It was a grand sendoff fit for an icon, economist and a president. Kenyans and dozens of foreign dignitaries gathered at Nyayo National Stadium for a memorial service to honor former President Mwai Kibaki.
About 30,000 guests, including family, friends, world leaders and figures from politics and business, watched as the body of Kenya’s Third President was rolled into the rain soaked stadium trailing a military band. Leaders from different parts of the continent yesterday paid glowing tributes to former president Kibaki as they paid their last respects during a funeral service at Nyayo stadium.
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa likened Kenya’s Third president to former anti-apartheid revolutionary leader Nelson Mandela. Ramaphosa eulogised Kibaki as a great statesman who demonstrated great leadership not only to Kenya, but also to the African continent.
“We especially remember him for his leadership in uniting Kenyans and for us, as South Africans, we saw him in the mould in which we saw our own first President Nelson Mandela who sought to unite our nation and who planted our seeds of the development,” he said.
Mandela was the first black president of South Africa, serving from 1994 to 1999. The South African icon led the country’s transition from apartheid to a multiracial democracy and passed away in 2013
“We feel the pain and anguish that you are all going through but at the same time, we also believe that you are all collectively here to celebrate a life of a great statesman,” he said.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir described Kibaki as a capable leader who played an important role in the establishment of South Sudan as an independent nation. Kiir, whose speech was read by his Minister of Cabinet Affairs, said Kibaki was instrumental in ensuring South Sudan gained self-rule on July 9, 2011.
“When Mwai Kibaki took over from Daniel Arap Moi in 2002, he ensured that peace process in the former Sudan led to the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement in 2005. That secured the right of self-determination of the people of South Sudan,” President Kiir said.
“We can say that we owe President Mwai Kibaki special gratitude for giving us the freedom and independence that we enjoy today,” added Kiir.
President Sahle-Work Zewde, While extending her message of condolences, said Kibaki was a true friend of Ethiopia before and after assumption of his presidency.
“The Government and People of Ethiopia share deep grief of Kenyan brothers and sisters on death of the late Kibaki,” she said.
“During his tenure, Ethiopia and Kenya made tremendous strides in elevating our long standing relations enhancing longstanding ties between the two nations. This was seen through the achievements that we have jointly registered both at the national and regional levels,” she emphasised.
Notably, during president of Mwai Kibaki, Ethiopia and Kenya singed the special status agreement that laid the foundation of Lamu Port-South Sudan- Ethiopia Transport (LAPSET) Project as well as the Moyale One Stop Border Post. Deputy President William Ruto described Kibaki as “Kenya’s greatest President” during his eulogy at Nyayo Stadium yesterday. The DP made the remarks as the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, listened keenly.
“[Kibaki was] a distinguished public servant that rose up the ranks, and of course [is] the greatest President Kenya [has] ever had. We celebrate his achievements, contributions and his rich and solid legacy,” Ruto said.
The deputy president said Kibaki put in place a foundation that Uhuru Kenyatta inherited, and hopes that Kenya’s fifth president would continue to honour and protect the legacy.
“He (Kibaki) sowed the seeds and laid the foundation upon which our fourth president built the expansive and elaborate infrastructure we see today in our country,” said Ruto.
The deputy president also described the third president as a “great scholar and the finest economist our country has ever had”.
Opposition party leader Raila Odinga described Kibaki as an intellectual gentleman and a man of conviction who loved perfection in everything that he did.
This he said, were attribute that helped home revive a beat down economy.
He recalled their days together in the opposition against government where he lauded Kibaki for his maturity during debate where he- being the official opposition leader- allowed equal debate.
Raila told of how when Kibaki became president he gave ministers power but he detested corruption and no one was indispensable when it came to service delivery.
“After the 2007/2008 post-election violence, talks had collapsed but we later held a meeting and agreed to share power. There were those in his camp who were trying to persuade him not to agree to the power sharing but he stood his ground,” said Raila.
“We had our differences, but we resolved them. Kibaki has been an advisor to me in many ways. His value will be known as time continues to unfold,” he added.
The Government had designated the day as a holiday to give those who wanted to mourn the deceased president an opportunity to do so either from their homes or join President Uhuru Kenyatta at the stadium. The guests started streaming in from early morning. Some of the guests who had arrived from as early as 7am had to leave due to the bad weather. It was raining the previous night and the morning was drizzly and overcast.
The weather did not dampen the spirits, however. Kenyans made their way into the stadium in their thousands, some tugging children along. Others stopped at a picture booth in a tent erected near the entrance where they viewed picture from Kibaki’s earlier days, and took pictures of their own too. There was jostling at the gate as police officers tried to make the entrance as orderly as possible, and commotion later when organisers handed out umbrellas to prevent the worst of the rain and sun.
Hawkers hounded guests balancing on the muddy path leading into the stadium from Uhuru Highway and Langata Road to buy pictures of Kibaki to pin on their lapels. The 45,000-seat stadium was expected to be full, but there were still several empty seats by the time the service started at half past 10am. The cortege arrived at the stadium slightly after 10am and did a lap of the stadium as the crowds cheered.
The casket, draped in the Kenyan flag was momentarily opened top give the dignitaries one last opportunity to view the body and give their last respect, which they did, bowing one at a time before Kibaki’s body. The five-hour programme contained tributes from his family, including a speech by President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Visiting presidents South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, South Sudan Salva Kiir and Ethiopia’s Sahle-Work Zewde also gave their remarks.
The mass was presided over by Nairobi Archbishop Philip Anyolo who was assisted by Mombasa Archbishop Martin Kivuva. The weather was ambivalent. The cold and drizzly morning spell gave way to a scorching sun that meant that terraces, where the majority of the guests say, became a sea of white umbrellas bearing Kibaki’s face. The crowd began thinning out in the middle of the service.
President Kenyatta, the final speaker, gave a nearly hour long keynote address where he eulogised Kibaki as a visionary leader who chose leadership over politics. The president speech was a call to action directed to himself, Kenyans, as well as the two leaders seeking to succeed him at the end of his tenure later this year.