African leaders in Kenya for the state funeral of Daniel Arap Moi, the country’s longest ruling president who died last week at 95, hailed his role as a peacekeeper who tried to mediate conflicts including in Uganda and Ethiopia.
Despite his longevity, Moi was a divisive personality who won admirers for keeping Kenya on an even keel for much of his rule but was hated by others for a legacy of corruption that still haunts the East African nation today.
Tens of thousands of people turned out in the capital Nairobi to watch Moi’s coffin, draped in the Kenyan flag, travel on a gun carriage from the State House, the official presidential seat, to an open air stadium 3 miles (5 km) away.
Personnel from the army, air force and navy accompanied the coffin into the stadium, where choirs sang gospel songs as they awaited the cortege.
“As an avid peacemaker, statesman, Pan Africanist and champion for a more united and just world, Moi spearheaded a number of initiatives that brought peace within our region and beyond,” Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta told mourners.
Tuesday was declared a public holiday, allowing people to mourn Moi’s passing.
“Moi was a humble man. Anybody who knew him, they know he was a humble man. President Moi never bragged in any success … instead he attributed it to God,” said long-time friend Silas Yego, a retired bishop of the Africa Inland Church where Moi had worshipped.
Moi came to power in 1978 when he was serving as vice-president, after the nation’s first leader President Jomo Kenyatta died.
Makau Mutua, who as a young law student at the University of Nairobi was detained by the Moi regime in 1981 and then exiled for the next 10 years, cautioned against forgetting Moi’s excesses.
“We can’t forget, or forgive. If we do, we will continue to repeat our horrible history,” he wrote in his weekly column in the local Sunday Nation newspaper.
During Moi’s rule, thousands of activists, students and academics were held without charge in underground cells. Prisoners say they were sometimes denied food and water.
Poverty also deepened on his watch and corruption flourished. A 2004 report by corporate investigations firm group Kroll accused Moi and his inner circle of stealing $2 billion of state funds, an accusation the government at the time dismissed.
Moi won elections in 1992 and 1997, defeating a divided opposition. But he was booed and heckled into retirement when term limits forced him to step down in 2002 and he lived quietly on his sprawling estate in the Rift Valley.
He will be buried there on Wednesday.