President Moi and the missing First Lady: tale of a troubled family


President Moi and the missing First Lady: tale of a troubled family
In this undated picture, the late Mzee Moi is seen with his wife Lena and two children. PHOTO | COURTESY

In Summary

  • As president, Mr. Moi would always be accompanied by his knobkerrie (rungu) and his trusted aide Lee Njiru and his security detail.
  • Outside of that close group, there was never a woman in sight who did not work for him or was supposed to be there as per protocol.

Who was former President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi’s wife and why was he never seen in public with her? This is probably the one question that many people have continuously asked for decades and many still do.

For those from the 60s and 70s era, Lena Tungo Moi was a visible and loved sight in the local political scene as the vice-president’s wife.

But as president, she vanished; Mr. Moi would always be accompanied by his knobkerrie (rungu) and his trusted aide Lee Njiru and his security detail. Outside of that close group, there was never a woman in sight who did not work for him or was supposed to be there as per protocol.

So, what happened to Mrs. Moi?

In the 1998 biography, The Making of an African Statesman, by Andrew Morton, Mr. Moi, according to the Sunday Nation, admitted that he had little joy from his family… saying 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 Sunday Nation reported that “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,” wrote John Kamau.

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.

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,” a family friend told Sunday Nation. By the time of her death, Lena’s bedroom had been shifted to the sitting room because the roof was leaking.

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