By Prudence Minayo
Helena Bomet, or Lena Moi as she would come to be known, was the wife of the late president Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi. At the beginning of Moi’s political life, Lena stood by his side. She attended various meetings with her husband and engaged in various women groups. The then outgoing Lena would even be awarded the Order of the Golden Heart Medal by the late Jomo Kenyatta for her service to the community in 1968.
Unfortunately, she would fade out of the public eye after the mid 70s largely due to her separation from Moi. A school named Lena Moi Primary would even be renamed Moi Primary dropping her name. Andrew Morton while interviewing people for Moi’s autobiography remarked that she lived with the hope that one day Moi would return to their matrimonial home.
“Even today, she keeps a room of the house as a shrine to her former husband, believing that when he sets aside the cares of high office, he will return,” wrote Andrew Morton.
Moi never returned to Lena and when she passed away in July 2004, she was buried in his Kabarak home, a home she is said to have never stepped foot in. The couple reunited in death as Moi would later be buried next to his estranged wife in 2020.
Helena and Moi met when they were both quite young. Orphaned at an early age, Moi attended school 160km away from his home. Hence, he was offered shelter at the African Inland Church where Paul Barnett was an elder. At times, he would either stay at Mr. Barnett’s home or at a missionary’s place.
Lena was a student at AIC school in Eldama Ravine before proceeding to Tenwek Girls Boarding School in Kericho. The late Moi proceeded to Kagumo Teachers Training College before returning to Rift Valley.
The two met when they were both teachers.
He paid dowry and married Lena in what was then an elaborate ceremony in Eldama Ravine’s AIC church in 1950. The dowry consisted of two heifers, one ox and four sheep. Erik Barnett officiated the union. The couple settled down even as Moi’s career took off. He later became a principal at Tambach and much later joined politics. A teacher by profession, Lena gave up her career to take care of her family.
In a 1967 interview, she expressed the need to personally take care of their children for the sake of their mental and physical health.
“I owe her much of my success in the service of my people and my country. She has always been an encouraging factor in all aspects of my public life,” said Moi in an interview back in the day.
In 1955, Moi was appointed to the colonial legislative council to represent Rift Valley. With this appointment, came change. He began wearing suits, driving a Landrover and eventually moved his family to the country’s capital.
In independent Kenya, Moi became a reputable politician and merged his party with that of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. He grew to become one of the most visible people in Kenyatta’s government. Other sources speculate that as he grew in politics, he spent less and less time with his family leading to his marriage falling apart.
However, others believe Lena’s refusal to dance with the then president Jomo Kenyatta was what led to the failure of their marriage. When the late Moi became vice president, he traversed the country performing a number of duties for the president. In 1974, he organised a dinner dance at the Rift Valley Technical College. In attendance, was the late President Jomo Kenyatta who was the chief guest.
The then Vice President danced with Mama Ngina Kenyatta but Lena would not dance with the president as was expected. A staunch Christian- she believed it was against her beliefs. It is believed this embarrassed Moi and the couple went their separate ways afterwards. The retired president filed for a divorce. However, archive photos show she did dance with the president.
Lena faded from the limelight until she disappeared completely. Media reports indicate Moi took the children to be raised in his Kabarak home while Lena was abandoned in the Eldama Ravine home where she would spend the rest of her days. She was allegedly watched by security and was not allowed to grace any public occasion including the church weddings of her children. Like the rest of Kenyans, she watched the weddings broadcasted on Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. Most of the children stayed with their father and it was only Jonathan who was very close to Lena. In 1997, she also took a backseat in her father’s burial.
Lena and Moi had eight children, one of whom was adopted.
- Jenifer Jemutai Kositany: She is Lena’s eldest child born in 1953. Jenifer was married to Stephen Kositany who passed away in a road accident. Her husband was brother to the current Soy MP Caleb Kositany.
- The late Jonathan Toroitich: born in 1954 passed away in 2019 at a Nakuru hospital after battling with cancer. He is remembered as a daring safari rally race driver.
- Raymond Moi born in 1960 and was elected Member of Parliament for Rongai Constituency in Nakuru.
- Philip, a retired army officer, has a twin named Doris. They were both born in 1962. He was in the limelight a few years back following a case with his ex wife Rosana Pluda.
- Doris, on the other hand, is a widow who was married to Jonathan’s fellow race driver the late Ibrahim who was the son of veteran Nandi politician Simon Choge.
- John Mark was born in 1958 and lives his life out of the public eye is a geologist by profession
- June is a Businesswoman
- Gideon Moi is a Prominent politicians currently serving as Baringo senator.
In his autobiography, The Making of an African Statesman, Moi talks of the troubled relationship with his children. In the book, he admits to having little joy from his family and feeling let down. Apart from his adopted daughter June and his last born son Gideon, the former commander-,in-chief said none of his children appeared in public to offer moral support when he was president.