Hippos Must Go!

Published on 4th December 2007

Part 3

The Moi Massamba 

The management style of former president, Daniel arap Moi, was, to put it mildly, strange. In 1986, he introduced a peculiar voting system that abolished secret balloting. Prospective candidates, after being vetted by the local Kenya National Union (KANU) branch committee, put their pictures in the voting areas, and the local KANU members would line up behind the candidates they wished to see elected. A candidate who won over 70 percent of the vote automatically became the Member of Parliament. If no one gained over 70 percent, the top three scoring candidates would go to the general election.  

For the candidate to qualify for the election, he had to be a life member of KANU (Kenya's sole legal party at that time) and pay KANU K Sh3,000 (Kenyan shillings--about $1,000) as sponsorship money. Another K Sh1,000 was paid to the government. Voters had to line up behind their chosen candidates from noon to 6:00 p.m. Those not wanting to line up had to stay 1000 meters from the venue. The government claimed that this system would eliminate ballot rigging and election violence. But the system effectively disenfranchised non-KANU members. The secret ballot was gone. Those who stood behind losing candidates risked retaliation by the winning candidates. Moreover, teachers, lawyers, and other professionals were unable to leave their work for six hours to stand behind their candidates. The Catholic Bishops of Kenya complained in a letter to President Moi in November 1986: "We can envisage situations where professional people, businessmen and even the humblest worker would be faced with the choice of compromising their means of livelihood or abstaining from exercising their right to vote" (New African, April 1988; p.22). Moi responded by telling the bishops to stay out of politics.

In the late 1990s, HIV/AIDS started posing a grave threat to the country. Kenyan Health Ministry experts estimated that 700 Kenyans die every day of AIDS, and a further 2.2 million are infected with HIV in a population of 30 million (Reuters, July 13, 2001). Speaking after his government announced plans on July 11, 2001, to import 300 million condoms to fight AIDS, President Moi "pleaded with Kenyans to refrain from sex even for only two years, saying that was the best way to check the epidemic" (Reuters, July 13, 2001). Why then import the condoms? And did he enlist the critical support of women he needed in the campaign against HIV/AIDS? He did but rather clumsily. 

On March 6, 2001, President Moi opened a regional women's seminar in Nairobi. Remember that African women have traditionally formed part of the backbone of their local economy. They dominate market activity and supply more than 70 percent of Africa's agricultural labor force. Back in the 1960s, the market women of West Africa in particular played a crucial role in the liberation struggle by providing funds to the nationalist leaders. The mother of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, for example, was a market trader.

At the women's seminar, one would have expected President Moi to laud their critical contributions to the liberation struggle and African economies. Instead, he lashed out at them: "You [women] can achieve more, can get more but because of your little minds, you cannot get what you are expected to get!"(BBC News On Line, March 12, 2001).  

Kenyans liked to joke that the letters in Moi's name stood for "My Own Interest." After he succeeded Kenyatta in 1978, Moi shaped the country, with his image and name, dominating every facet of society: 

“Moi's face is etched on the country's currency. The state-run evening news begins every night by saying, "His Excellency President Daniel arap Moi announced today. . . . " There is a national holiday called Moi Day. Dozens of schools, hospitals, bridges and roads are named after Moi. There is Moi University, Moi Girls' School, Moi International Airport. Every business is required by law to hang his framed photograph (The Washington Post, Nov 19, 2002; p.A15).

Corruption was rampant during the Moi era. Koigi wa Wamwere, a former MP, who was detained for three years (1975 - 1978) and subsequently fled to Norway in 1986, gave a trenchant insight into the workings of the corrupt Moi regime:

When in March 1982 Joseph Kamere, an attorney general, and Titus Mbathi, a minister for labor, received three million and one million shillings respectively to cover up illegal foreign repatriation by the bank of Baroda, that was corruption.

When government ministries engaged in the employment of 85,397 bogus employees that allowed government officers to receive from the government nearly 85,397,000 shillings every month in the form of fake salaries, the creation of such a hole in government coffers was corruption. (Weekly Review, April 26, 1985).

On January 24, 1986, the Kenyan Minister for Finance, Professor George Saitoti, officials of the French government and representatives of a consortium of Paris-based banks, under the leadership of the Banque de l'Union Europeenne, signed a contract with the French contractor Spie Batignolles, to finance the Turkwel Gorge Hydro-Electric Project at a price that was more than double what the Kenyan government had budgeted for by international tender -- despite warnings by the European Commission in Kenya. It was not lack of competence but greed for gain and lack of patriotism.

According to a confidential European Commission report by Mr. A. Katz, `the Kenyan government officials who are involved in the project are fully aware of the disadvantages of the deal . . . but they nevertheless accepted it because of high personal advantages' . . .  When Kenyan politicians and top civil servants form an alliance with foreigners to take billions in hard currency abroad while knowing that the country is dying for lack of foreign exchange for the import of drugs, and other essentials, that is outright war against one's own country and people (Index on Censorship, Aug 1990; p. 19).

Nicholas Biwott, a member of Moi's Kalenjin tribe and considered to be President Moi's closest political confidant, was paid an official salary of Ksh 21,033 but was worth "hundreds of millions of dollars, chiefly in offshore holdings" (The New York Times, Oct 21, 1991; p. A9). He "amassed large interests in construction, petroleum distribution, aviation and property. He first entered the business world in 1975 in partnership with Mr. Moi in a company called Lima Ltd. Lima became the bedrock of a business empire which expanded into Lima Finance, which in turn acquired large holdings in the prominent Kenyan private companies, Trade Bank, Trade Finance and Prudential Assurance" (Financial Times, Nov 27, 1991; p. 4).

Biwott and two other cabinet ministers demanded kickbacks from BAK, a Swiss-based consultancy firm, in return for a multi-million dollar contract to rehabilitate a molasses plant in the late Robert Ouko's constituency. Ouko "clashed with Biwott during a trip to the U.S. over foreign accounts Biwott and other government ministers held in other countries" (Financial Times, Nov 27, 1991; p. 4). Ouko was brutally murdered on his return to Kenya. Mr. John Troon, the British detective who investigated, named Biwott and one other senior government official as prime suspects. Biwott was arrested by Moi and later released "for lack of evidence."

President Moi sat at the apex of an expansive empire of graft. He was worth at least $3 billion. As he tightened his authoritarian control of political life, he continued his conspicuous acquisition of personal wealth and built an economic empire of vast fortune. His business interests were reported to include $100 million worth of prime real estate in Nairobi, a transport corporation, the oil company (Kobil) that bought out Mobil's interests in Kenya, and a cinema chain with monopoly control over movie distribution in Kenya. His numerous business concerns always managed to win huge government contracts and charge the state exorbitant fees and prices. He was "believed to be a partner in an oil refinery in Puerto Rico with an Israeli businessman and had a share in a Nairobi casino and a hotel in the Masai Mara game park" (The New York Times, Oct 21, 1991; p. A9).

The pillage was so predatory that critics of the Moi government charged that “many of the people in government had the biggest accounts in foreign banks and that there was more money from Kenyans in foreign banks than the entire Kenyan foreign debt, which was about $8 billion" (The Washington Times, August 3, 1995; p.A18). Said Nairobi businessman, Peter Wamai: “If they are serious about eradicating poverty, they should start by returning the money that has been stolen.”

According to Koigi wa Wamwere, "[t]he educated use their knowledge to advance corruption, which is more difficult to fight [because] the powerful. . .are protected." He pointed out that in each instance the corrupt acts by top government and corporate officials were motivated by greed and were not the result of mismanagement or incompetence. He concluded that President Daniel arap Moi "has privatised power and property to serve his personal ends. President Moi acts as if what belongs to the state is his” (Index on Censorship, July 1990; p. 19).

Western donors protested and demanded reform. A reform acrobat, Moi performed the the Moi massamba: One step forward, three steps back . . . This ritual dance was well described by The Economist (19 August 1995): "Over the past few years, Kenya has performed a curious mating ritual with its aid donors. The steps are: One, Kenya wins its yearly pledges of foreign aid. Two, the government begins to misbehave, backtracking on economic reform and behaving in an authoritarian manner. Three, a new meeting of donor countries looms with exasperated foreign governments preparing their sharp rebukes. Four, Kenya pulls a placatory rabbit out of the hat. Five, the donors are mollified and aid is pledged. The whole dance then starts again." (37). President Moi perfected this dance: “Kenya’s government knew precisely when it could resist donors’ demands, when to use charm, when to cry `neo-colonialism’ and when to make promises of reform – promises it will break when the new loans are obtained and the donors’ backs are turned” (The Economist, Oct 9, 1999; p.52).

The situation so deteriorated that 84 members of parliament 71 from the opposition and 13 from President Moi’s own ruling party vowed to oust the Moi regime and replace it with an all-party interim government. A July 28, 1999 statement, signed by the MPs and read by lawyer and opposition MP, George Kaptain, they said: “Corruption within the top leadership of the government had reached endemic levels and the only solution is for Mr. Moi’s regime to be kicked out. It is not possible for the accused [the government] to probe themselves and [Attorney General Amos Wako] should stop making a mockery of an already desperate situation” (The Washington Times, July 30, 1999; p.A15).


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