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Ex-President’s Moi story could have been told better

By Levi Obonyo
Friday, February 14th, 2020
Military vehicle carrying body of late President Daniel arap Moi to Parliament Buildings for public viewing.

Reporting the passing on of retired President Daniel arap Moi effectively was going to take everything out of the media houses.

Staying on the story for 10 days would require that reporters find new angles every day to sustain the interest of the readers and viewers.

It was also challenging that Moi died a day after the tragic death of pupils at a Kakamega School.

Media needed to balance the two stories so as not to whitewash the school tragedy. It was a challenging balancing act—and the media did relatively well.

Reporting on the Moi death also revealed the lack of depth in research, particularly by the electronic media, and the obsession with trivia and human interest stories at the expense of analysis and in-depth reflection on the impact of the Moi-era policies on the Kenya’s socio-economic and political life. 

The difference between experience and enthusiasm showed particularly in electronic media. Moi had been in power as president for 24 years.

Before that he had been vice president for 12 years. He was also a minister, a party leader and an MP for many years. 

By any account, he had been in the public eye for a long time; one of the longest among the people currently in the public service. His successor Mwai Kibaki was a mere student when Moi was already a public servant.

There should be no paucity of material on the Moi years but to dig it out requires research and analytical skills. Hardly anybody in the media could cover Moi from memory.

The scarcity of research showed particularly on television. The content was limited to guests who had been social actors in the 1980s and after.

Yet there should be footage going back to Moi’s early days that research could unearth. How was Moi as a debater in Parliament, for example? 

What were some of his memorable speeches going back to his early days in Parliament, in the trenches fighting for freedom? What about his days as vice president or even his early days as president?

The stories about Moi’s church life have been legendary. His presence at the Kabarak Chapel where he used to attend service must provide a range of shots of the attentive president listening to sermons.

Did he sometimes preach? If he did how was he like as a preacher? Could we have had a glimpse on Moi’s theology? Did Moi have a social life?

Even within statecraft Moi attended many conferences and visited with many international leaders. He once was the chairman of the then Organisation of African Unity.

What were the hallmarks of his foreign policy and how have those positioned the country internationally?

Reporting appeared to be limited to bringing people who could remember their interaction with Moi void of any serious research.

In the cases where the journalists were younger, then the reporting was even worse.

The young journalists resorted to reminding the viewers that they were children at the height of Moi’s power and, therefore, could not report beyond that. 

One reporter reminded the viewers she was only seven years old when Moi left power.

Granted, these, too, are important stories but there should have been more. Are there, for example, scholars who specialise on the Moi years as their area of scholarship and can empirically put his leadership in context?

How did Moi, for example, compare with other African leaders of his time? What is their evaluation of specific Moi policies and their impact on the economy and other aspects of Kenya’s social life?

The Moi story could have been better covered if media houses had research departments and those research departments worked well.

If anything, in the age of social media, such in-depth research is what is going to make a difference for this is material not likely to be found on social media handles. We ought to do better in future. — The writer is the dean, School of Communications, Daystar University

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