Kenya's retired President Daniel arap Moi was Tuesday eulogised as a man who, like other mortals, was not perfect but one whose positive imprint on various aspects of the country’s socio-economic landscape was unmatched.
Braving the scorching sun, six presidents, family, friends and dignitaries, including His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, Queen Elizabeth’s cousin, filled the 30,000-capacity Nyayo Stadium for a memorial service to honour Kenya’s second President.
Mourning the passing on of his political mentor, a man that pulled him out of political nothingness and paved the road for him to be Head of State, President Uhuru Kenyatta celebrated the rise of Mzee Moi, who ruled Kenya for 24 years, from a “ragged and barefooted orphan boy” to a man whose place in history is now firmly imprinted in the sands of time.
“The democratic narrative of our long march to nationhood must be told and retold for generations to come. For today, we stand tall on the strong shoulders of our forefathers. Mzee Moi’s place among those who dreamt of the modern Kenya is unshakeable,” President Kenyatta said.
Deputy President William Ruto, another one of Mzee Moi’s political sons, described him as a genuine person who did his best for the country. “Without a PhD, Mzee Moi became a professor and we all became students of his school of leadership and politics. Many leaders here, including myself, are graduates of that school,” Dr Ruto told the mourners.
Former President Mwai Kibaki, whose condolence speech was read by his nephew, Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi, saluted Moi for stabilising Kenya “when other countries in the region suffered long periods of turmoil”.
Choked with emotion, Baringo Senator Gideon Moi held back tears throughout the eulogy for his father, describing him as a leader “who dared to be great and through toil, discipline, courage and sacrifice, spent his life in the service of the country he loved. He dedicated his love and life to this country”.
“You see, despite the responsibilities of State that he carried on his shoulders every day, he still found time to be a wonderful, wonderful father,” the younger Moi said.
Twisting the words of American evangelist Dwight Moody, Gideon read a poem about his fallen father stating, “I (Moi) was born in the flesh in 1924, I was born in the spirit in 1936, that which is born of the flesh may die, that which is born of the spirit will live forever.”
While speakers honoured Mr Moi’s service to the country, they also shared his other side in which he made some decisions that were unpopular.
Celebrated for keeping Kenya together at a time the African continent was in turmoil and handing over power when it was fashionable to hold onto it, Moi, who was President between 1978 and 2002, went ahead to play an active role in the 2005 referendum and 2007 election campaigns before quietly receding into the background until his last days.
During his presidency, dozens were detained, press freedom muzzled and the economy almost went to the dogs.
“He was human. He made great contributions to this country. But, like all human beings, he had his weaknesses. He made some mistakes and I was one of his victims,” ODM leader Raila Odinga, who was collectively detained for nine years, eulogised him, describing the fallen leader as “one of Kenya’s greatest leaders”.
Uganda President Yoweri Museveni reminded the mourners the “few problems” he had with President Moi in the 1980s, which led to the closure of the common border between the two countries before a solution was found.
“Your leaders gave an effective diagnosis of your problems and provided a cure. Both President Jomo Kenyatta and Mr Moi had a cure for your problems and those of East Africa,” Mr Museveni said.
President Kagame, who had an uneasy relationship with Moi after his Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) seized power in 1994 after the genocide, also paid tribute to Mr Moi describing him as a “gallant leader”.
The speakers also focused on Mr Moi’s sense of humour.
Gideon recalled how his father loved meat to the extent that he could ignore a doctor’s advice to reduce the amount of meat that he consumed. “Huyu mzee alikuwa anapenda nyama. Nakumbuka nilikuwa namweleza, tafadhali Mzee, daktari amekataa usikule nyama. Aliniuliza, unaona daktari hapa?” (Mzee loved meat. I remember telling him that the doctor advised him against eating meat. But he replied 'Is the doctor here?').
In a rare occurrence, almost all living military generals gathered in the same venue to give their last respects to the former Commander-In-Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces.
There was an endearing moment when Chief of Defence Forces General Samson Mwathethe greeted the generals before him — Joseph Kibwana, Jeremiah Kianga and Julius Karangi — in a hearty exchange.
In honour of the former President, there was an impressive show of military honours.
Other than the military band, a combination of choirs, among them Anglican Church of Kenya St Stephen’s Choir, Africa Inland Church Bomani Choir, State House Choir, National Health Insurance Fund Choir and the Kenya Ports Authority Choir, belted out several songs during the church service as they celebrated a President who was a lover of music.
Some of the songs included those that the President inspired among them Ujenzi wa Taifa, Uongozi, Filosofia ya Nyayo, Pongezi Rais Moi, Najiuliza Mimi, Enzi ya Nyayo, Tawala Kenya, Tumpongeze baba Moi and Fimbo ya Nyayo.
Dr Duncan Wambugu, accompanied by Anthony Muriuki, did a wonderful rendition of the song Holy City.
The inter-denominational funeral ceremony was short and precise with the presiding preacher, AIC retired Bishop Silas Yego, who was Moi’s personal pastor, describing Moi as a man who loved God and who was committed to serving the nation.
The sermon dwelt on Moi’s favourite verses which guided his life. There were verses to explain his love for children and his legendary generosity.
Bishop Yego described Moi as a father, mentor and “a strong member of our Church whom I have known for 36 years”. “Moi was inseparable with the Bible. He underlined the verses which he loved,” Bishop Yego said about him.
His grandchildren read the scriptures as the hymn ''It is well with my soul'' was played.
At the end of the ceremony, the choirs and the band led in the singing of the church hymn ''How Great Thou Art'', as the coffin was being removed from Nyayo Stadium to be taken back to the Lee Funeral Home from where it will be ferried to Kabarak, his final resting place.
Mr Moi will be buried today at his Kabarak home beside his wife Lena, who died in 2004.
Reported by Nyambega Gisesa, Julius Sigei and Patrick Lang’at