[Documents menu] Documents menu

A Dignified Exit is What Moi Deserves

Opinion by Gitau Warigi, The Nation (Nairobi), 13 May 2001

Unless something very dramatic and unforeseen happens, I will proceed on the premise that President Moi, true to the Constitution, is calling it a day next year. Granted, my neighbourhood vegetable vendor has serious doubts about that. And I am also aware Shariff Nassir has vowed President Moi will go on - tupende, tusipende.

However, the issue is really quite simple. The law is specific that this is President Moi's final term. The only way to go around it will be to flout the law, which the President has so far given no indication he will do.

President Moi should not be angered when people keep questioning whether he intends to run again. It is necessary to go beyond repeating that he will not run and lay down concrete markers.

He needs to reassure us that not only that he is going, but that he wants to make as peaceful an exit as possible. By and large, Moi inherited a peaceful country. The very least we, Kenyans, ask of him is to leave it no worse than it is today.

The language of intolerance and exclusion that has tended to cloud this presidency should be dropped. Bridges of understanding should begin to be built with opposing camps and with communities and groups that have been demonised and marginalised. The bitter words from opponents during recent political rallies only emphasise how these bridges have been destroyed.

It is not too late to rebuild them. A deliberate and sincere process of fence-mending can do wonders even at this late hour. Christians are taught that absolution is possible even in the twilight of one's life. President Moi is a Christian. He understands those precepts better than most.

First of all, however, certain things must be acknowledged. There is nothing the current presidency can do now to bring life back to the economy. On that, we can as well give up. The economy is a problem which, in all fairness, can be sorted out only by a different sort of administration, hopefully the next one.

President Moi's admirers like to market him as a "professor of politics". I have sometimes found this characterisation tawdry when used in the context of something as critical as the presidency. But if that is the yardstick which he seeks to be judged by, there are still enough months left for him to show he is not unequal to the title.

All of which will hinge on the President making a graceful exit from a fairly complicated setting. A campaign of self-perpetuation, like Frederick Chiluba's, will be a mistake. Chances are that it will flop due to public outrage, which, in turn, will rob the President a great deal of his dignity.

There are people in his entourage for whom such a campaign holds obvious attractions, never mind the consequences. These are precisely the people who have thrived on causing divisions in the past and who have imperilled the Moi legacy.

At this delicate time of transition, this crowd needs to be firmly restrained. Better still, it needs to be sidelined. One false move would mean bringing down in a crash all that President Moi has sought to work for.

In the remaining months of his presidency, it is the fervent prayer of all that he will endeavour to taken actions to enhance the esteem and dignity of the office he occupies. That way we may all be able to forget the lapses that have occurred during his long rule.

Let's not forget that he has been in power for 23 years now. That is a very long time. There is a time for everything. Now is the time to prepare to go home.

At the very beginning, President Moi had come in as a would-be unifier. For several years leading to his death, it is an open secret that Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was not on top of his game. Age had crept in and enfeebled the wily old nationalist.

Shadowy power centres had sprouted: Mbiyu Koinange, Charles Njonjo, the Gatundu mafia, and so on. There was a growing danger of drift. President Moi came in as a compromise that could be marketed nationally. There was relief all around. But that was then.

It is important that the President reflect on that period as he prepares to retire. Let him reflect on how he came to power and who allowed him to do so.

President Moi came preaching against tribalism. He was for meritocracy, for fairness in the conduct of public affairs. Where did we go wrong? This, to be sure, is not the time or the forum to start throwing mud at anybody. Yet this goodwill was squandered, with disastrous results.

By no means should the exit date of 2002 be seen as the cut-off point when it comes to assessing his legacy. His posture beyond that, as an ex-president, will matter just as greatly.

The temptation to continue running things by remote control should be resisted. Let his account as President end as scheduled in 2002. Let his successor carry the burden from there.

Whatever mistakes the successor makes from there should be the successor's own. President Moi should not be entangled with them. He should be removed from it all. Otherwise, he will find himself being blamed for the problems his successor creates. Worse, this might remind Kenyans of wrongs committed earlier that were better left forgotten.

For a retiring President, the model of Julius Nyerere - who remained de facto ruler of Tanzania even in retirement - is understandably very alluring. Still, this would be the wrong model to follow.

The Tanzania that Nyerere created was an extraordinarily cohesive entity by any standards. That his voice and counsel continued to be paramount was probably inevitable given his moral authority (though his economic policy was, by his own admission, disastrous).

But, in truth, Kenya has become a highly polarised place. Any ambition to rule it by proxy will heighten the polarisation unbearably. What the country needs is a totally new beginning.

That is not to say President Moi should not involve himself in public affairs if and when he deems fit. He will, after all, remain a Kenyan citizen. Retirement must not be made a gag in his mouth.

But any such involvement, whether through public pronouncements or the functions he undertakes, should be done in such a way as not to be seen to be cutting his successor's feet or otherwise to create trouble for him.

If the successor trips badly in the course of his duty, the Constitution and the laws of the land should be sufficient to rein him in. For, if we are agreed on anything, it is that the new constitution we are now creating must ensure no future leader of this country ever again misgoverns with impunity.

Change, I repeat, is something most Kenyans badly want. The lender community may be too polite to tell President Moi this, but they, too, think transition to another leader would be a wonderful thing.

They, too, are in a rare agreement with Kenya's patriots that it is not simply the unblocking of cash from the IMF and the World Bank that will get this country going again. What will is our productive ingenuity, our hard work, our enterprise - the very attributes that this Government frequently frustrates.

Ultimately, President Moi is looking to history. History is something that cannot be manipulated by image-builders or PR retainers at State House. It is cold and impersonal. More to the point, it sticks only to the facts on record.


Copyright 2001 The Nation. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com)