The More Things Change in Kenya , The More They Remain The Same

 The More Things Change in Kenya , The More They Remain The Same

Today, October 10, 2020, is Moi Day, the first without former President Daniel Arap Moi, who passed on early in the year. In 1986, David Goldsworthy published the book Tom Mboya: The Man Kenya Wanted to Forget. Someday, in the future, somebody is probably going to echo Goldsworthy and issue the title Daniel Arap Moi: The Man Kenya Wanted To Forget.

Goldsworthy’s book on Mboya is an attempt to carve out a portrait of Mboya that the political top brass wished to be redacted from the Mboya memory. For, the poet has said, “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” And he concludes, “So let it be with Caesar.” Kenya would add, “So let it be with Mboya, so let it be with Moi.” For, when Moi came to power in 1978, the country wanted to kiss him with words of love. At the moment of exit on 30 December 2002, many wanted to kick him.

They sang derogatory songs about him. “All is possible without Moi.” They chanted, “Moi must go.” It was a resilient and reflective Moi who sat through the Mwai Kibaki inauguration at Uhuru Park, listening to invective against him. They literally hurled stones, plastic water bottles and mud at his motorcade. It was some farewell, indeed. But, earlier, Moi had told us, “Someday you will say, “Moi must come.”

Moi is easily taken to synonymize all that went wrong in the 40 years of the Kanu regime, regardless that someone else may have been responsible. To misquote Mark Anthony in Shakespeare’s famous play, Julius Caesar, “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” The Moi canticles belong to another age. It was the fabled American man of letters Walt Whitman who said of Abraham Lincoln as he lay in state, “Now he does not belong to us. Now he belongs to the Ages.” Moi now belongs to the Ages. Perhaps nothing we say of him will count anymore.

Moi is gone. His day remains. And the old challenges remain, too. His day was of course wished away. The new dispensation that took over after the mud slings of December 2002 and the team of experts that later gave us the Constitution of Kenya (2010) struck Moi Day from Kenya’s national calendar. It was part of the effort to forget Moi. Even now there is the reader who asks, “Why does this writer wax lyrical and nostalgic of Moi? What is his interest?”

The High Court of Kenya, on November 8, 2017, restored Moi Day as a national holiday. On October 8, 2018, Minster Fred Matiang’i announced the return of the holiday. We mark it in low key, however. And maybe that is how it should remain. But the challenges that we sang and chanted about, during the Moi exit in 2002, also remain. Today the country sits on multiple dilemmas. Our challenges threaten to degenerate into tragedies. Parliament hangs in limbo. In the coming days debate is going to centre around whether it is lawfully in place, or a nullity. At the very best, its decisions are going to be in doubt. At the worst, they are going to be challenged in court and their implementation delayed and sometimes derailed. It’s going to be a season like none, when some have even threatened to occupy the house of Parliament.

Someday we will be taking a long look back. We will be asking, “God, how did we even get here?” For as the Morgan Heritage songsters say, there is decreasingly little to smile about. Amidst all the finger pointing everywhere, in the post Moi age, hunger still throbs. The state of the schools still shocks. The police stations reek and hospitals remain sick. Corruption is alive and well, long after Moi. Unemployment soars and poverty roars. The cynic would tell us, “Yes, you said that all was possible without Moi. There you have it.”

Our circumstances tease us into thoughts of setting the clock back, for we have reversed and negated even the few gains that were made under Moi. We progressed with the electoral authority in the Moi sunset. It gave us a credible election in 2002 and a believable referendum in 2005. Today it is not clear what one should say of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. Is there even a commission?

Away from commission issues, the clock reverses to the old days when political dialogue was outlawed. The old twin notion of “state security” and “national security” comes back to clamp down on public gatherings. As it was in the old days, you must seek permission from the police before you can gather. And even where they allow you to gather, they will scatter you, with teargas. Parts of the country get zoned off, as exclusive political enclaves, belonging to alpha male captains. If they don’t open the gates for you, you attempt to access them at your own risk and peril.

Like Whitman’s Captain Abe Lincoln, Mzee Moi is gone. Fallen, cold and dead. He can’t rise up to hear the bells. He can’t see the flag that is flung for him on this Moi Day. He can’t see the bouquets and ribboned wreaths. He cannot hear the trills of the bugle. His ship is anchored. Its voyage is closed and done. But the challenges of yore remain. Like God in Albert Camus’s musings, we must make bold to hold conversations with our soul.

This weekend of national prayer may very well be a good opportunity to shout less and reflect more, and perhaps stumble into an epiphany. The great poet has told us, “There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”

Barrack Muluka

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