The soaring career of Daniel Moi from primary school teacher to powerful President for 24 years

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The late President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi. Photo/Courtesy

He was a political genius, fondly known as “Professor of politics” by his admirers. He combined patronage and political wizardry in a more potent combination than any other leader alive or dead. Little education, rural naïve but politically revered to bestride Kenya like a colossus. 

According to his national identity card, Moi was born Toroitich arap Moi on September 2nd 1924 in Kurieng’wo village, presently Sacho Division, Baringo County. Born 5th to Mr. Kimoi arap Chebii and his senior wife Kabon. President Moi’s father died when he was barely four years old therefore, he spent most of his youthful life under the care of his elder brother Mr. Tuitoek who passionately encouraged him to go to school as a way of running away from poverty and colonial repression. 

He joined African Inland Mission School (AIM) Kabartonjo in 1934 where he had to walk 28 miles away from home before it was shifted to Kapsabet. At the African Mission School at Kabartonjo, Moi became a staunch Christian and he was baptized Daniel on 20th October 1938. He later attended Kapsabet Teachers Training College from 1945 to 1947 before joining Kagumo Teachers training college where he graduated and later taught at Tambach Teachers Training College.

In 1950, he pursued a short course at the then Jean School, presently Kenya School of Government and that catapulted him to the position of a headmaster at Government School, Kabarnet where he taught selflessly until 1955 when he joined politics.

His journey to politics

His entry to politics was preceded by a meeting with famous freedom fighters under the command of Brig. Daniel Njuguna who visited him in June 1955. As expected, Moi showed sympathy. He protected and fed the fugitive for two weeks and even gave them money to continue with their course.

In October 1955, the Electoral College selected Moi from a list of eight candidates to fill the position that was left vacant by Joseph Ole Tameno who resigned from the unofficial benches of Legislative Council. Moi plunged himself into active and serious politics though with a resistant heart.

Active, astute and brave, he swiftly adapted and the following year he moved a motion in the legislative council demanding that African teachers be allowed to form their union. This later gave birth to the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) in 1957.

It is important to note that Moi worked devotedly and closely with other leaders like Ronald Ngala, Eliud Mathu and Masinde Muliro in agitating for the release of Jomo Kenyatta. 

In 1959, he led a team that visited Jomo Kenyatta in detention at Lodwar, Turkana County.  Subsequently, Moi was among the delegations under the auspices of (Kenya African Democratic Union) KADU who went to the London constitutional talks of June 1960. 

In 1961, Moi was appointed Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education. He later served as the Minister for Local Government at the age of 37. As the chairman of KADU, Moi saw the labyrinths of politics and he opted for a united and nationalistic approach hence the dissolution of KADU in November 1964.

In 1967, Jomo Kenyatta appointed Moi as his Vice President at age 43 following the resignation of Mr. Joseph Murumbi. As the Vice President and Minister for Internal Affairs, Moi was a visible politician handling various political crises in a parliament full of independence-era giants such as Martin Shikuku, Jean-Marie Seroney, John Keen and others.

Brought up in a Christian and ardent Kalenjin culture, Moi demonstrated unmatched and inexhaustible tolerance in the face of humiliation. At the time he was a toothless Vice President who was always seen as an outsider in Kenyatta’s exclusively Kikuyu inner circle.

Some of the instances are captured in his authorized biography; The Making of an African Statesman by Andrew Morton. Morton narrates an incident in 1975 when then Vice President Moi had just arrived from an OAU meeting in Uganda, only for the then powerful police commandant James Erustus Mungai to accuse him of bringing guns as part of the conspiracy to oust Jomo Kenyatta. 

Mungai is said to have conducted a thorough and humiliating search that involved stripping Moi naked despite being constitutionally Moi’s junior. As if that was not enough, Mungai on two occasions slapped Moi on the face in front of President Kenyatta at Statehouse in Nakuru.   

However, Moi swum through the strong political tides and waves and later ascended to power on 22nd August 1978 after the demise of President Jomo Kenyatta. 

In the years preceding Kenyatta’s death, all manner of obstacles and molehills were erected by power-thirsty politicians and senior civil servants from Central and Rift Valley to bar Moi from succeeding the ailing president.

The most vivid attempt was the 1977 change-the-constitution series of rallies that were led by Rift Valley vibrant politician Kihika Kimani but Moi had a strong bond, good relationship and above all the trust of President Kenyatta.

It took the review and serious interpretation of the constitution by the suave Attorney General Charles Njonjo to the effect that it was treasonous to imagine and encompass the death of the president to scuttle the the-change-constitution group. 

On 14th October 1978, Moi was sworn in as the second President of Kenya. At first, Moi enjoyed support from all over the country. He toured the country and came in contact with the people everywhere and anywhere which was in great contrast with Kenyatta’s imperial style of governing behind closed doors. 

Despite his popularity, Moi was not in a position to consolidate his powers. On 1st August 1982, lower level Air Force personnel led by senior Private Grade-1 Hezekiah Ochuka and a vast number of university students attempted to oust Moi out of power in an attempted coup d’etat but the putsch was quickly suppressed by the military and police forces who were then commanded by Mohammed Mahamoud. 

This marked the end of Moi’s soft rule. He started ruling with a firm fist. Having learned from the past, he took the opportunity to dismiss his political opponents as one way of consolidating power. He appointed his trustees to key roles and changed the constitution to formally make KANU the only permitted party in the country. 

Kenya’s academics and other intelligentsia did not accept it hence the universities became the origin of movements that sought to introduce democratic reforms. This painted Moi as a despot among the Western policymakers. Foreign aid was withheld pending compliance with economic and political reforms. Through the then US ambassador, Smith Hepstone pushed for the introduction of a multiparty system. 

However, Moi after mastering the circles of Kenya’s politics managed to win the 1992 and 1997 elections amidst political violence on both sides. In the absence of skillful, effective and well-organized opposition, Moi had no difficulty in winning. Albeit numerous claims of vote-rigging. 


Under the constitution which had limited the president to two terms, Moi did not participate in the 2002 election. He settled on Uhuru Kenyatta who lost to the opposition’s Mwai Kibaki. 

Moi handed over power to Mwai Kibaki on December 30th, 2002 in a public ceremony countering the speculations by the then opposition that he was planning to hold on to power. He publicly conceded defeat telling the hostile crowd that they have exercised their democratic right by voting in the National Rainbow Coalition. He at the same time promised to greatly contribute to the development of the country.

His key achievements 

Moi ruled under the guidance of his Nyayo motto which was anchored on the determination to follow Mzee Kenyatta’s footsteps with three words underlying his leadership philosophy: Peace, Love and Unity. 

Some of his notable achievements include; allowing multiparty democracy, execution of 8-4-4 system, youth and women empowerment, expansion of health facilities, infrastructure and education.

The free milk programme endeared President Moi to children, parents and teachers. The programme managed to raise primary school enrolment from 2,994,991 to 3,698,216 in 1979. With the growing demand for milk, farmers were encouraged to increase production to match the exalted demand.

Moi’s most enduring legacy was holding the country together through a deft hand in politics that ensured equally shared power by all regions. 


The late President Daniel Moi with his wife Lena Moi. Photo/Courtesy

Moi was married to Lena Moi from 1950 in a Christian wedding that was officiated by Erick Barnet, the son of Albert Barnet whose name was used to coin Kabarnet. Moi separated with Lena in 1974, reasons for separation were never made public. It is important to note that Lena’s family before marriage used to host Moi during his holidays.

Moi and Lena had a considerably big family with eight children, namely Jeniffer, Jonathan, Raymond, Philip, John Mark, Doris, June and Gideon.


In August 2017, Moi was diagnosed with dementia and that led to his subsequent hospitalization in October 2019 at the Nairobi Hospital following a complication of pleural effusion. He was discharged in November 2019 only to be hospitalized again within the month for knee surgery.

Curtain fell on Moi at 96, few years shy from a century. This occurred in the morning of 4th January 2020 in the presence of his family. His close friends and agemates have said that Moi’s real age was not well documented. Probaly he was aroung 105 years at the time of meating grim reaper.  

In the wake of the news of his demise, there was an outpouring of love, adoration and canonization. Many described him as the best leader that Kenya has ever produced.

However, some had contrary views on Moi’s chequered political life. Before ascending to power, Moi was alleged to have taken part in political assassinations and cover-ups of the same. In March 1975 when JM Kariuki was reported missing and before his body was discovered disfigured and dumped at the City Mortuary, the then-Vice President Moi without batting an eyelid told Parliament that JM was alive and on a business trip to Zambia. 

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