The death of retired President Daniel Arap Moi has rekindled fond memories on how he restyled political events and commercial activities in Nakuru.
Many Kenyans remember how the whole country would flock here to grace New Year eves which Moi hosted at State House Nakuru and how the country’s fourth largest town repositioned itself as the hotbed of Kenya’s politics.
What most countrymen do not know is that the man who led them for a record 24 years kicked off his long haul to the helm from a humble two-bedroomed house with his wife Lena and children on the ground floor of Delamere Flats which were then owned by the defunct Municipal Council of Nakuru.
George Chemirmir whose father, Edward Chemirmir was a close friend of the former president recalls a favourite spot in the living room where a seat was reserved for Moi.
“The seat was revered and nobody could dare sit on it even in Moi’s absence,” he said.
It was the senior Chemirmir who taught Moi how to drive when the latter acquired a short chassis land rover in late 1950s.
It was here that the former head of state was named Cabinet Minister for Home Affairs in 1963 by President Jomo Kenyatta.
Having enrolled his children at the nearby St. Joseph Primary School where they mingled with those of ordinary Kenyans, he decided against shifting residence to Nairobi with his family.
In an obvious acknowledgment to Moi’s stay in the early 1960s, the iron roofed building has fittingly been named Old Moi Flats. And a new estate built recently in the area has been named New Moi Flats.
“It was a humble abode for a politician of his caliber. At the time the monthly house rent for the two bedroomed unit was Sh 180. I remember witnessing him hosting scores of visitors here,” says 56-year-old, Dominic Mwendwa whose parents were Moi’s neighbours.
He continues, “My parents who worked with Kenya Railways were good friends of Moi. Lena was very friendly and easy going character who would entertain the then Minister Moi’s visitors”.
Former Civic leader at the defunct Municipal Council of Nakuru, William Atinga maintains that even then Moi was a man of class as very few Africans could afford to live in a two bedroomed house and that Sh180 was ‘very exorbitant’.
“The estate was a reserve of the whites and when they moved out at Independence the residences were taken over by wealthy members of the Asian community. For a very long time Moi had very few African neighbours,” offers the former Councilor.
The estate is strategically situated 20 metres from Central Police Station, 300 metres from the former Rift Valley Provincial Headquarters and directly opposite the then Provincial Police Headquarters.
In the 1980s with exit of majority Asians it was taken over by middle class families who included senior civil servants and businessmen.
The current occupant of Moi’s house is Mrs. Jane Teresa Marucha, a business lady who moved in the one storey house in 1987.
Before her, it was occupied by her brother in-law the late Mr James Masita, who worked as a manager with Elliots Bakeries then a subsidiary of the giant Unga Group.
The mother of four who learnt of Moi’s occupancy from neighbours is an elated woman. It is a great feeling that the place where she lives is associated with the former President.
When she moved, the house rent was Sh.750. Today she pays Sh. 4,500.
When he finally took over as head of state it wasn’t just during New Year bash, that President Moi’s presence jolted Nakuru all weekends throughout the year.
As a result every bed space in the town would be paid for and reserved a week or two in advance, and anybody asking for a room on the eve of the day would find it a herculean task to find accommodation.
Nakuru was the President’s political base, which led to the rise of a powerful Nakuru Kanu branch that boasted the likes of Kariuki Chotara, Geoffrey Asanyo, Wilson Leitich of the cut-a-finger fame and the current Bahati Member of Parliament, Kimani Ngunjiri.
But long gone are the days when Nakuru politicians dominated the headlines or when politicians used to hang around State House, Nakuru. There is no more hurly-burly witnessed in the town over the weekends as convoys filled up at petrol stations enroute to former President Moi’s Kabarak home.
Born Toroitich arap Moi on September 2, 1924, in Kuriengwo, in Rift Valley the retired President was orphaned at a tender age after his father, a herdsman, died when the boy was 4.
At the African Mission School at Kabartonjo, Moi became a Christian and adopted the name Daniel.
He graduated from Kapsabet Teacher Training College from 1945 to 1947, he taught classes, and he was later the headmaster of a government school.
He married Helena Bommet in 1950. They had five sons and two daughters, and adopted a third daughter. His wife, known as Lena, died in 2004, and their son Jonathan died last year.
Moi is survived by their sons Gideon, Philip, Raymond and John Mark, and by their daughters Jennifer, Doris and June. His only brother, William Tuitoek, died in 1995.
Moi worked as a teacher from 1946 until 1955 when he was appointed by the British to the colonial Legislative Council.
Two years later, when black Kenyans were allowed to vote, he was elected Member of the Legislative Council for Rift Valley and together with Ronald Ngala and Martin Shikuku (Secretary General), he founded KADU in 1960 to challenge Mzee Kenyatta’s KANU.
In 1960, he joined a London conference that drew up a Kenyan constitution authorizing African political parties. He was elected assistant treasurer of the new Kenya African National Union (KANU), the political instrument of independence, which later merged with the rival Kenya African Democratic Union he helped found and became the sole political party.
In 1957 he was re-elected Member of the Legislative Council for Rift Valley and then as MP for Baringo North in 1961. Moi became Minister of Education in the pre-independence government of 1960 to 1961.
Moi was named Vice President in 1967 and with demise of Kenya’s founding father on August 22, 1978 he took the reins of power.
It is Moi’s political survival tactics and the wit to fight off serious political challenge, including at the polls that earned him the nickname of “Professor of politics”.
Although vilified by those who were against his rule by the time of his departure, a number of Kenyans have admittedly expressed their wish to have him back in the public limelight.
Moi was such a man that he was adept at turning his political foes into allies as former Prime Minister Raila Odinga can attest. He was also not known to harbor grudges as he readily forgave and embraced his opponents.
He once famously quipped “Kama kuna mtu nimesema maneno ambayo yamekera roho yake naomba anisamehe. Na kama kuna mtu amenikosea nimemsamehe”.
By Anne Mwale