Former Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi, the country’s longest-serving leader, has died aged 95. The death of Moi, who ruled Kenya from 1978 to 2002, was announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta in a statement carried by the state broadcaster on Tuesday.
Kenyatta ordered a period of national mourning until a state funeral is held, on a later date. Moi was said to have been hospitalized in October due to breathing problems.
The former president will be laid to rest in a state funeral, with all appropriate civilian and full military honors. His son, Gideon Moi, said his father passed away peacefully and that the families had accepted it. “I give my heartfelt gratitude to all Kenyans,” he said. Moi was in office from 1978 to 2002, a time that was marked by the centralization of power, corruption, and allegations of human rights abuses. The former British colony was a one-party state during much of his rule. Moi served as vice-president under Kenya’s first post-independence president, Jomo Kenyatta, before taking over the top post. The press secretary to the current president, Mr. Lee Njiru, told local TV channel CitizenTV that Moi had been in the hospital for a while. “He has been hospitalized since 2019. I have seen his decline. “God has declared his will, and we have to abide by it,” Njiru said.
The Retired President ruled Kenya for 24 years. Despite being called a dictator by critics, Moi enjoyed strong support from many Kenyans and was seen as a uniting figure when he took power after founding President Jomo Kenyatta died in office in 1978.
Some allies of the ailing Kenyatta, however, tried to change the constitution to prevent Moi, then the vice president, from automatically taking power upon Kenyatta’s death.
Wary of any threat during that uncertain period, Moi fled his Rift Valley home when he heard of Kenyatta’s death, returning only after receiving assurances of his safety.
“Nobody thought he was going to last long in power. He became president to fill in a gap,” Lydia Muthuma, a historian at the Technical University of Kenya, told Al Jazeera.
“But after an attempted coup in 1981, we saw Moi’s true colors. He made sure we understood who was in charge. The news bulletins always started with what he did on the day. He was not a tolerant leader,” she added.
In 1982, Moi’s government pushed a constitutional amendment through Parliament that made Kenya effectively a one-party state. Later that year, the army quelled a coup attempt plotted by opposition members and some air force officers. At least 159 people were killed.
Moi’s government then became more heavy-handed in dealing with dissent, according to a report by the government’s Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission that assessed his rule.
Political activists and others who dared oppose Moi’s rule were routinely detained and tortured, the report said, noting unlawful detentions and assassinations, including the killing of a foreign affairs minister, Robert Ouko.
“The judiciary became an accomplice in the perpetuation of violations, while parliament was transformed into a puppet controlled by the heavy hand of the executive,” the report said.
Corruption, especially the illegal allocation of land, became institutionalized, the report said, while economic power was centralized in the hands of a few.
In 1991, Moi yielded to demands for a multi-party state due to internal pressure, including a demonstration that year during which police killed more than 20 people, and external pressure from the West.
Multi-party elections in 1992 and 1997 were marred by political and ethnic violence that critics asserted were caused by the state.
By the time Moi left power in 2002, corruption had left Kenya’s economy, the most developed in East Africa, with negative growth. Kenyans later voted for a new constitution that was implemented in 2010.
Moi often blamed the West for bad publicity and the economic hardships many Kenyans had to endure during his rule.
As with his predecessor, Kenyatta, many government projects, buildings, and currency notes and coins were named after Moi.
The New York Times reported that after he stepped down, Kenya located more than $1 billion of public money stashed in overseas offshore accounts, which it sought to recover.