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Moi - The Making of an African Statesman.

Andrew Morton. Michael O'Mara Books. [pounds]20.00. 216 pages. ISBN 1-85479-253-9.

This biography, sandwiched between the studies of Diana, Princess of Wales and Monica Lewinsky, suggests that Andrew Morton has much more potential in this field than might have previously been suggested.

At the beginning a British reviewer is bound to ask one question. What do ordinary people know about Kenya, let alone Daniel arap Moi? Philatelists will recall the triumvirate of Kenya-Uganda-Tanganyika; ex-colonials will remember the White Highlands and the grisly tales of the Mau-Mau terror of the 1950s. Older politicians will remember the Hola Camp scandal of 1959, while anyone over fifty will know the patriarchal figure of Jomo Kenyatta and his distinctive trade-mark, the fly-whisk. This is the background to the long road to power of Daniel arap Moi.

Moi's 'tall, commanding figure' may have been seen by his biographer as a mirror image of his own. It is always an advantage to be tall. His way of life still reflects aspects of colonial rule: 'afternoon tea still served by bow-tied waiters'. Moi also has a distinctive symbol - not only the 'Presidential rose' as a buttonhole, but the ivory rungu, a silver-topped ivory stick. He accidentally dropped and broke this on a visit to Australia in 1981, and was so disconcerted that a replacement had to be flown out. Such are the perquisites of power, and this volume is all about power. It is about many aspects of power: corruption for example.

Michael Blundell, a spokesman for the white settlers, once observed: 'In the eyes of most Africans, high position enables the holder thereof to benefit first himself, then his family, then his clansmen, his tribe, and lastly the people of his country as a whole. Indeed, we must remember that up to 1840, every great house in the United Kingdom was built by an individual who had a major office of profit under the Crown or was in the circle of the King's friends'. In other words, the Kenyans learned much from their colonial rulers.

In 1966 Kenyatta was looking for a Vice-President. Daniel arap Moi, not a member of the ruling Kikuyu elite, but known for his loyalty, his reputation as a political fixer, and his administrative competence, was chosen by a shrewd President. He remained as Vice President for eleven years, sustained by his Christian stoicism, his patience and his ability to dissemble (what Morton calls his 'mask') against every humiliation and set-back.

As a member of a minority tribe (the Tungen) he lived dangerously among Kikuyu, who themselves only made up one-fifth of the population, but were dominant commercially, legally, politically and historically. At the time of Independence in 1961, half the white settlers left, and 'the honey from the economic barrel was largely spread among the Kikuyu tribes'.

Kenyatta in many ways acted like 'the last colonial governor' and a new constitution, drafted in 1967, abolished regional government and the Senate. In 1969 Kenyatta's designated successor, the charismatic Tom Mboya, was assassinated, and, as he was a member of the Luo tribe, the country then teetered on the brink of civil war.

The murder of Mboya, a Catholic, marked the swansong of tribal unity. The story of the years between this date and the death of Kenyatta in 1978 does not make pretty reading. For Moi they were years of his own survival. He learned early how uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. These years witnessed the retrogressive growth of tribalism, years of 'unease, disenchantment and division."Feuding, corruption and nepotism', we are told, 'became the political norm'. It was an era of political exploitation, of ivory poaching and coffee smuggling.

When Moi finally became President in 1978 he could not be untouched by the era through which he had lived to achieve power. The blackest mark against his rule is probably the strange and sudden death of his Foreign Minister, Bob Ouko, in 1991, a mystery still unresolved.

Yet Moi himself remains, as Philip Ochieng wrote in The Kenyatta Succession, 'notable for (his) attachment to the constitutional method of doing things, for its adherence to law and order.' In the words of another observer, Moi 'is not, except in rare circumstances, a vicious or cruel ruler, but he holds every lever of power, and pulls them as required to ensure his political survival.'

Andrew Morton has written a worthy tribute to Moi, which is certainly not the whitewash it might have been. In a work of great detail, it is strange that Kenyatta's wife, Mama Ngina, is only mentioned twice, as she wielded considerable influence at the end of her husband's era. Indeed, if the work has a fault, it is that the reader needs a dramatis personae, and a glossary of Kenyan terms. The author retains his capacity to surprise and here it is to add to his stature as a biographer.

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Nash, Michael L.
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1999
Previous Article:Dr Stragelove, I Presume.
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