President Daniel arap Moi of Kenya, who speaks with a soft voice and rarely carries a big stick, is letting it be known he means business. The boldness with which President Moi is moving on both political and economic fronts is producing new political realignments within Kenya, and a perception that the low-key President has finally emerged from under the shadow of the ''Mzee'' or ''Wise Old Man'' as the leonine and legendary former President, Jomo Kenyatta, was affectionately called.
Some Africa-watchers even go so far as to say that with his opposition in disarray - testimony to his political acumen - and his neighbors, Uganda and Tanzania, in deep economic trouble, President Moi is quietly emerging as the respected elder statesman of East Africa.
How much this image grows depends on two things:
* How well he addresses serious economic troubles in his own country, which has an unemployment rate of 30 percent and a $2.9 billion external debt.
* His political nimbleness in keeping his alliances alive with other minority tribal groups in the country.
President Moi, a member of the Tujen, a subgrouping within the minority Kalenjin tribe, was appointed vice-president to President Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, in order to maintain harmony in a multitribal society without taking anything away from the then dominant Kikuyu.
Africa-watchers see a logical sequence in Moi's efforts to take charge.
First, he maintained a low profile before shrewdly engineering himself into a position of political primacy by neutralizing tribal politics.
Second, he has exploited his political position by calling an election a year ahead of time and seeking a fresh mandate from voters to consolidate his position.
Third, having won overwhelming endorsement from the voters last month, he has been putting his troubled house in order.
The election swept out more than 40 percent of the sitting members of Parliament, including five Cabinet ministers not considered as close to President Moi as those who were retained. It also halved Kikuyu representation in the Cabinet.
At his inauguration, which formally installed him in office for a second five-year term, President Moi pledged the East African nation would honor all its foreign debt obligations and not borrow more than it could repay. Africa-watchers are keeping a sharp eye for signs of how he is going about ensuring that happens.
In a move that has been welcomed by foreign experts who feel Kenya's economic problems must be tackled first, Moi has appointed a Cabinet geared more to solving economic problems than to maintaining political alliances. The Cabinet has been streamlined, with the number of ministeries reduced from 25 to 21. Some ministers from the previous Cabinet who were reelected have been dropped from the new Cabinet.
Underscoring the importance Moi places on the need to rescue the economy, he has fused the feuding Economic Planning and Financing ministeries into a single unit.
The man who heads that department and who has in effect been put in the driver's seat of the economy is Prof. George Saitoti, a respected technocrat from Nairobi University. Significantly, Professor Saitoti was not an elected member of Parliament, but was nominated by the President.
A top African businessman, Kenneth Matibi, also has been nominated to the Cabinet.
''This doesn't look to me like a political fence-mending Cabinet,'' says Prof. Isebill V. Gruhn, a Kenya expert and visiting professor at the Harvard Center for International Affairs. Rather, she suggests, the inclusion of technocrats points to the seriousness of the country's economic situation and to Moi's determination to do something about it.
A Kikuyu Kenyan involved in Kenyan politics said she was unhappy with the outcome of the election, in which Kikuyus lost ground, although she conceded Moi was universally respected.
The decline in the political fortunes of the Kikuyus has prompted some speculation that elements of the old and once dominant KANU (Kenya African National Union) alliance consisting of the Kikuyu, Luo, and Kamba might be revived to wrest back the political initiative. Few African experts think the existing divisions make it a viable alternative.
The more likely scenario, they say, is that Moi has bought time - with the Kikuyu unlikely to rock the boat for fear any political instability would imperil their considerable economic interests.