Kenya: New Book Reveals Quirks, Travails of Moi-Era Ministers

10 February 2020

Former President Daniel arap Moi's ministers in his 24-year-rule were made up of men and women with differing strands -- educated and illiterate, respected and misfits, young and old, poor and rich.

The story of the men and women who served in the Cabinet are told in a yet-to-be-released book, 24 Years of the Nyayo Era: Moi Cabinets Volume I & 2. It's part of the Kenya Yearbook Editorial Board's biographical series.

In his 24-year rule, Moi was served by 119 Cabinet members.

"Ministers who served under Moi came from diverse backgrounds. The tactical habit of basing appointments upon political and ethnic considerations as well as personal loyalty was perfected during the Moi years, and this meant that there was a high rate of transfers within the Cabinet," Mr Edward Mwasi, the CEO of the Kenya Yearbook Editorial Board, notes.

Mr Mwasi explains that Moi hardly allowed his ministers to oversee the same docket for long inasmuch as some of them ended up serving under him in various capacities for several years.

"It is commonly believed that this was one of the strategies he used to fight complacency in his administration," he says.

LAUGHING STOCK

For instance, Mr Gideon Ndambuki was moved to various ministries within a short period.

"His record of moving from one ministry to another and serving in four of them within a span of five years became something of a joke in Ukambani, especially among his political rivals. They would often joke behind his back that he was always found unsuitable for whichever ministry he was appointed to.

The book contains several real-life anecdotes, some of which have not been told before.

The Cabinet was composed of highly-educated politicians like Burudi Nabwera, who commanded vast political and diplomatic experience internationally, and academic minions like James Njagi Njiru, whose acquaintance with the world outside of the place where he was born was minimal.

Recognising his limited education but also his ability to fight political battles and silence Kanu critics, Moi decided to reward Njiru by creating a special ministry for him -- the Ministry of National Guidance and Political Affairs.

MISSING HOUSE SESSIONS

When Njiru fell from the top of the presidential limousine after addressing a gathering in Mwea, Moi abolished the ministry, subsequently ending Njiru's Cabinet career.

Ministers like Jackson Kalweo devised ways of evading questions from a formidable Opposition that kept the government on its toes.

Instead of tackling the questions directly, he would play around with words, irritating the opposition side.

Other than the differing academic standards, the Cabinet was also made up of loyalists like Arthur Magugu who, at one time, ordered the removal of portraits of the founding President Jomo Kenyatta from government offices, to rebels like Francis Lotodo, who put his tribe's interests ahead of everything else, and who once dared Moi only to be sacked and jailed.

Even after the fall from grace of a number of ministers following the 'traitor saga' in which former Attorney-General Charles Njonjo and his allies were implicated in a plot to remove Moi from power, Magugu was among the few Kikuyus who retained powerful positions in the Moi government.

MAGUGU MAKES HISTORY

Magugu rarely attended parliamentary sessions. And, at one time, there was a discussion in Parliament on whether his seat as Githunguri MP should be declared vacant following his absence from the House for eight consecutive sessions without the permission of the Speaker.

"Apparently, Mr Magugu had delegated his parliamentary duties to his assistant Achiya Echakara who, during debate on the minister's absence, defended his boss, saying that despite his absence from the House, Magugu spent " ... a lot of time on efforts to find solutions to the country's financial problems," the book says.

Magugu would later make history as the only MP who served his entire term on sick leave after failing to attend any session of Parliament following his win in the 2002 General Election.

Former Nyandarua MP James Muregi displayed his loyalty to Moi by aggressively attacking those viewed to be "anti-Nyayo".

Other than wearing a perpetual broad smile and donning multi-coloured suits, former Minister Kamwithi Munyi would nod his head incessantly during the entire period that Moi was on the podium as he diligently jotted down notes in his diary. Munyi also wore two expensive wrist watches.

TIPIS' TEMPER

The other renowned loyalist was Joseph Kamotho who, as Kanu secretary-general, had no problem answering calls from journalists at whatever time.

Kamotho's stock answer to almost all questions was "Kanu shall not accept it".

Former Interior Security Minister Justus ole Tipis was so loyal to Kanu that he was fond of wearing a red shirt and a striped tie in the colours of the national flag.

"He was always ready to defend Moi and the ruling party, whether within or outside Parliament. As the Internal Security minister, he was a proponent of detention without trial, where anti-government figures would be arrested and detained under the Preservation of Public Security Act," the book says.

Ole Tips also used his powers and proximity to Moi to intimidate anyone who dared him.

When he couldn't sustain an argument with someone, he would just hit them with his rungu.

"In 1982, Tipis differed with his colleague Robert Matano within the precincts of Parliament and, after an exchange of harsh words, he hit [him] with a rungu. Matano's son had befriended Tipis' daughter, something the minister did not want to entertain," the book narrates.

OUKO MURDER

William ole Ntimama, his arch-rival in his Narok backyard, bore the brunt of his unbridled power.

Ole Tips orchestrated numerous arrests of the self-proclaimed Maasai spokesman to instill fear in him.

Former Mvita MP Shariff Nassir was another Kanu pied piper. As an assistant minister for about 20 years, Nassir wielded political clout.

William Odongo Omamo, who will go down in history as one of the few Cabinet ministers who served in the first and second governments as an MP in an opposition zone, had unquestionable loyalty to Moi. He was often quoted as saying, "My day is incomplete unless I start off by seeing Wuod Odongo" (the nickname he gave Moi).

Former Minister and Wundanyi MP Darius Mbela was also at Moi's beck and call.

Moi's Cabinet Ministers were also not short of men who took him on and criticised government positions.

SACKED MINISTERS

Nyeri Town MP Waruru Kanja, who had been Moi's pointman in Nyeri during the infamous 1988 elections, was sacked from the Cabinet after falling out with the Moi administration over the death of Foreign Affairs Minister Robert Ouko. Kanja blamed the government for Ouko's murder.

Lotodo was on several occasions jailed for fanning inter-tribal violence. He was once expelled from Kanu.

Just before the 1997 General Election, Lotodo reportedly instructed those who had settled in West Pokot to "go and vote where they were born", remarks that saw him fired from the Cabinet and jailed.

John Sambu was sacked in 1996 after showing sympathy for Cherangany MP Kipruto Kirwa and politician Jackson Kibor for opposing what they called the sidelining of Nandis in land allocation.

Former Roads Minister Andrew Kiptoon was sacked following an uneasy relationship with Moi.

Kiptoon streamlined the Roads ministry, which had earlier been taken over by the so-called cowboy contractors, earning himself accolades and condemnation in equal measure.

He had contested the Baringo parliamentary seat and won without blessings from Moi.

NG'ENY WEEPS

Some of Moi's ministers were volatile, arrogant and uncooperative. Others were neither tough nor forceful.

Mr Kipng'eno arap Ng'eny, the former Ainamoi MP and Water Development minister, cried many times when faced with challenges.

Former minister Franklin Bett recalls that Ng'eny could not withstand heckling and name-calling at political rallies and campaigns.

At one time, Ng'eny cried in front of Moi during a public rally in Soliat.

Andrew Omanga, a former minister for Environment and Industry, made history in May 1980 when he took leave of absence.

The move forced the President to exercise his powers under the Interpretation and General Provisions Act to temporarily transfer Omanga's mandate to Water Development minister Jonathan Ng'eno.

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