Nairobi, Kenya, Feb 11 – Thousands of Kenyans on Tuesday gathered to mourn the country’s longest-serving leader, the hardline Daniel arap Moi, as a week of mourning climaxed with a state funeral.
Moi, whose 24-year rule saw Kenya become a one-party state where critical voices were ruthlessly crushed, died on February 4 aged 95.
Mourners began gathering at a national athletics stadium before dawn to pay their respects.
Moi, who towered over Kenya between 1978 and 2002, lay in state for three days in parliament, with tens of thousands of people filing past.
On Tuesday morning, he was taken on a gun carriage draped in Kenya’s flag through the streets of Nairobi to the crowded Nyayo national stadium flanked by soldiers.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, who opened the memorial with the national anthem, called Moi “a champion of Pan-Africanism.”
– Forgiveness –
The cortege entered the stadium flanked by long lines of red-coated soldiers and a brass band playing marching tunes and Christian hymns, their boots glinting in the bright sun.
“The Last Salute”, Citizen TV wrote. “Fare thee well, 1924-2020” national broadcaster KBC headlined.
Former opponent Raila Odinga, who was jailed for several years under Moi, called the late leader a “greater fighter” but who had eventually accepted multiparty politics.
“I was one of the victims… but he was also forgiving, like I am also forgiving, and we made our peace, and we shook hands, and then worked together,” Odinga said.
“We remember the good things that he did,” he added.
Those targeted by his regime included human rights and environmental activists, including the writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o and the future Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai.
Moi was however praised for keeping Kenya a relative haven of peace during a chaotic period in East Africa which saw the genocide in Rwanda and civil wars in Burundi and Somalia.
His later return — under significant pressure — to multiparty elections in 1992, and peaceful handover of power to opposition leader Mwai Kibaki in 2002 also won him some praise.
– Loved and feared –
Vice President William Ruto, who comes from the same Kalenjin people as Moi, mourned a “father of the nation.”
Several foreign leaders from regional nations attended the ceremony, including Djibouti’s Ismail Omar Guelleh, South Sudan’s Salva Kiir and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.
Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde and former Tanzanian presidents, Jakaya Kikwete and Benjamin Mkapa, spoke at the ceremony to offer their condolences to Kenya.
“One of the gallant leaders of this great country,” Rwandan President Paul Kagame said.
The body of the late president will be buried on Wednesday in his home area of Kabarak, 220 kilometres (135 miles) northwest of Nairobi.
The usually congested and noisy streets of Nairobi were quiet, with Tuesday declared a national holiday.
While those at the stadium had come to pay their respects to a ruler they revered, others in Kenya remembered a man that they had long feared.
Moi’s 24-year rule saw critical voices crushed, corruption become endemic and tribal divisions stoked and turn bloody.
Moi was however praised for keeping Kenya a relative haven of peace during a chaotic period in east Africa.