The Rise of Moi


Born into the Sot clan of the Tugen in 1924 on an unknown day but at the hour of which the cattle returned from the fields, Moi was given the name Toroitich to signify that event. He became a herdsboy like his older siblings and many of the village kids. After starting school at the AIM Mission School in Kabartonjo in 1934, Moi studied under the hand of Reuben Seroney and Stephen Chepkonga, a teacher/evangelist from his village of Kurieng’wo among others. When he transferred to the AIM Mission School Kapsabet, his favourite teacher was Mrs. Elizabeth N. Bryson the wife of Stuart. Moi proceeded to the Government African School Kapsabet to complete the remainder of his primary education and after failing to proceed to Alliance, remained to undertake the teacher training program. He qualified as a P3 teacher and then proceeded to head the AIM School at Kabarnet, not far from his Kurieng’wo birthplace.

Moi privately studied and passed the London Matriculation Examination and in 1949 after a short stint at Kagumo Teacher’s College, he was promoted to become a P2 teacher. He now came to Government African School Tambach where he trained other teachers. In 1950 he attended a training course at Jeanes School Kabete and moved to the Government African School Kabarnet. He worked there briefly before moving back to Tambach again training teachers. He was soonappointed the Deputy Principal. Moi left Tambach when he was asked by the missionary Earl Andersen who had founded the Kapsabet Bible College in 1954, to join him in Kapsabet. Andersen asked him to deputize at the Bible College which he accepted, and so he moved to Kapsabet.
In July 1955 when John ole Tameno abruptly resigned from the Legislative Council, the African Unofficial Members immediately telegraphed John Chemallan to consider returning to the Legislative Council. Chemallan was undecided and took his time. The following month, August 1955 the Government formally approached Chemallan to take up his old job at the Legislative Council but this time he had made up his mind to decline. The refusal by Chemallan now threw the seat open, and soon it attracted a considerable number of candidates. Moi happened to be at the right place at the right time. He was in Kapsabet where the scheme by the delegates was being hatched to put in another Kalenjin now that Chemallan was not going in. When word went round that a suitable candidate was sought, Earl Andersen happened to hear and readily proposed Moi’s name in spite of the fact that he had been his deputy for only two months.
The Government had introduced a system of ‘voting’ through a select group of delegates. A candidate would offer themselves and would first have to be cleared after passing a rigorous English test. A T2 teacher from Nandi named Benjamin Kipkemboi araap Keino threw his hat in the ring in September 1955. A member of the AIM church, Kipkemboi was the son of Rev. Samuel Gimnyigei who had been one of the reasons why Reuben Seroney had decamped from the AIM. Born in 1929 at the Kapsabet AIM mission, Kipkemboi began his early education there in 1936. He later joined Kapsabet GAS in 1940 aged 11 and had a particularly indisciplined presence there. He was once asked to pay for broken windows and one time he was sent home for a whole term after allegedly being the victim of a sodomy case, something that caused a major scandal in the school. It is said when Principal Walford who had suspended him left, the new one P.C. Evans wondered what was wrong with what had happened and promptly readmitted the boy.
Despite being quite intelligent, he was forced to repeat Standard 6 in 1944 ostensibly for being young but passed the PSE to join Alliance in 1945 (Admission number 871). At Alliance, his last name ‘Keino’ caused ‘hysterical laughter’ to the Kikuyu boys because that was the name for the female genitalia in their language. Of course the taunts were unbearable forcing him to disuse the name in subsequent years. He passed his ASE and joined Kagumo Teachers College and after his studies, taught Mathematics at the AIM School at Kabiyet. He was once sighted at Kimutai araap Saina’s Bar in Kabiyet and word went round that the pastor’s kid had started drinking. An incensed Allan Checkley, the AIM Schools inspector together with Sparlin Bowman, rushed to Kabiyet and confronted him about it. Kipkemboi told them off and in a fit of rage resigned from the school.

  • Save

He even left the country going for Uganda where he taught mathematics at the prestigious King’s College Budo.He was eventually persuaded to return to Kenya after two years, going back to his old school this time as the head. He married Mary Cheboo the daughter of Joshua Tum of Ibanja. Soon after his candidature for the Legislative Council was proclaimed, there was disquiet in some sections of Nandi who declared that an uncircumcised man could not lead their nation. Like his father, he did not see the need for the knife and was therefore looked down upon for that. In fact, that is what cost him the seat.
Another man from Nandi to express interest in the seat was Hansen Gari Cheruiyot son of Chief Elijah Chepkwony. Like Kipkemboi, Hansen had joined Alliance High School in 1939 but could not finish as he was summarily expelled by Grieves on charges of severe indiscipline. He instead opted to do odd jobs and began an intensive business career which saw him accumulate considerable wealth early in life. Born in 1923, he was a year older than Moi and six older than Kipkemboi and was obviously more mature than all and much wealthier (in his mid-twenties he already owned a fleet of lorries that distributed sugar and other wholesale commodities in much of Western Kenya). During the language test however, Hansen failed while Kipkemboi and Moi passed. Hansen could probably have also passed were it not that he was somewhat considered an undesirable candidate by the establishment. Hansen, who had very neat handwriting and spoke unaccented English, had only recently been convicted of a criminal offence and even jailed. He was accused of smuggling sugar during a period of restriction and got four months imprisonment with hard labour and also got hefty fines that forced him to dispose of some of his assets including the lorries. Despite the setback, he bounced back and for many years was considered the wealthiest Nandi.
Although Moi spoke with a heavy Kalenjin accent, his record was squeaky clean while Kipkemboi could stand up to Europeans which was a bad thing and was now known to enjoy his tipple. Kipkemboi’s chances were therefore greatly diminished.

  • Save
Ronald Ngala (1923 – 1972, left) and Daniel arap Moi of the newly-formed Afro-Asian-Caribbean Group visit the House of Commons in London to protest against the government’s immigration bill, 13th February 1962. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The many candidates who applied to do the test were reduced to just nine whose names would now be passed to the delegates for consideration. The delegates conspired among themselves that they would like to have a Kalenjin this time round replacing the Maasai John ole Tameno. No doubt Moi had a higher profile than the more independent minded Kipkemboi. He never smoked or drank, never took hard positions on anything and was generally an amiable spirit. He was the clear favourite. The field was reduced to nine candidates namely Daniel Moi, Saul Akotsi, Joseph Gwehona Kaka Makindu, Jonathan Joseph Syeunda, Wilson Henry Obam Abiero, Henry Obanda, Benjamin Kipkemboi, William Ole Ntimama and Dr. J.C. Likimani to become the Member of the Legislative Council for Rift Valley.
The delegates then built consensus around their favourite candidate and reportedly told the Maasai that since they had voted for their man the last time round, they should return the favour to give a Kalenjin a chance. The plan was that the delegates were going to vote for Moi first, Kipkemboi second and by splitting their third vote, they would ensure that the Maasai candidates William ole Ntimama and Dr. J.C. Likimani as well as the rest would lose out. The scheme went according to plan and on October 16, 1955 the day of the vote, Moi came first. According to P.H. Brown the District Commissioner Nandi, what the delegates did was “unfair as they (the delegates) did not give the Maasai their first vote last time.”

  • Save
Former President Moi | File Photo

Suffice it to say, Moi’s chances were considerably improved by the absence of other serious Kalenjin contenders notably Seroney and Towett who were both in London pursuing their studies. It is again possible that Seroney would not have had a chance because he had gotten into the bad books of Government on his return from India. The fact that he had joined the MRA may have worked better for him but he was already well known to be an agitator for independence in spite of it. Again ‘elections’ through the delegates system was more subjective than objective and prone to manipulation, Seroney would have had a very tiny chance.
Earl Andersen’s sister Mary Andersen Honer says that when Earl had founded the Bible College in Kapsabet, he decided to train an assistant. He remembered Moi whom he had met in Eldama Ravine and offered him the position. Moi agreed to move to Kapsabet to take up the new position. He was hardly two months on the job when Earl proposed him to go into politics. She writes: Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on one’s perspective, the appointment was not to last very long. About that time the Government decided to train Africans for the Legislative Council, the seat of Government in Nairobi. Earl was asked if he knew of anyone whom he could recommend.

  • Save

The person he would recommend must have ability and honesty as well as leadership skills and a good personality. Immediately Earl thought of his new assistant. He was tempted to be selfish and not mention his name, but he readily recommended Daniel. Within two months Daniel was accepted as a member for Legislative Council for the Rift Valley Area.
Moi it seems, was in the right place at the right time. Being in Kapsabet and the desire to replace the Maasai ole Tameno with a Kalenjin, made matters work out for him. Besides, Kipkemboi really could not stand up to him because of his past and there being no other, Moi was the man. On October 18, 1955, Moi sat in the Legislative Council chambers for the first time as a member, formally starting what would be a half-century long career in politics.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

5 × 2 =