As the country is glued to the funeral of our former president, Daniel arap Moi, I am reminded of my trip to Russia about two months ago, from which I am compelled to draw parallels. I had the opportunity of visiting the Red Square, an iconic place surrounded by many of Russia’s most historic landmarks such as the Kremlin, Saint Basil’s Cathedral (it’s most definitely the most beautiful building I’ve ever laid my eyes on), a beautiful shopping mall among others.
Of particular interest, however, was a tomb outside of which people queued waiting to be allowed in. In there lay the body of a man who had given up the ghost in 1924, the same year that, according to records, Daniel Moi was born. The man’s name is Vladimir Lenin. Ukitaka usioze waambie wakueke kwa kitu inaitwa mausoleuma.
Other than the seemingly bizarre tradition of using a corpse as a tourist attraction and not letting the dead rest in peace, I was curious to know why the people of Russia thought this person deserved to be literally preserved forever. Everybody in Russia, I found out, idolises Lenin. After all, he was the first leader of the Soviet Union and is credited with pioneering his own philosophy, Leninism, akin to Moi’s Nyayoism.
Lenin’s sins, however, will make whatever President Moi is being accused of seem like petty misdemeanours. Under Lenin’s rule, there were 28,000 executions EVERY YEAR. Consider that number for a moment. Under a period that has come to be known as the Red Terror, Lenin killed tens of thousands and sent more to concentration camps. Pray, why have the Russians chosen to sweep this part of Lenin’s legacy under the carpet?
We are doing the same with Moi, of course. We are choosing to close one eye and ignore too that Moi stole, killed, tortured and (according to some wild allegations) raped. To Kenyans, and even to his victims, Moi was, and still is, as white as snow. Just as we excuse Moi’s mistakes by saying that times demanded he do what he did, the Russians will tell you that Lenin unleashed all that terror because the times back then demanded it. That killing all those people was for the good of the republic.
“We normalise their evils as the stepping stone upon which future leaders stand on to build their own ruling styles.”
The problem with canonising past dictators is that, by declaring them as saints, we normalise their evils as the stepping stone upon which future leaders stand on to build their own ruling styles. I have seen our leaders proudly declare themselves students of Moi and avow to uphold his style of ruling. If we simply choose to forgive Moi and forget his transgressions, what is to stop a future president from pushing the envelope further? Have we paused to consider, for a moment, that Moi was a brutal ruler because he was emulating his mentor, Jomo Kenyatta? Luckily, we do not have to look far for a case study, for we can find one in Russia.
Even a D student of History will instantly recognise the name of Lenin’s successor, Joseph Stalin. Stalin’s sins easily make his predecessor look like a choirboy. Even though he transformed Russia from a country of peasants into a state of industrial and military power, Stalin capitalised on the ideas of Leninism to rule with even more terror and kill millions of his citizens. Genocide, to him, was like breakfast.
One day, Stalin’s brain burst and he died. You’d think that the Citizens would scream “Good riddance” and “Go to hell!”, but you’d be mistaken. Just as our leaders continue to pledge fealty to Moi, the people of Russia continued to regard Stalin as a hero. Heck, they even buried him next to Lenin at the Red Square!
Russia’s hope came with the government that succeeded Stalin. These fellows saw the danger in “the cult of the personality” and felt a need to denounce Stalin’s evils, so they won’t pass forward to the next generations. It was a tall order though; how do you convince people that the person whom they’ve been brainwashed into thinking he’s a god was actually evil and bad?
Driven by a strong moral conscience, a fellow called Khruschev kickstarted a process called de-Stalinisation. They slowly renamed all buildings and roads named after Stalin and tore down his monuments around the world. They then rolled back many of his disastrous policies. His corpse was removed from the Red Square and buried elsewhere in the Kremlin. The people had woken up and realised that just because somebody was a leader doesn’t mean he was a hero.
When will we commence our De-Moirisation? Or De-Kenyattaisation? Who will lead the way?