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Voices from Kenya


BBC News Online speaks to six Kenyans about their hopes for the future and what the Moi era meant to them, as the country holds historic elections.

Rasna Warah is a 40-year-old photographer of Indian origin.

I was born in Nairobi in 1962, a year before Kenya became independent. My family has been in Kenya for over 100 years – my great-grandfather arrived here in 1897, when the Uganda Railway was being built.

I was 15-years-old and in boarding school when I learnt of Jomo Kenyatta's death and heard that there was a new president in Kenya called Daniel arap Moi. I didn't know much about him except that he was not a Kikuyu, which in Kenya means he was not from the ruling tribe, the largest and most powerful group in Kenyatta's time.

Kenyans found aliases for everyone in government
Then in 1979, my father, who owned a studio in downtown Nairobi, was called to State House to take an official portrait of the new president. This was not a new experience for him - my father had been taking photos of Moi when he was a young MP, and later when he was vice-president. He often described Moi as a nice, unassuming and simple man.

I am not sure if he would say the same if he was alive today.

Dark days

I think the 1982 coup attempt forever changed the course of Kenyan politics. I believe it turned this naοve, unassuming man into a manipulative, shrewd operator.

The 1980s, I think, were the darkest days in our post-independence years. It was when the secret service police – the Special Branch – took control of our lives. No place was safe from Moi's spies – people whispered all the time, in bars, in restaurants, in buses, even in their houses.

People were even afraid to think, in case their thoughts could be seen
We all assumed that our phones were bugged, and that all political conversations were monitored. Kenyans found aliases for everyone in government. Kenyan Asians often referred to Moi as "budda" or old man.

People disappeared, never to be seen again, or emerged from prison with crippling wounds and severe disabilities. Subversive movements sprung up, some real, some imagined by the government.

Sedition was the new catchword for arresting anybody. People hid any book or document that may be construed as "seditious". People were even afraid to think, in case their thoughts could be seen.

Moi's best friends

To survive in Moi's government, one not only had to be paranoid, but also mediocre. To me, this was Moi's greatest failing – surrounding himself with greedy men, whose only ambition was to enrich themselves and create a cult of Moi-ism.

We may get rid of the man Moi, but can we get rid of the Moi in every man?
In fact, Kenyan Asians were Moi's best friends at this time. Asian business leaders were fond of going to State House to show loyalty and donate money to Moi's favourite projects

They learnt quickly how to survive under a corrupt regime. But this has always been their failing. They always tend to side with whoever happens to be in power.

Since bribery was the currency of the day, many Asians colluded with government officials whether for business licences or property deals.

Macho men

As a woman, for me, Moi's government was also the most macho. There were a few women in government, but this was just window-dressing.

To survive, they all had to sing Moi's praises. Even the leaders of the national women's organisation were handpicked by Moi.

Women, including the spouses of government officials, remained unseen. It was as if because Moi never went to any function with his wife, no-one should be seen with their wives either. Women remained the "Invisible Other" – never seen, never heard.

Of course, there is no guarantee that a Kenya without Moi will be any different. Those men who were once in Moi's government are now in the opposition. They may bring their wives to political rallies or state banquets – but do they really care about the issues that affect women?

We may get rid of the man Moi, but can we get rid of the Moi in every man, especially those running for office now?

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