Image downloaded from Wikipedia

I have always held a fascination for the late President Moi. My earliest memories of Him were from the year 2000, when he came to Mombasa. At the time I was in primary school. The school was situated right next to the Nyali bridge, next to a major highway. Drivers tend to speed up at this particular spot, maybe because it is at the cusp of a bridge, and a subconscious human instinct to survive triggers the speedy driving. . .Or maybe it is simply the awareness that one is driving above a massive water mass, that freaks people out, the several tons of concrete between your car and the ocean be damned. On that particular day however there was no traffic, the road was as clear as the horizon of the ocean at dusk. Massive, deep, blue and everlasting.

To give context, at the time of his excellency’s presidency, whenever he visited a city, the roads were cleared out for him hours before his arrival. On the day of his arrival and the day of his departure, you would be sure that motorists would be stuck in unmoving, terrible traffic. On this particular day, roads had been cleared out hours before the president arrived as was the tradition. Our teachers however, only released us from our classes a few minutes before the presidents arrival.

The air was of excitement, the teachers were excited, the students, glad to be outside the classroom for once. For my young mind that romanticized even the most mundane of situations, this was a treat! My imagination took over and painted a plethora of colorful scenes, weaving them into a fantastic, thrilling, adventure.

Everything I saw and experienced on that day took on a momentous sheen. Everything looked proper, an air of importance had taken over and given meaning to the activities of that day. The sky was as always a deep rich blue, the sun a bright yellow, the breeze gentle enough and the deep blue of the ocean called to me as it regularly did. . .

Oh how seriously I took Kenya Kenya inchi yetu on that day. My little face contorted in seriousness as we practiced the song last minute. Pushing my little arms to my right side then to my left in a simple routine we practiced for the song. It was a last minute call by our music teacher. Just so we would have a song to present to the President, should the need arise. He had not been scheduled to make any stops. As such, no serious consideration had been given to presentations and the usual fanfare that accompanied a visit from an important guest at the school. Kenya Kenya inchi yetu was practiced just in case. It was a good pick, most students were familiar with the song, given that it was always heard on radio on Independence day, and the stanzas of the song were repetitive, catchy, easy to learn and follow.

I will never forget how we were lined up on the pavement of the Mombasa-Malindi highway, waiting for the arrival of the president. We were quite the sight. Arranged in a straight line from the lower primary junior classes to the upper primary senior classes. Our white and red uniforms reflecting the bright sun.

A last minute instruction was given by our teachers that as the president passed we were to wave our handkerchiefs at him, for those of us who had handkerchiefs. Given that some of us were lower primary students, our teachers did not expect coordination I now believe. The lack of coordination went unnoticed however, for our childish, open, excitement fully made up for it. The mood was electric almost euphoric, and when the first of the presidential escort vehicles was noticed, the place erupted in a loud cheer. So vibrant, loud and lively were our cheers. When the president’s vehicle finally appeared, it immediately slowed down, and the distinguished, elderly man who I remember had a remarkably strong grip on his ivory, white looking fimbo, turned to us and raised it in acknowledgement. . .iconic.

The president did not stop for an improntu speech as he sometimes did, but he had his handlers slow his vehicle down for him to wave and acknowledge the young coastal citizens. I still remember how excited I was, later in the day when my mother picked me up from school, I narrated the day to her in detail, giving every word a magical hue. Mum bought me ice cream on our way home, and honestly that just cemented the fantastical events of that day in my mind, my little heart was full.

These are my memories of the late former president, embellished by my then baby mind. Untainted by politics or the economic realities of the time. Later on, as I grew older, I got a better understanding of what was really going on in the country. The optimistic air of the year 2002 and the fervor for change created a disingenuity with the fantastic image from my childhood. . .though I sometimes wondered, why people did not like the tall grey haired gentleman who held the white rungu.

I got an opportunity to contrast my experience, after 2002, same setting, different president, and less time spent closing of the road. This time round most motorists were happy, the new president changed the tradition of blocking off roads for hours. Traffic build up was at a minimum. The new president at the time never slowed his vehicle down, never opened his window, but he waved at us from inside his vehicle. . . I think. . .on second thought he probably did slow down, just not for a long a time as the former president. There had been no fanfare, little grandiose but the expectant euphoria was the same. Power must come with its own charismatic pull.

I don’t remember being quite as overtaken with excitement. I was older, and the event no longer benefited from the excitement of being my first, so that might have been the reason for my calmer feelings that day. He felt. . . efficient, borderline cold, lacking the fantastic grandeur and charisma of the former president. I remember telling my mum later that day that the new president hadn`t feel like a president . . .

My mother responded to my assertion with a laugh, and gently reminded me that the two were different people. My mother likely disagreed with me, given the fact that there was the promise of economic growth and hope of a better government with the new president. In her heart, mother, like many other Kenyans at the time, probably felt a lot more hope in the new dispensation. Hope that the economy would do better, corruption would be dealt with, infrastructure would develop, and opportunities would be in the offing for her growing children.

This piece is not about the politics of the late former president, but his strong man legacy. Good or bad, corrupt or not. Given that I later become staunchly anti establishment, sold out for the politics of independent thinking, de-centralization of power and lowering government recurrent expenditure. Critical of the ballooning wage bill and luxury spending on senior civil servants. . . I was never one with the late former president in spirit, and definitely not a supporter of the darker parts of his legacy.

image downloaded from google, archives of Kenya.

As I relived that fantastic memory through older, maybe jaded eyes I realized something about the late former president. The undeniable fact that he wielded a lot of influence over his party and most of government when he was president. I do not think that any of the presidents that were elected after him have been able to match the energy he gave off. In truth, he single handedly carried the political party KANU which he belonged to with his charisma and personality. I wouldn’t call him likeable or even popular, but the fact that he wielded influence and power over the government and the people, is undeniable.

The people that chose him, chose him for who he was. He is a politician whose influence has outlasted his candidature, age, even death. There was always a feeling of firmness about him, like what you saw was what you would get, the good and the bad. I have come to genuinely believe that this firmness was what made this president outlast the wind populism, the masses, whose loyalty and love was unpredictable and fickle. The masses who now feed predominantly on the fickle politics of prejudice (read tribalism) and crowd euphoria.

Today’s class of politician is a word technician, lacking any particular proclivity towards any path, any in built firmness. They are creatures of opportunity, smooth on the outside and rudderless on the inside. Instinctually sniffing the politics of the time, and morphing themselves with every election. To quote Sansa Stark- ‘Bloody wind vanes.’

True, some may say that his influence was borderline coercive and authoritarian. It probably was, no Authoritarian leader can be properly authoritarian without instilling some fear. I do not however believe that fear was his only currency of influence as president. He also had an inexplicable je ne sais quoi about him. . . and a fatherly aura. I believe he embodied the African idea of a father of that generation. Fathers were strong, distant and effervescent figures of wisdom and power. Rocks of Gibraltor, unyielding, active and enduring.

He was no liar, he believed a one political party state was wise and good to him and so he vocally advocated for it. Whether a chunk of the western powers would agree with him or not, even when it was not a popular stance in his own country. You truly knew the devil at hand. Better him in some way over the oily, rudderless Kenyan politician of the new, who speaks in double tongues, whose chief interest is to plunder the country and sow air and nothingness. Whose underlying goal will always be lining his pockets, all else be damned.

Most of the politicians, men and women of the late former president’s generation, had been brought up by fathers who were either men of war; freedom fighters or shrewd deal cutters; the home guard. Both these classes of men did not have the space to be anything but hard men. They were likely ‘strong men’ and that would explain why their children and grandchildren would later intrinsically look to the late former president for leadership.

I am not applauding the idea of ‘strong men’ I instead acknowledge that they served their purpose when they were needed the most. The birth of our nation from the dredge of colonialism required a level of violence and aggression that created the men of that time.

Whether we still need hardened men and women now. . .I do not know. That I miss that reliable sort of leadership, I do. Knowing exactly what a leader stands for, good or bad is missed.

The concept of democracy is truly populist, if the dominant parts of society are just, selflessly motivated and fair minded, then the leadership is truly democratic, in upholding the rule of law and justice.

A country can only be democratic if the leaders in its executive, its legislature and its judiciary truly uphold the rule of law. Depraved, selfish leaders create depraved systems of governance and succession.

Maybe the problem is not the masses. I’ve always thought that better attitude and understanding within the masses would lead to electing better leaders and good governance.

You cannot trust the masses to be prudent and just, these are qualities for a reason. . .they are rare. You can trust the masses to be colored by prejudices and fear. Bad leadership aggravates the vices of society while good leadership brings out the best in people.

People will not stop being people, but the prudent in society must rise and be dominant. The inception of good leadership only requires one seed, seed that is stubborn in its prudence, un afraid of its virtues and vices. . . ready to expose both, in its fight to create a better society.

An indomitable fighter, who clings to his or her cause is a good leader. Leadership is not about perfection. . . perfection is a myth. . .Good leadership is fighting to remain in the fray, and being bold enough while at it, to raise your voice, high like blind Bartimaeus, above all the forces that would attempt to silence your light. Good leadership is also creating space for succession, being a good leader is mentoring those that follow you in order to ensure a legacy is maintained, hopefully, a good legacy.


By Ruth Mgendi

I have an appreciation for words, the power words have to uplift, build, create, without words we would not be able to convey intent or meaning to each other.

I am also a legal researcher, lover of comics, art, color, stories, adventure and beauty. Above all I appreciate and respect life, the body, the mind and the soul.
I seek a higher connectivity and understanding of the co-existence between these three parts of life and hope to share this journey with any other learner.
I hope this forum will be interactive, positive and above all I hope it adds value in some way to those that read and interact.

Hope Nyambura is my attempt at a pen name, so. . . indulge my pink and golden bubble :-)

Thank you!

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