I’ve lost a father and mentor, Lee mourns his boss

Wednesday, February 5th, 2020 00:00 |
Lee Njiru, who served as retired President Moi’s press secretary for 42 years. Photo/PD/File

George Kebaso @Morarak

Having worked as the press secretary for the late retired President Moi for the last 42 years, the death of the former Head of State hit Lee Njiru hard. 

“For the last one week, I could not watch television. I could not even read a newspaper. It was like I had a premonition...and I was devastated when I received the news,” Njiru said yesterday after his boss breathed his last at the Nairobi Hospital.

He narrated how before Moi’s demise yesterday, the former Head of State had been “killed” 14 times through fake news.  

 “From 1983, I have been counting on a piece of paper the number of time people have “killed” him prematurely.

He has died 14 times. But this, this is final,” a downcast Njiru said in an interview with Emoo FM. Late last year, Njiru issued several satements dispelling rumours that Moi had died, terming the reports fake news.

To Njiru, Mzee Moi was not just his boss. 

“I have been with him from Tuesday August 22, 1978. I started writing for Mzee Jomo Kenyatta (founding President) in 1977 and Mzee Moi came on board in 1978. He has been like a father to me; a teacher; my leader and my mentor. He guided me through thick and thin.

He has protected me the same way a person takes care of their eyes, he built my physical stature—he fed me,  gave me life skills.

He has made me tour the whole world and he has helped me to learn how to love people,” Njiru, who hails from tiny village in Runyenjes, Embu county said.

He described how, over the last three years, he watched Moi’s health deteriorate even as his aged advanced.

“He went from using a walking stick to a wheelchair. From then it was a steady decline. There was no need to disclose all these details but it was worrying.

He was admitted to hospital in October last year, and he has never left the hospital since,” Njiru observed, adding that in Moi’s last days, the city hospital had to switch from just providing healthcare to generally nursing the retired President. 

“It was care and management of old age and there’s no cure for old age. We were watching it with a lot of pain,” he narrated.

Njiru also claimed that Moi was 103 years old at the time of his death as opposed to the common belief that he was 95.

Indeed, Kenyans celebrated Moi’s supposed 95th birthday on September 2, last year. Njiru said Mzee Moi had on several occasions told him that the age indicated on his national identity card was not correct.

“Let me clarify that Mzee Moi was not 95 years old. He was about 102 or 103 years,” he claimed.

Harambee spirit

The long-serving Moi’s aide spoke highly of the former President’s work ethic, saying he believed in the people and servant leadership. He was a stickler for punctuality.

“He was taught by mzungu (white man), and every time he kept on looking at his watch. I also learned to keep time. I have never been late to work even for a day. I used to get to the office between 5am and 5.30am daily,” he said.

On Moi’s love for the people, Njiru cited an initiative by Moi dubbed meet-the-people tour which the retired President used to engage Kenyans from all walks of life.

“Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was the author of the harambee, but it is Mzee Moi who gave the harambee spirit the practical expression,” said Njiru.

He note that the former Head of State loved to tour the country by road not choppers as modern-day politicians are fond of. 

“We went from Nairobi to Ukambani, to Dar es Salaam, to Arusha and Kampala by road. We used to go to Moyale, Turkana by road and we would do 27 meetings in a day,” Njiru recalled.

“If you go to the Kenya-Sudan border, Ganze in Kilifi, Awendo, Kithioko in Ukambani, you will find a commemorative plate of the President Moi.” 

Njiru said despite his opponents seeking to have him replaced, the former Head of State believed in his abilities and held onto him.

“Many people have been fighting me because of ethnicity, but Mzee was not a tribalist. Being a young man from Runyenjes, Embu from a small tribe, Mzee held my hand and protected me,” he said.

On Moi’s diet, Njiru dismissed claims by many that the retire President avoided meat. “That’s not true, Mzee ate meat like a lion. At his Kabarak home, Mzee has more than 100 sheep and every morning we would slaughter one. The bone of contention would be what to accompany it with. He also loved mursik and traditional vegetables,” he said.

In the 42 years he worked for Moi, Njiru never went on leave. The 71-year-old started working under Moi aged 29 years. 

He recounts how in 1981, during the 34th UN General Assembly, when Julia Ojiambo, then an assistant minister, led a delegation to the meeting, but forgot the letters of credentials, and Njiru had to fly to New York to deliver them.

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