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Nyayo (1978-1990)

Kenyatta's death was mourned by his followers and regreted by the people, but many anticipated and secretly longed for days of change. The transition followed the expected path and the one appointed to lead the Republic's destinies was the vice-president, Daniel Arap Moi. His climbing to power was sponsored by two of the regime's strong men, Mwai Kibaki and Charles Njonjo, but it was not supported by all. Being a Tugen, he didn't count with the sympathy of the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru Association (GEMA), though the dominant Kikuyu lobby watched him as a faithful ally and a key piece to silence the accusations of tribal nepotism.

Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi was born in 1924 in Sacho. He belongs to the Tugen ethnic group, of Kalenjin language, from the west part of the country. He was a nomad shepherd in his childhood till he was schooled and became later a school teacher. In 1960 he participated in the foundation of KADU, where he was later appointed as head of the party. During the years prior to independence he was Minister of education (1961-1962). Early in the Republic days, he assumed the portfolio of local administration (1964-1967). He was vice-president of KANU and after Odinga's resignation he was appointed vice-president of the Republic.

The new president was not willing to radically move away from the political direction followed by the Mzee. In fact, his political phylosophy was based on 'Nyayo', 'footsteps', meaning "let us follow his footsteps", a speech that was summarized in "peace, love and unity". Nonetheless, apparently he was determined to air the wardrobes of Kenyatta's old guard, to suppress the state's paternalism of the past days and to inject new blood into the government's veins, as well as to eliminate tribalism in favour of unity. This good intentions granted him initially the international sympathy and the cautious confidence of Kenyans.

Moi's first moves were populist, trying to create a good impression and to awaken enthusiasm from the public. He acted against corruption in public services, the most sensitive environment for citizens; he released all Kenyatta's political prisoners and slightly reduced pressure and control over mass media.

But it was soon evident that facts did not match promises. The general elections, postponed since 1977, were celebrated at last in 1979, but candidatures from Odinga and other former KPU leaders were not accepted. The anniversary of Kariuki's murder was the excuse for a students' revolt, that made the University shutdown an annual tradition.

The former KPU leader did not suspend his political activity, but the regime's pressure increased and in 1982 Njonjo managed to bring along a constitutional reform to officially establish a single party, thus making illegal Odinga's new party, Kenya Socialist Alliance.

Three months later, the inevitable happened: on the 1st of August, 1982, there was a military coup d'etat. Kenyans woke up that day with the radio broadcasting a communication by the rebels, interspersed with songs by Bob Marley, while In Nairobi people could hear sporadic shots. Confusion reigned in the first moments after the uprising: the radio station had been taken by an unknown People's Redemption Council and most of the army was manoeuvring at the north of the country. It looked clear that the rebels, belonging to Kenya Air Force, had taken advantage of the absence of the main body of the forces to seize control. At the end of the coup's day, the country was lost in complete anarchy. Pillage spread in Nairobi and old resentments burst out, mainly against the Asian minority, whose houses where plundered and their women raped.

Once it became clear that the Air Force was not supported by other armed forces, the army and the GSU gave free rein to a campaign of terror in the streets. The militaries patrolled the city hunting the rebels, but on their way they shot everything at sight, murdering men and dozens of students, raping and killing women. Once the revolt was over, official data gave a balance of 159 dead, but eyewitnesses reported that the number of bodies in one single street exceeded this figure.

Violence ceased, thousands of soldiers of the Air Force were arrested and the force itself was dissolved. The government shutdown the University, a "nursery for subversives". Fourteen uprisers were sentenced to death, but only two of them were finally executed. These had escaped to Tanzania in search for asylum and were handed back to Kenya. As a consequence of the Luos' involvement in the coup, Odinga was kept under house arrest.

Since then, some other minor attempts have taken place, but the consequences of that military revolt left their imprint on the country's economy. Foreign investment was paralysed and tourism fled to more peaceful destinations. However, another political event next year would quickly extinguish the last embers of the coup attempt.

In May 1983, Moi announced to the Parliament that he had proofs of a conspiracy plot, sponsored by a presumed foreign lobby, that was preparing the rise to power of one of the leaders close to the president. Though Moi disclosed no name, the name of Attorney General Charles Njonjo was immediately brought up. He was an expert politician and an important member of the dominant Kikuyu elite, always in Kenyatta's shadow, with a powerful circle of influence outside the country. His name was frequently linked to South African and Israeli interests. Njonjo seemed to maintain a harsh rivalry on the succession question with Mwai Kibaki, the respected vice-president, a dispute that would finally damage him. During the judicial process open against Njonjo, he was accused of embezzling KANU funds and of being behind two coup attempts, the former year's in Kenya and another one in the Seychelles Islands.

The case was closed with the expulsion from KANU of the loyals to Njonjo. The Attorney General was sentenced to reimburse all misappropriated funds, but Moi would pardon him on the independence day of 1984, assuming that the conspirator's political life was over. However, Njonjo would be back in the government later on.

Moi's government came out strnghtened from the Njonjo case, winning the elections in September 1983. Moi took the decision to release Odinga and other political prisoners and the provincial administration was progressively de-tribalized, placing the high civil servants away from their regions of origin.

An urgent goal for Moi was to "clean" the University of the "nursery for subversives". The education system was revised to promote technical and vocational careers and a pseudo-military programme was launched, the National Youth Service, which committed the students to work in public works throughout the country. The young "pups" of KANU organised surveillance groups to attack and denounce those suspect of crimes or of induction to disunion. Still, students' revolts did not stop. In February 1985, a demonstration protesting about food quality in the University's dining hall was considered subversive and dissolved violently by the GSU, causing death to 12 students.

In the international arena, communist influence around the Indian Ocean grew during this period. In 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini inaugurated an islamic state in Iran after the escape of Shah Reza Pahlavi, and the same year the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. In response to the sprouting of communism, Kenya tightened links with the Westworld and granted facilities for the North American war ships in exchange for grain, compensating in part the failed 1983 harvest.

Even worse was the harvest of 1984, the year of the great drought that devastated Kenya and other African countries, opening a big gap in the engine of Kenya's economy. To compensate the scarcity of the national product, the country imported a million tons of grain.

In 1987, Amnesty International reported severe violations of the human rights taking place regularly in Kenya. Many arrested people died in captivity and torture was a usual practice. Prisoners were frequently locked in flooded cells underneath the Nyayo House, in Nairobi. The relevance and diffusion of this matter in the international opinion led to a deterioration of Kenya's image abroad, as well as to the spoiling of Kenya's relationships with its main ally, the United States. To this contributed the open declarations about the situation of human rights in Kenya by the American ambassador, Smith Hempstone.

In the late 80's, a new opposition group was born, the Mwakenya (Union of Nationalists to Liberate Kenya). Its audacious though unidentified founders launched a broadside of pamphlets demanding Moi's resignation, the establishment of a real democracy, the end of corruption, and breaking the links with the Westworld. Moi's counter-campaign consisted on arresting hundreds of people and their lawyers. Some of the arrested died during confinement.

Moi was confirmed in his post after the 1987 elections, where he was the only candidate of the only party. New amendments to the Constitution came to expand the presidential powers. Among other measures, independence of the judicial power was suppressed, leaving assignment and dismissal of judges exclusively in the president's hands. Other reforms of the polling system changed the secret vote for the "line recount": each voter lined up in the queue corresponding to his candidate, thus completely hindering voter's privacy. As a result, after these elections several freethinking politicians like Charles Rubia and Kenneth Matiba lost their seats, favouring the monolithism and hegemony of KANU.

One of Moi's common strategies is to swap portfolios among the ministers, in order to prevent them from accumulating much power. This practice, that obviously reduces the efficiency of the Cabinet's work, is justified by the president with a presumed intention of ensuring the ethnical balance in the government. In fact, the Cabinet did never gather in full, rather contacts between ministers and between these and the president were established through a Kalenjin lobby placed by Moi in the highest steps of the civil service.

With the increase in the virulence of Moi's repressive policy, only the Church dared to question the regime. A Christian practitioner, Moi has always avoided direct clashes with the religious authorities.

In 1989, the famous paleoanthropologist and conservationist Richard Leakey, Kenyan of English origin, was hired by Moi to rule the Kenya Wildlife Service, government service in charge of national parks management. Leakey is one of the most prominent figures of today's Kenya. Son of the eminent scientists Louis and Mary Leakey, discoverers of the remains of the Man from Olduvai in Tanzania, Richard stood out for his own findings in the Koobi Fora area, at the Lake Turkana shores. He later was in charge of the direction of the National Museums of Kenya. Due to the growth of international pressure against elephant poaching and to the impact of this illegal activity on tourism, Moi needed a vigorous person to bring new life to the hibernated and demoralized KWS, a task for which Leakey was the optimal candidate. The scientist is a lively, resolute and demanding person, not prone to diplomacy but a tireless worker. His first measure in his new post was shocking: Leakey convinced Moi to incinerate in a public act all the ivory reserves seized to poachers, a real tusks mountain worth 3 million USD. The event was registered by the international media and became a strong backing for Moi's government. Kenya's initiative managed to raise an international discussion that ended with a block on ivory imports in several countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Japan.

With the president's support, Leakey created an anti-poaching armed force, to whom he gave a single simple order: shoot. Leakey injected new life and new resources to KWS, rising the parks' entrance fees to fund the fight against poachers. The World Bank and other international institutions were so impressed with his labour that he was granted financial aids worth 140 million USD. His work contributed to save Kenyan elephants and rhinos from extinction, and at the same time the country's international image was cleansed.


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Cradle of Mankind
First migrations
Swahili coast
Portuguese empire
Omani domination
Mountains of the Moon
Inland peoples
Kenya exploration
Partition of East Africa
Protectorates & Lunatic Express
Settlers, hunters & sportsmen
African nationalism
Mau-Mau & end of the Colony
Uhuru, Jamhuri, Harambee
End of a century
Moi's decline & Constitution