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AS East Africa mourns Mzee Daniel Arap Moi, I write this not only as an attempt to publish the hidden history behind my late father’s untold legacy, but mostly to bring an important detail for the sake of Uganda’s journey towards the elusive first ever peaceful transfer of power.
That is why I would like to recall events in Kenya on August 1978 when President Jomo Kenyatta passed away, and Vice President Daniel Arap Moï became the new Kenyan president.
My father President Idi Amin flew to Nairobi for the state funeral. Two very odd things happened at the time which I will never forget. The first one was just anecdotal. As we watched the event live on television from back at State House Entebbe, Ugandans could see on their screens Idi Amin joining all the leaders and foreign dignitaries as they walked behind the late Kenyatta’s funeral cortege on the main avenue in Nairobi. The Kenyan public stood all alongside the road, and upon noticing Idi Amin, they temporarily forgot about the funeral, and started waving and jubilating instead. That was how popular Amin was even in Kenya.
The second development during this time was far more serious, and is an important lesson/knowledge that we as a country, especially the leaders of today and tomorrow, should always have in mind for the sake of national stability.
Though Daniel Arap Moi was Vice President at the time, it appears there was a group of the late Jomo Kenyatta’s closest friends and confidants who had already made other succession arrangements together with the late Kenyatta before his death.
Now while those tribalist succession plans had been known publicly and had even failed to be formalized in the Kenyan Parliament previously, the people of Kenya do not know how close they came to a political crisis as those same tribalist succession plans were stealthily revived at the death of Jomo Kenyatta.
After Kenyatta’s funeral, President Idi Amin had been taken to State House Nairobi where he was having a briefing with Vice President Moï before heading to the airport and back to Kampala.
When the Ugandan leader casually asked about Daniel Arap Moï ‘s inauguration ceremony to the position of president, the Vice President told him that things were complicated and that he wasn’t even sure about his future in Kenya. Amin insisted on knowing what was going on, and after many attempts Mzee Moï reluctantly told Amin about “the alternative succession plan” that was secretely under way by Jomo Kenyatta’s closest political allies.
My father used to tell us these stories every evening after supper, though unfortunately I cannot remember the names of the three individuals who were said to be plotting to take the top positions in Kenya.
However older Kenyans probably know the people that I’m talking about, and who had been preparing their own succession plan all along.
What then happened is that the Ugandan leader quickly understood that there was a dangerous power struggle building, and it was outside the proper state succession provisions.
Amin then asked Daniel Arap Moï to at least call these individuals to State House for a quick meeting, and simultaneously postponed his return to Kampala indefinitely.
Everyone being at the funeral in Naïrobi meant that it was only a short while before all those concerned arrived at State House.
After the greetings, President Idi Amin bluntly told them about the rumours he had heard in regards to the plot for an illegal succession, and warned them about it’s dangers to the country’s stability if anyone went on with those plans. He told them that the proper procedure was for the Vice President to become the president, and anything else would be seen as either an unjustifiable coup and/or some illegal undertaking against the people of Kenya. This, Amin said, had the potential of completely destabilizing the country and even Uganda which economically depends on Kenya for it’s imports and exports since Uganda is a landlocked country.
By the end of the meeting, thanks to the respect they all had for Amin as a strong, popular African leader, the charismatic Ugandan president had quickly got all the assurances that the normal process would now take place, and Vice president Daniel Arap Moï would be quickly inaugurated as President of Kenya.
All this was not in the public domain. Kenyans actually believe the succession happened so smoothly. Not knowing how bad things were poised to become had my father not intervened at that material time.
For the record, I would like todays Ugandan leaders to take note of this requirement for the Vice president to be “quickly inaugurated” in such circumstances. Uganda has not yet had that peaceful transition/succession experience, and God knows how this knowledge might one day save the country, it’s economy, and it’s people from bloody illicit backdoor power struggles.
We have to have a mechanical system of immediate swearing-in of the vice president once the sitting president has been medically declared dead.
If I recall well, when US president John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the Vice president was immediately sworn in, barely an hour later, in mid-air, in the very plane that the late President had come with to Dallas, Texas where he was then shot.
The succession procedures exist in the 1995 Constitution, but we know how watered down that document has become. So given the political realities of Uganda today, we all know that the chances of a sitting president dying in office is the scenario with the highest probability to occur. And if it does happen, for the sake of stability, all citizens of Uganda must insist on the Vice President Edward Sekandi holding the country together. At least until the next elections. And we should all insist on him, not because he is Sekandi, or NRM, or a Muganda by tribe, but because he is the one holding the office of the Vice President.
If the entire country does not have this plan solidly grounded in the national understanding, even regardless of which person becomes Vice President in the future, who knows how many people out there could be plotting their own alternative succession plans right now as we speak, and at the terrible expense of the lives and livelihoods of all the people of this country?
For the record, I highly suspect several people within, and others close to State House, to be secretely harbouring such ambitions, and just waiting for their “Jomo Kenyatta moment”.
Meanwhile, in 1978 the uncertainty in Kenya, and the lengthy political succession timelines meant that President Idi Amin literally averted a major crisis in Kenya where there was likely to be a collapse of the state and probable violence amongst the different powerful individuals, their tribes/ethnic groups, and their supporters.
By Amin ensuring that Daniel Arap Moï became Acting president until the KANU party conference, Kenya survived political anarchy.
And that is how Mzee Daniel Arap Moï became President of the Republic of Kenya, thanks to Idi Amin. Kenyans were literally saved from untold mayhem without them even knowing it, and the new Kenyan leader quietly maintained a deep and personal respect for Amin for the rest of his life mainly because of that episode. Looking back now, many might notice that he never made personal public statements for or against Idi Amin.

RIP Mzee Daniel Arap Moï & may God Almighty cleanse him of any earthly mistakes.

The writer is a son to
Former President Idi Amin Dada


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