There was a lovely road that ran up the Tugen Hills from Saos on the Eldama Ravine-Emining’ junction to Kabarnet.
The road snaked its way up the shrub-and-exotic tree-covered hills which makes them one of the most breath-taking scenes in Africa.
For miles overgrowth threatened to choke the bitumen and numerous first-class schools sprouted, as if from nowhere, completing the mosaic of a most picturesque scene where modernity meets nature.
Follow it and it takes you to one of the highest points in Kenya overlooking the Great Rift Valley to the East and the Kerio Valley to the West.
Perched on the left shoulder of this escarpment is the birth place of Kenya’s second President Daniel arap Moi who, for 50 years, ruled the roost and straddled the region’s political scene like the colossus.
It is from this rugged terrain that Moi rose to the apex of Kenya’s politics remaining there for nearly a quarter century.
But perhaps nothing symbolises and so dramatically announces the changed fortunes for the second president and the residents of Baringo better than the forsaken road to Sacho.
Today the 80-kilometre road is no more after the tarmac cracked and disappeared in so many places giving rise to cones and deep ruts.
The relapsing of what used to be North Rift’s worst roads to that state has virtually cut off transport between Eldama Ravine, Tenges, Kiptagich and Kabarnet.
It is these highlands — dotted with banana and avocado plants — which is the granary of the largely low-lying and semi-arid Baringo and adjoining counties such as Nakuru, Elgeyo Marakwet, West Pokot and Turkana.
Kiptagich, a handful of rusty shops on two short lines, is the former President Moi’s trading centre.
It is here, overlooking Salawa and Kerio Valley, that his landmark project Sacho High School and his rural home are located.
“This road has not been repaired since Kugo (grandfather) left State House 11 years ago,” regrets Mr Simon Kasait, a neighbour who spoke to us outside the retired president’s imposing red tile-roof house.
“This year the little that remained of it was washed off by the rains and for the first time Mzee missed a youth camp he traditionally attends here. I think it is this road which is to blame for his absence,” Kasait mused.
When the Saturday Nation visited Mr Moi’s rural home, Mr Mark Labat, its caretaker, was hesitant to talk to us.
He would neither comment on the status of the road nor on the former president’s missing of the annual youth camp for fear of estranging his employer.
“How did you manage to get in here?”
INVESTMENT IN PEOPLE
“No, I wouldn’t comment on that,” he told us, only momentarily looking up from his work of mowing grass on the compound that Moi would sit on whenever he wanted a quiet time away from the worries of the State.
We informed him that we had been let through by the lone police officer at the gate after we convinced him we were up to no harm. This mellowed him into engaging us in small talk about rain. Not about the former president.
As we drove away, a watchman took pride in showing us around the impressive Sacho High School, a symbol of Moi’s investments in education which saw him build schools all over Tugenland and beyond.
At the height of his power in the 1990s, Baringo and Koibatek would top in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education rankings.
Mr Moi also helped to build hospitals in various parts of the county.
Residents informed us these came in handy during the recent nationwide strike by medical workers as many patients were taken all the way from Kabarnet and parts of Keyio District to the Eldama Ravine District Hospital.
The former president spearheaded the construction of numerous magnificent African Inland churches, offshoots of the Africa Inland Mission which gave him an education and made him what he is.
AIC buildings are architectural marvels even in the remotest of villages in the land he represented in Parliament since the colonial times first as a member of the Legislative Council and later as MP.
He also ensured a long-lasting respect for conservation, with the county remaining as one of the most forested regions of Kenya.
Lamenting the dilapidated roads in the region, Mr Nathan Kongesho, a driver told us at Kiptagich:
“We now take about five hours between Eldama Ravine and Kabarnet a journey of about 87 kilometres. To get to Kabarnet from Tenges, a distance of 22 kilometres, we take more than one and half hours. The biggest casualties, though, are the sick on their way to hospitals.
“We will be better off if the tar is peeled off.”
Mr Kongesho said matatus plying the route were now forced to use the longer Marigat-Mogotio road, but they still can’t escape the back-breaking 22 kilometres to Kabarnet.
“The little we get from this work goes back to buy parts which are broken after every trip. We pass this burden to passengers who have to pay double the price,” he said looking at a deep gulley on what used to be a first- class road.
Mr Kongesho recalled how the road network in the county was well-kept during President Moi’s time.
Indeed, the roads in the area used to be the butt of cruel jokes.
One had it that they were only built because the Head of State came from the region; that goats would lie on them for hours because there were no vehicles to hit them.
Now the collapse of this key road, and the depressed business in the region, including at the once famous Kabarnet Hotel bespeak of the diminished fortunes of Baringo residents after their gallant son exited the presidency in December 2002.
Moi, who rose from a herdsman to rule Kenya for 24 years, reigned at a time when the president was, in all but name, an uncrowned monarch whose writ was law, and a wave of the hand would have seen government officials outdo each other fixing the road.
This image of an all-powerful, all-knowing president encapsulated by the Tugen phrase ingen mengit (the lead bull knows it) was busted in 2007 after the region, in concert with the larger Kalenjin group’s defiance, protested against all Moi choices right from Uhuru Kenyatta to his three sons who were contesting various seats in Baringo and Nakuru.
The return of Gideon Moi, as senator for Baringo, as well as the election of his brother, Raymond as MP for Rongai both on the elder Moi’s Kanu party, was a resolve by the community to thank the old man for the golden old times, Mr Kongesho informed us.
The fond memories for the good old days were evident all over the county on the eve of the New Year.
The revival of the famous Kimalel Goat Auction two weeks ago, which brought together President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto with their political benefactor, Mr Moi, was an attempt to rekindle the fires of the former president’s socio-economic projects.
“We’ve been left like orphans in the pretext that we had our time to enjoy the national cake during the Moi regime. Many of our children have gone to school but are now languishing at home as they cannot even secure jobs,” Mr Moi’s half-brother Joseph Chesire told us at his Sacho home.
“He could sometimes tour secondary schools and pay school fees for all students for the whole year. When he came across women selling their farm produce, he could buy everything from them,” recalled the former AP sergeant who served between 1964 and 1994.
Other residents complained that the dilapidated road has adversely affected agriculture in the area.
“Subsequent regimes have been promising us that the road would be repaired only to be given a raw deal after elections. We hope the Jubilee Government will address our plight once and for all,” said Dan Chebet, a boda-boda operator at Kiptagich shopping centre.
And they remember Moi’s time with nostalgia. “Moi was a very generous and development-conscious leader.
He ensured equity in development by setting up schools countrywide. Successive governments should follow his footsteps,” said former Kabarnet mayor Julius Kiprop.
At the dusty Kabarnet town, promoted to a municipality in the 1990s despite its small size, the yawning buildings and the dilapidated roads, tell the story of changed fortunes.
Business at the Agricultural Finance Cooperation, Kenya Farmers Association, and Kabarnet Hotel has clearly taken a beating.
It was at the State-owned hotel — with a bed capacity of 54, complete with a presidential suite — that the former president would spend time with senior government officials and power brokers.
The group labelled the ‘Kabarnet Syndicate’ by historian Martin Meredith, became exceedingly rich obtaining loans from banks and pension funds, but residents are now asking where these sons of Baringo whom Moi propped up went to as they are rarely seen at home after he exited State House.
There was a fresh coat of paint at the Kabarnet Hotel, as its managers move to reposition it to tap into the economic buzz created by the county government.
As we sipped branded Baringo passion juice at the balcony, visitors — far in between — trickled in.
Residents blame Moi’s predecessors for doing nothing to sustain his projects. But, according to Raphael Koima, the director of Barnet Memorial Hospital the ingen mengit syndrome of relying on the president only, was the greatest impediment to development in the vast county.
“Our people got used to free things. This is still felt up to date as the people have left politicians to chart the way forward for them,” said Mr Koima.
He attributed the collapse of many projects initiated by the former president to lack of self-reliance.
“The residents got used to being spoon-fed. Most of them could not imagine that one day they could fend for themselves,” explained Mr Koima.
Baringo County Governor Benjamin Cheboi has promised that his government will revive all projects initiated by the former president with the famous Kimalel Goat Auction already back on its feet following its re-launch last month.
“The county assembly will pass laws requiring all livestock to be sold inside livestock markets to check cattle rustling and for the sector to benefit our people fully,” Mr Cheboi said.
According to the governor, his government is liaising with the relevant authorities for the repair of the roads in the area with the improvement of roads in Kabarnet town already underway.
When he toured Baringo in the run-up to the last elections, then Roads minister Franklin Bett said Sh820 million had been set aside for refurbishing the 60-kilometre stretch between Kasoiya, Tenges and Saos but nothing came out of it.
A major figure of the first generation of African leaders after independence, Mr Moi, 89, succeeded founding father President Jomo Kenyatta who died in 1978 and ruled for over two decades.
During this period Kenya avoided military rule, serious social instability, warlord-ism, mass murder or social collapse like its neighbours Uganda, Somalia and Sudan.
And while Mr Moi’s admirers see this as a credit to his leadership, seeing as he ruled at a critical time when coups were devastating Africa, his critics point out that he achieved this stability at a great cost to human rights as he obliterated press freedom, condoned use of torture and detained dissidents.