I was named Zipporah, a Hebrew word meaning beauty, trumpet or bird. In the Bible, Zipporah was the wife of Moses, a famed Jew who led the exodus out of Egypt to the Promised Land. It is perhaps no coincidence that later in life, I became a leading champion and trumpeter of farmers’ and women’s rights. I “sing” for the betterment of girls, women and farmers in Kenya.
My maiden name, Jepchirchir, means hurried. It is said my mother did not experience difficulties or labour pains at the time of my birth. Unlike others, the traditional birth attendant said my birth was uneventful and delivery fast.
I was raised in a family set-up where every child is assigned a duty. Boys got work requiring physical strength while girls handled domestic chores.
Our home was a large compound ringed with a live fence of euphorbia with an entrance blocked with tree planks for a gate. Outside the compound was a monotonous shrubbery of semi-arid plants and trees like little fountains in a desert.
Inside the compound were a three-roomed house on the right and two granaries on the left as well as a wooden outdoor utensil rack.
The house had a large living room to accommodate every member of the family.
Apart from my parents’ master bedroom, the boys and girls claimed the other bedroom. In my parents’ bedroom was a cupboard where they kept household items such as sugar, tea leaves, cooking oil and gourds of mursik (fermented milk) in a basket at one corner.
A round mud-walled thatched hut with a stone-filled fire place and a home drier for grains was the kitchen.
Inside was a raised storage, above the ground and just beneath the ceiling, where crops and grains were dried when fire is made.
Slept in the kitchen
Whenever we had extra guests, they slept in the kitchen, something that required a careful reorganisation of the room not to sustain burns, for example.
The bed (kitok) was made of planks of wood and animal hides and skins.
A large tree took the pride of place at the centre of the compound, offering the much needed cover from the blazing sun.
It was also a source of fruits and that is where I saw Daniel Moi, for the first time, picking fruits and throwing some to us to eat.
The tree is called Soget (East African Greenheart; Warburgia Ugandensis) in Tugen.
Time and again, we would sit under the shade to play, converse, pick grains or to remove crop debris from the produce after harvest.
Moi would later become President of the Republic of Kenya from 1978 to 2002.
Night stop over
He would often stop over for a night or two at our home in Kasoyo on his way to Government African School Tambach (now Tambach High School) from his rural home in Sacho location, where he lived with his elder brother, Tuitoek, covering a distance of approximately 65 kilometres on foot.
Earlier, young Moi had met my mother at the African Inland Mission (AIM) at Kabartonjo in 1934.
After finding a suitor, my future dad, my mother insisted on coming with Moi to her new homestead, because he was orphaned and under her care at the missionaries’ rescue centre, and was a humble boy.
The layout or arrangement of items at a homestead was first introduced by early AIM missionaries who encouraged natives to fence homes and lead an organised life.
That is why in some parts of Kenya, AIM was referred to as AIM sing’enge (a corrupted Kiswahili word for seng’enge, meaning barbed wire).
My parents did not own a television set as it was a luxury in many rural homes.
The only time we got closer to a semblance of TV was the outdoor mobile cinema occasionally beamed to villagers at the mission station, a tool they used to advance missionary work.
Among young boys and men in my village, soccer was a popular sport. It still is in Baringo.
This was manifested in President Daniel Moi’s love for the beautiful game especially when Kenya was playing a foreign team. During his tenure as Head of State, he introduced Moi Golden Cup, a national football tournament.
My brothers learned the game by watching older village mates play.
It brought age mates together, whenever they were not engaged in household or school activity.
Young boys, especially those who lived in hilly areas took up athletics. Girls, on the other hand, were expected to assist their mothers in the house and play after finishing household chores.
I met and married Paul Kittony in the most uncharacteristic of ways. I had just finished secondary education at Kapsabet Girls High School and was teaching at Kapropita Primary School. Paul was the headteacher at the neighbouring Kabartonjo Primary School in Baringo County.
A most memorable moment of my wedding day was when my father walked me down the aisle. For the first time, many guests in the church saw my beautiful wedding dress, a point of pride for many parents and a sight to behold for children, especially young girls who aspired to have a white wedding someday in their lives.
About halfway to the altar of the church, all the jitters, stage fright and anxiety had faded partly with the wild ululations and I simply thought, wow! This is the day, let’s do it! When we reached the church altar, my father presented me and all other ceremonial steps followed. It was a formal but big and unforgettable ceremony by the standards of the village. Eunice Bomett, sister to Lenah Moi, the wife of Kenya’s second President, Daniel arap Moi, was my best maid and the best man was Wesley Chesire.
Mrs Herman, the wife of Dr James Herman Propst, an AIM missionary in Baringo, attended my wedding. During this wedding, my brother, Reuben Chesire, who was a District Officer for Kinango Division in Kwale District with the colonial government, made plans for our honeymoon at the Coast, a place I had looked forward to visiting. We left the village by bus for Nakuru and onwards to Nairobi for our honeymoon. We spent our nuptial night at Beacon Hotel next to Jeevanjee Gardens in Nairobi, a five-acre open green space in Nairobi’s Central Business District sandwiched between Muindi Mbingu Street, Monrovia Street, Moi Avenue and Moktar Daddah Street.
I had packed our clothes and other personal belongings in a wooden box, which I reluctantly balanced on my head. At the time, suitcases, as we know them today, hardly existed.
It was made of a rigid wood frame, brass lock and latches, inside leather straps and pockets with a cloth lining and solid leather caps or brass at the corners.
It was bulky and heavy.
The next morning, my husband asked me to accompany him to the National Museums of Kenya to unwind after a gruelling few days before our big day.
I could not cover the distance on foot.
The heavy wooden box on my head ruined his rapid pace.
It was frustrating and made me give up on the trip. I was tired and uncomfortable and eventually asked him to take me back home.
That is how our honeymoon trip to the museum and the Coast aborted. We returned to Baringo.
As newlyweds, we established and fostered relationships with other families in the region. Daniel arap Moi, the Vice President of the Republic of Kenya, and Lena Tungo Moi were close family friends. My husband and I visited them often for lunch and dinner.
Moi was a good cook and would often prepare sumptuous chapatis for us.
I had actually lived in his family home before during my schooling at Kapropita and after my days at Kapsabet Girls and so he remained a close family friend and a father figure.
Away from public glare, Moi was a sociable man, who would share stories, crack jokes, laugh heartily and was exceptionally generous.
As a President, that side of him occasionally came out during entertainment segments at public events. He loved music, especially gospel, folk and patriotic songs, which would move him to join the performance, tap his feet and dance in tune with the song.
(Mzee Jomo) Kenyatta died in 1978 and was succeeded by Daniel Moi, a family friend.
As provided for in the Constitution, Mzee Kenyatta’s principal assistant, Daniel arap Moi, immediately assumed the office of the President.
He was sworn in as Acting President by Chief Justice Sir James Wicks and was to hold the office for 90 days during which time elections would be held. Head of public service Geoffrey Kariithi and Attorney General Charles Njonjo facilitated the smooth transition. As family and close friends of President Moi, we were extremely happy for him. Never had we imagined that a Tugen from remote Baringo, which was a closed district during the colonial regime, would ascend to the presidency of the Republic of Kenya. President Moi quickly settled to work.
He released all political detainees, including former Butere MP, Martin Shikuku, former Gem MP Wasonga Sijeyo, among others. Former Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was in the political wilderness.
In demonstrating his magnanimity, President Moi appointed Jaramogi Oginga the chairman of the Cotton Lint and Marketing Board in 1980.
These are among the special attributes that defined his presidency. After he assumed office, President Moi coined a political slogan “Nyayo” from Kenyatta’s “Harambee” call.
The Nyayo slogan that remained synonymous with Moi until his death loosely translates to “following in the footsteps.”
It signified his desire to stay the course charted by the first President, while still expecting loyalty and respect from all government officials, politicians and the citizenry.
Nyayoism became his creed for peace, love and unity. He believed that progress could only take place when a people are united.
A general election was held on 8 November, 1979 as was constitutionally required. It was the third since Kenya attained Independence in 1963 and the first since the death of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Earlier, on 1 October, the date of the general election was announced, after the legislative term of the National Assembly elected in 1974 expired on 25 September, 1979.
In that election, 742 candidates declared interest in the 158 National Assembly seats. Although all the aspirants belonged to Kanu (Kenya African National Union), which was Kenya’s sole political party since 1969, more than half of the outgoing Members of Parliament lost their seats including seven Cabinet Ministers. President Moi, who was the sole candidate for the presidency, was declared winner after he garnered more than 3.7 million votes.
He formed his government, which comprised 25 ministers on 28 November, 1979. He also appointed 10 of the 12 nominated Members of Parliament to complete the composition of the National Assembly. A number of councillors were nominated to serve in Municipalities, City, County and Town Councils.
I was lucky to be nominated to the Nzoia County Council after the 1979 general election.
Kanu had entrenched its tentacles across the country and some of its members were rewarded with appointments to the councils, Parliament, diplomatic postings, boards of government institutions, among others.
Kanu stalwarts such as Ezekiel Barng’etuny from Nandi, Mulu Mutisya from Machakos, Isaack Salat from Bomet and Sharif Nassir from Mombasa, were the many grassroots individuals who had unfettered access to the President
President Moi was a generous man who rewarded good deeds and loyalty.
In almost every district, he had a close ally and he supported their families. Noah Katana Ngala, the son of Ronald Ngala, former Ganze MP and Moi’s ally in Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu), benefited from the Moi ties.
He was made minister. Musalia Mudavadi got to Parliament at 29 years due to his late father’s relationship with Moi dating back to his days as Education Officer in Baringo.
Hosea Kiplagat, Abraham Kiptanui and Joshua Kulei, former prison warders who worked closely with Moi when he was Vice President and Minister for Home Affairs were rewarded with plum corporate jobs.
Hosea became chairman of Cooperative Bank, Abraham (State House Comptroller) and Joshua Kulei (successful businessman). In Baringo, Moi helped William Morogo to become MP for Mogotio and Cabinet Minister, and his brother Eric Morogo as MP for Rongai.
Their father, former Baringo Paramount chief Chebet Morogo, was Moi’s friend. Fred Gumo who became MP for Westlands Constituency in Nairobi was a beneficiary of the close relationship his father, Pius Magero Gumo, had with Moi. Elder Gumo was a Nairobi and Kitale businessman who knew Moi from the early 50s. He owned an entertainment joint in Kaloleni, Eastlands in Nairobi that was frequented by politicians before Kenya gained Independence.
Mohammed Mahmoud was elected Ijara MP and appointed Minister in Moi’s government courtesy of his brother, General Mahmoud Mohamed who helped Moi quell the 1982 coup attempt.
William Ole Ntimama, a former colonial District Officer in Baringo, was made chairman of Narok County Council, and later assisted to become MP for Narok North and Minister.
Kuria Kanyingi was a General Service Unit (GSU) officer in Gilgil who happened to be at the right place at the right time.
When President Moi’s vehicle broke down along Nakuru-Nairobi road and he fixed it, he was assisted to become Chief Motor Vehicle Inspection boss and Limuru MP.
Throughout my public life, I fostered good relationship with people in President Moi’s administration.
Hezekiah Oyugi, Zakayo Cheruiyot and Wilfred Kimalat who variously occupied the powerful Internal Security (now Interior) PS office, which is domiciled under the Office of the President, and whose responsibilities touch on power, politics and money, were cordial.