raised l cannot believe you lived that long,” said another of my readers.