U.S. policy toward Kenya during the long presidency of Daniel arap Moi (1978-2002) fluctuated between a close Cold War embrace, to unusually harsh public criticism, to quiet pressure behind the scenes. Moi’s tenure was marked by consolidation of power, outbreaks of political violence, and corrupt elections. In the end, however, Moi respected constitutional limits and stepped down, acquiescing in the victory of an opposition presidential candidate. It was the first democratic and relatively peaceful transfer of power to an opposition party in Kenya’s history.
Kiertisak Toh spent over eleven years in Kenya, at times in the middle of a political tug of war. In the early 1990s, USAID Washington asked Toh not to engage directly with the Kenyan government. New USAID administrator Brian Atwood (1993-1999) was concerned about engaging too closely with the “corrupt Moi government.” This led some locally-employed USAID staff and others to question why Kenya was being singled out amongst equally corrupt neighbors with significant human rights problems. Meanwhile, a new American Ambassador arrived with a mandate to patch up relations after her predecessor had levelled particularly harsh public criticism of Moi and his government.
On the ground, USAID officials like Kiertisak Toh had to reconcile these conflicting messages and execute long-term, sustainable development programs. Looking back, Toh is proud that USAID took the long view, and takes satisfaction from the progress Kenya has made toward democracy.