Kenya has held a state funeral for former president Mwai Kibaki, who died aged 90 last week and whose decade in power was marked by economic revival as well as scandal and violence.
Kibaki was the third head of state in Kenya’s history, serving from December 2002 to April 2013 following the 20-year authoritarian regime of Daniel arap Moi and preceding current President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Benches at Nyayo National Stadium in the heart of the capital Nairobi were full under a heavy sky as the procession accompanying Kibaki’s coffin arrived.
“This is marvellous. Kibaki deserves this kind of respect,” said Calvin Omweri, a 40-year-old shoe-shiner who followed the procession.
“Kibaki did a lot for this country and we owe him a lot of respect,” he said, unable to enter the stadium because of the arrival of dignitaries.
Alongside ambassadors, officials and members of the government, a dozen heads of state and prime ministers were expected from across the African continent, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir.
Kibaki, who trained as an economist in Uganda and London, was elected in 2002 after he promised to tackle corruption. But his decade in power was marred by scandals and Kenya’s worst political violence since independence.
In late 2007, his disputed re-election led to violence between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin, two of the country’s largest communities. More than 1,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced.
He also oversaw the adoption of a new constitution in 2010 with reforms aimed at preventing such unrest.
However, Kenya experienced strong economic growth under his leadership, notably through his Vision 2030 programme, taken up by Kenyatta, which allowed the launch of major infrastructure projects as well as health and education reforms.
Leading religious and political figures turned up in the afternoon for prayers and to pay homage to the former president, whose coffin was covered in a heavy Kenyan flag.
They paid tribute to the legacy and intellect of the former president who had also served as a lawmaker, minister and opposition chief.
“Mwai Kibaki was a gentleman, a man of convictions, a man who loved perfection,” said veteran Kenyan leader Raila Odinga, who is making a fifth run for the presidency in August elections.
According to a Kenyan foreign ministry statement, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II praised Kibaki’s “lifelong record of service” to the Kenyan people.
“It will be of deep sadness to your country to have lost a great statesman, but Kenya can take pride in the legacy of his leadership,” the queen said in a message of condolence to President Kenyatta.
Ramaphosa compared Kibaki to anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
“We remember the leadership Kibaki demonstrated not just in Kenya but on the continent,” Ramaphosa said.
The circumstances of Kibaki’s death have not been made public. His health suffered following a serious car accident in 2002 and he was regularly admitted to hospital in recent years.
The former president was buried on Saturday in the town of Othaya, 80 kilometres north of Nairobi, where he spent time after leaving office.
Mwai Kibaki was accorded a 19-gun salute as his body was interred at his final resting place next to his wife Lucy.
Sitting presidents are accorded the 21-gun salute. Kibaki, being a former president received a 19-gun salute.
He becomes the second person to receive the 19-gun salute in Kenya after former President Daniel Moi who died in February 2020.
Mzee Kenyatta, who died in 1978 while still in office received the 21-gun salute.
A 19-gun salute is done in honour of dignitaries such as vice presidents, Senate and National Assembly speakers, Chief Justices, Governors, chiefs of staff and five-star generals in the US.
Kibaki received a State funeral with full military honours, meant to highlight the respect held for the fallen leader.
Four other people have received State funerals, but without military honours. They include former Vice President Wamalwa Kijana, Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai, former Nyeri Governor Wahome Gakuru, and former First Lady Lucy Kibaki.
A Jaguar KDF hearse escorted by the mikitary traversed Nairobi, Kiambu, Murang’a, Kirinyaga, and Nyeri Counties on Saturday morning to give Kenyans an opportunity to bid the former president farewell.
The body was transferred to the military gun carriage at 10.50 am and escorted inside the grounds accompanied by members of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and the late president’s family.
His body lay in State at Parliament, Nairobi for three days from Monday, April 25, to Wednesday, April 27 to allow for public viewing. The burial service took place at Othaya Approved School in Nyeri County.
Kibaki died on Friday, April 22 aged 90 while undergoing treatment in hospital.
Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, studied at Makerere University in Uganda (B.A., 1955) and the London School of Economics (B.Sc., 1959).
After that, he worked as a teacher before becoming involved in Kenya’s fight for independence from the United Kingdom.
He was elected to the National Assembly as a member of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) party after Kenya gained independence in 1963.
He later served as minister of finance (1969–82) and vice president (1978–88) but increasingly found himself at odds with President Daniel arap Moi, who headed KANU.
In 1991 Kibaki resigned his membership in KANU to form the Democratic Party.
Kibaki unsuccessfully challenged Moi in the presidential elections of 1992 and 1997, though in 1998 he became the official head of the opposition.
With Moi constitutionally barred from seeking another presidential term, Kibaki sought the presidency for a third time. In September 2002 he helped create the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), a multiparty alliance that nominated Kibaki as its presidential candidate.
A few weeks before the election, Kibaki was involved in a car accident and suffered serious injuries. Although he was confined to a wheelchair, he continued his campaign and easily defeated Moi’s chosen successor, Uhuru Kenyatta (a son of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president).
In parliamentary elections, NARC routed the ruling KANU, which had dominated Kenya since the country’s independence.
As president, Kibaki pledged to eliminate the government corruption that had ruined the country’s economy and had resulted in the withdrawal of foreign aid.
Although he established anticorruption courts, his attempts to pass anticorruption bills were largely unsuccessful. In 2003 legislators voted themselves large raises, which they said would discourage bribe-taking.
The move, however, was met with public criticism. Kibaki’s government also suffered from power struggles among the ruling coalition’s various constituent parties.
This tension increased as lawmakers struggled to draft a new constitution, which Kibaki had promised during his campaign.
Disagreements concerning reforms, especially the creation of a prime ministership, further divided NARC and delayed enactment of a new constitution, leading to public unrest.
Members of his administration were mired in corruption in 2005, which further fueled public discontent.
A new constitution, backed by Kibaki, was finally put to referendum in November 2005, but it was rejected by voters; the rejection was viewed by many as a public indictment of Kibaki’s administration.
In preparation for the December 2007 elections, Kibaki formed a new coalition, the Party of National Unity (PNU), which, surprisingly, included KANU. Several candidates stood in the presidential election, which was one of the closest in Kenya’s history and boasted a record-high voter turnout.
After a delay in the release of the final election results, Kibaki was declared the winner, narrowly defeating Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).
Odinga immediately disputed the outcome, and international observers questioned the validity of the final results.
Widespread protests ensued throughout the country and degenerated into horrific acts of violence involving some of Kenya’s many ethnic groups, most notably the Kikuyu (Kibaki’s group) and the Luo (Odinga’s group); both groups were victims as well as perpetrators.
More than 1,000 people were killed and more than 600,000 displaced in the election’s violent aftermath as efforts to resolve the political impasse between Kibaki and Odinga were not immediately successful.
On February 28, 2008, Kibaki and Odinga signed a power-sharing plan brokered by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and Jakaya Kikwete, president of Tanzania and chairman of the African Union. The plan called for the formation of a coalition government between PNU and ODM and the creation of several new positions, with Kibaki to remain president and Odinga to hold the newly created post of prime minister.
Despite the agreement, however, conflict persisted over the distribution of posts.
After several weeks of talks, the allocation of cabinet positions between PNU and ODM members was settled, and on April 13, 2008, Kibaki named a coalition government in which he retained the presidency. The coalition, however, was often fraught with tension.
A new constitution finally materialized during Kibaki’s second term. Designed to address the sources of ethnic and political tensions that had fueled the violence that followed the December 2007 election. The new constitution featured a decentralization of power and was supported by both Kibaki and Odinga.
It was approved by voters in a referendum, and Kibaki signed it into law on August 27, 2010.
Barred from holding a third term as president, Kibaki stepped down at the end of his term in April 2013. He was succeeded by Kenyatta, who had defeated Odinga in an election held the previous month.