Daniel arap Moi, Kenya’s authoritarian president from 1978 to 2002, died in Nairobi on February 4 at the age of 95. The country’s longest-serving leader, his legacy evokes strong emotions in Kenya to this day. During his long rule, Moi suppressed dissent and led the nation through economic turmoil, but is also remembered for the welfare measures he implemented.
Explained: Who was Daniel arap Moi?
Earlier in life, Moi worked as a schoolteacher and took part in Kenya’s freedom struggle. He also served as a member in Kenya’s colonial legislature.
A year after Kenya achieved independence in 1963, Moi became Home Minister in the cabinet of President Jomo Kenyatta, the nation’s founding leader. He later became Kenyatta’s vice-president in 1967, and served in that position until 1978, when Kenyatta died.
After assuming control over the country’s affairs, Moi ruled with an iron fist. In 1982, he passed a constitutional amendment that effectively made Kenya a one-party state. In the same year, Moi was able to foil a coup attempt by members of the country’s Air Force. Over 159 people died in the violence.
In 1991, public pressure in both Kenya and abroad forced Moi to adopt a multiparty system. He won elections in 1992 and 1997, marked by ethnic strife.
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During the Cold War, Moi was courted by the West, despite Kenya remaining a part of the Non-Aligned Movement.
His supporters praise Moi for bringing stability to Kenya, working for regional peace, and for introducing schemes such as free milk for children.
At the same time, Moi is accused of ruthlessly suppressing dissent, by imprisoning, torturing, and killing dissidents. During his rule, torture chambers were established in capital Nairobi, where thousands of real and imagined opponents of his rule were held without charge in underground cells.
Moi and his cronies are also accused of siphoning billions in public money, most famously in the Goldenberg scam, in which payments for non-existent gold and diamond exports led to the loss of at least $1 billion.
Moi resigned in 2002 in a rare peaceful transfer of power.
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As President, Moi visited India twice — for a bilateral visit in 1981 and for the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in 1983. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi met Moi in Kenya in 1981.
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