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Sunday, January 4, 1998 Published at 15:56 GMT

Special Report

President Moi: an enduring face of Africa
image: [ President Moi shakes hands with supporters during a campaign rally ]
President Moi shakes hands with supporters during a campaign rally

The Kenyan president, Daniel arap Moi, has been declared the official winner of the country's second multi-party elections since independence from Britain in 1963.

The election victory means President Moi will be entering his 20th year in power in 1998. He is one of the enduring faces of African politics, a man who after an inauspicious start in politics, has grown to be recognised as a great survivor.

Greg Barrow assesses the measure of the man and the legacy he has left behind.

Over the years, President Daniel Arap Moi has become used to the adulation of his supporters within the governing Kenya African National Union party (KANU). Choristers sing his praises, and children hail him as Kenya's guiding father. But outside the party there are those who would prefer to label him a dictator.

Like all politicians, President Moi has courted love and hatred at the same time. But for Sir Roger Tomkiss, Britain's representative in Kenya in the early 1990s, and many others, President Moi is remembered first and foremost for his sheer size.

[ image: Moi's size is often the first thing people notice]
Moi's size is often the first thing people notice
"He's physically very impressive. There is an African tradition of the 'big man', and Moi lives up to that in physical presence, both in terms of the scale of the man, and in the way that he tends to dominate the room in which he is."

This dominance has served President Moi well in the years since he took over the mantle of power from the founder of Kenyan independence, Jomo Kenyatta. President Moi has prided himself in cherishing the ideals inherited from Mr Kenyatta. After Mr Kenyatta's death, he even created an ideology of Nyayo, or following in the footsteps of Kenyatta. It was a shrewd move that helped Mr Moi inherit the cult of personality that had formed around Mr Kenyatta, and adapt it for his own needs

"Baba Moi", or "Father Moi", the man who children praise, is a figure that opposition politicians and foreign diplomats are less familiar with.

The pragmatic survivor

Those who have crossed swords with Mr Moi over his authoritarian rule and resistance to political reform recall a man quite prepared to snub his nose to outside pressure. President Moi has had to deal with critics who highlight Kenya's flawed democracy, its questionable human rights record, and rampant institutionalised corruption. He is often unwilling to admit his mistakes, but according to Patrick Smith of Africa Confidential, Moi knows when to offer a compromise.

"Someone compared Moi to a figure a bit like the Afrikaners in South Africa. However hardline and unyielding they appear to be, at the end of the day they're pragmatists and they do what's necessary for survival, so I think he's in that sort of mould - the pragmatic survivor, and pushed to the edge he'll change."

Little has changed within the Kanu party itself. To the party stalwarts, President Moi is Kanu, and Kanu is Moi. But there is a danger that Moi has not yet groomed any natural successors, and regards many of his peers with contempt.

"He's a man who is really quite sceptical about the pretensions of many of his fellow Africans, and in particular, of many of his fellow African politicians, and he sees himself as resisting tendencies which could lead to the sort of disastrous civil war in Kenya which has rent so many other African societies," said Sir Roger Tomkiss.

His last term?

[ image: President Moi has built up a personality cult]
President Moi has built up a personality cult
According to the constitution, President Moi will have to stand down after this next term as President.

Some supporters have been entertaining ideas of ways to extend his rule, but just before the election campaign began, President Moi made clear that this was to be his last.

"This is my last term. As a player, I would like to leave a permanent legacy in Kenya's history. A legacy of one strong and united Kenya," he said.

The question of President Moi's ultimate successor is now uppermost in the minds of Kenyan voters. In some ways, it is not this election that counts, but the one due in the next millenium when a new leader will have to be found.

The succession is being spoken about almost in terms of the end of a royal dynasty. Andrew Morton, the author of the best-selling book on Diana Princess of Wales, is currently working on President Moi's biography.

"There is a sense that Moi holds this whole unstable country together, both politically and economically. Moi's very much seen as the father figure of the nation, and when he's not around, there is a sense of unease, and this whole squabbling brood that he presides over then starts to get worried.

"So, yes, he faces opposition but then, when he's not around, people wonder 'apres Moi, le deluge'."

That prospect is one that fills many Kenyans with fear - President Moi's grip on power has been so far-reaching, and so absolute that few can imagine who will fill the void.

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