Monday, May 3, 2010

Citizen Moi should shut up or tone down


Although it is true that wisdom increases in tandem with age, it is not like Ferdinand Lassalle’s “iron law of wages”. Otherwise, Daniel arap Moi would now be among the wisest of men.

But we do not see any Daniel in his utterances. Perhaps his problem is that, for a quarter of a century, he was a whole nation’s centre of attention. He may thus be a victim of powerful nostalgia. Even a decade on the peripheries of power and influence, he may still be dreaming of the time when human beings would scurry about — like the Myrmidons of Achilles — whenever he merely sneezed.

Especially at a moment as critical as this, he may be powerfully tempted to draw attention to himself by making sharp-cornered comments on every issue at all. No, that is not the problem. All citizens enjoy that right. And a citizen does not lose such a right whenever “former president” becomes his title. The only rider is that contributions should be knowledgeable, and courteous. And a former president should know a little more than most of us and express it with a little more savoir faire. If that former president is Daniel Toroitich, this need may become acute because many of the issues over which we are now wrangling can be traced to actions which were committed or omitted by himself or his regime.

The perils of the present constitution are to be traced, of course, to London’s Lancaster House. Salient in it are the so-called “imperial presidency” and clauses that perpetuate some gross agrarian incongruities set up by the white settler regime. Neither Jomo Kenyatta nor the son of Moi can be blamed for these constitutional wrongs. What they must be condemned for is that they perpetuated and used those constitutional wrongs to perpetrate grave political and economic wrongs.

Begun by Mzee Kenyatta’s tribal clique of Home Guards and intensified by a new tribal clique hand-made by Mr Moi, there was a vast stampede for public land; banks were looted bare; and real estate was dished out to sons, nephews, cousins and other tribesmen. Tribal discrimination was shameless. Development stood still. Poverty deepened. Educational standards slumped (as reports showed last week). Morality took a nosedive (as the pace and depth of corruption continue to indicate — as a holier-than-thou Church watches). Kenya was launched onto the path of free fall into the abyss of immorality, hunger, ignorance, disease, nakedness, shelterlessness, rapacity, graft, crudity and cruelty which neither the coalition government nor the “holy ones” seem to know how to arrest.

Thus, although, as a citizen, Mr Moi has a right to comment, even adversely, on the contents of the present constitutional draft — including on tribalism and the land question — a little reflection should caution him to choose his words with extraordinary care — or to keep quiet.


Because, while it has taken us upwards of 20 years of struggle for a new constitution, the Nyayo regime put roadblocks in our way for a whole 15 years of those two decades. Nobody says that the present draft cannot be faulted. But, because, for so long, his system is what frustrated our efforts to craft a better document, he should drum up some humility to ask himself whether it is correct and just to tear to shreds what has taken us profuse sweat to produce.

Is it proper to demonise people for coming up with a document — however faulty — when the land injustices of your own government were among the things that provoked the demand for a new constitution, and when you yourself even failed to facilitate the making of it? When you have deployed so much power for so long, wisdom demands that you retire quietly because the attention you crave may prove negative.

The victims of the Nyayo House basement may demand to know where your own socio-moral monuments are to be seen. When you have been a denizen of State House and have reached a certain age, it is imperative to consciously carry yourself with utmost dignity. You may advise, but you cannot shout because, if you do, you may merely give the age-mates of your grandsons the excuse to hurl disrespectful words at you. Mr Moi’s life has been eventful and full of great social lessons for posterity. That is why, instead of howling, he should spend his time more thoughtfully in the production of a book on his life.

If he must, let him gloat over his successes. But let him freely admit his failings because, as the philosopher says, it is often our failures, rather than our successes, that determine our ideals. A candid, self-critical and even humorous autobiography would endear Mr Moi to Kenyans and contribute to our future much more positively than bandying words with political successors.

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