Jonathan, Lena and the untold story of Moi’s troubled family
In the Daniel arap Moi family, the fortunes of Jonathan Toroitich followed those of his mother Lena: forgotten, cowed and, by middle-class standards, living in penury.
Despite having a billionaire father, Jonathan, who died last week, never lived a profligate lifestyle — and it was no wonder that his brother, Baringo Senator Gideon Moi mourned him as a “down-to-earth” person.
Family sources say that as the eldest son, Jonathan was always uncomfortable that his father appeared to favour the youngest son, Gideon, who today doubles as the spokesman on all matters pertaining to the family, and Moi’s health, against Kalenjin traditions.
While most sons and daughters of African dictators live in luxury, the same cannot be said of most of Moi’s children who don’t seem to display any opulence. His grand children have followed a similar path: one recently abandoned his girlfriend at a Kitale hotel with unpaid bills and there were previous accusations of stealing a phone.
Whether the troubled family was the reason why Gideon asked Kenyans to respect their “privacy” as they mourn Jonathan was not clear. But the source of acrimony by the siblings, according to informed sources, was that the running of the multi-billion-shillings empire that Moi built during his 23-year presidency by bilking treasury and running a corrupt system, has been left in the hands of Gideon with only a few properties left to the other children.
In his 1998 biography, The Making of an African Statesman, Mr Moi admitted, for the first time, that he had little joy from his family which explains why of late only Gideon appears beside him when receiving dignitaries. Moi told British author Andrew Morton that he felt disappointed and let down.
“He is quite a lonely man although always surrounded by people. That is the way a friend who has known him since his days as a teacher puts it,” Morton wrote.
In the book, Moi said he was frustrated that apart from Gideon and June — his adopted daughter and niece to his estranged wife Lena — his other children did not appear in public when he was president to give him moral support.
Although he claims that Lena “was accommodated in Moi’s family” after the divorce was finalised in 1979, the estranged wife was treated so badly that she was never seen at the weddings of her own children. Even in 1997 when her father died, a Nation photographer snapped her among the crowds.
With Lena absent, and Moi taking the country’s presidency in 1978, the teenage children lacked a mentor. Andrew Morton wrote as much: “This combination of absence and sternness produced the inevitable backlash, and as adolescents, the boys rebelled against their father’s austere moral code.” At times, it was the presidential guards who would discipline the children, according to Moi’s biographer.
Shortly after Moi divorced Lena in 1974, he took his children with him to Kabarak but Jonathan, who was 20, remained close to his mother — an issue that would create a wedge between him, his father and the siblings.
Jonathan built his home in Kabimoi — close to his mother — and was the occasional visitor. While all the other of Moi’s children stayed close to their father, they grew up without seeing much of their mother.
“He enmeshed himself in the local scene, and would drink beer with locals. That is how he lived,” says a close friend of Jonathan.
Although he enjoyed the trappings of power, power never got into his head.
But apart from the farm in Ravine, Jonathan was not known to be wealthy and Kenyans only remember him for his participation in the Safari Rally with Ibrahim Choge, who would later marry Moi’s daughter Doris.
“Although he did some deals during the Kanu days, Jonathan was conned out of a lot of money at the same time by his partners,” a close friend remarks.
Jonathan’s home in Ravine is neither stately nor with any semblance of opulence. The driveway is dusty while the bungalow has seen better days. It was the same life that Jonathan’s mother faced as she suffered in silence, according to close family members who spoke in confidence.
For most of her life, Lena was only known at her Kabimoi village where she lived a rural-woman’s life; and at times with no means of transport.
“She had no problem using a matatu,” said a family friend. By the time of her death, Lena’s bedroom had been shifted to the sitting room because the roof was leaking.
When Doris married Choge, Moi had given them a tea farm in Nandi Hills but the death of Choge in a road accident exposed how Lena was treated badly.
“Nobody knew how she came to the funeral and sat with the crowd. Apparently, she had taken a matatu from Ravine to Nandi Hills as other mourners arrived in cars and helicopters. That was the life Jonathan lived, too,” says the family member who spoke to us anonymously.
It was after the death of Lena that the first cracks appeared in what was thought to be a tight family — and tempers flared.
Although Moi had gone to visit Lena a few days before her death and had Dr Silverstein treat her heart condition, the question of where she would be buried turned out to be a major issue.
At first, it was publicly announced that Lena would be buried in Sacho, an abandoned Moi homestead where nobody lived.
Sources say that William Bomett, Lena’s eldest brother opposed the move and told Moi that if Lena was not buried in Kabarak, he would bury her in Ravine — where she lived all her life. “Mzee Bomett said Lena would not be buried in the bush and that is how she was buried in Kabarak — a place she had never stepped in her life,” said a source.
But it was during the preparation of Lena’s burial that the row between Gideon and Jonathan came out in the open. Gideon, according to sources who attended the meeting, had tried to address one of the meetings as the family spokesman but Jonathan shot up and pointed at him. “Simply because our father transferred most of his properties to you doesn’t entitle you to become our spokesman,” a source quotes Jonathan saying.
Moi had at the tail-end of his presidency started distributing his properties and leaving others in trusts. It was one way of cushioning him from a possible raid by any incoming government.
It is not clear why Moi did not give his other children any of the top properties. The eldest daughter, Jennifer — who leads a private life — still stays with her father in Kabarak or Kabarnet Gardens in Nairobi ever since her husband Stephen Kositany died in a road accident in 1994. With the death of Kositany, life on the fast-lane took a toll on Jennifer as she took comfort in perfect tipple.
It was her dalliance with windbag Jacob Juma that exposed the kind of life that she lived after her father left power. Jennifer who owns a 250-acre tea farm, known as Theta Tea Company, in Nandi had a long drawn out court battle with Jacob Juma — who claimed to have bought it for Sh9 million in 2003 after it was auctioned by the Agricultural Finance Corporation. Eventually, the court ordered Juma, who would later die in 2016, out of the farm and asked Jennifer to refund him the money. They would end up in court over contracts.
The other of Moi’s sons John Mark, though hardly known, runs Kaisugu Tea Farm, which Moi carved out of Mau Forest and which was highlighted in the Ndung’u Report as part of land illegally hived off Mau Forest.
Doris’s twin brother Phillip has had a love-hate relationship with his father and had a long-running divorce case with his ex-wife Rossana Pluda. It was after the High Court ordered him to pay her Sh90 million for upkeep and house allowance that Phillip pleaded with the court to ignore that he was Moi’s son and to consider his personal finance status.
His lawyer told the court that Philip was just a victim of his surname, and that in real life he was an ordinary Kenyan living on pensions as a retired army officer and relying on his family members for a modest livelihood. At one point, a warrant of arrest was issued against him since he could not raise Sh7 million he owed his ex-wife in child support and maintenance.
Family friends say that June, the adopted daughter, is close to Phillip but not the others. She had similar problems as Jennifer and today, she lives a quiet live.
The death of Jonathan opens a tinderbox in the Moi family — and those close to his family members are watching to see the turn of events.