Kenya’s deputy president pledged to unite the country in honor of Daniel Arap Moi, its longest-ruling president, who was buried at his sprawling estate in the Rift Valley on Wednesday.
Moi, who died last week at 95, won praise for keeping Kenya mostly stable during his 24-year rule but criticism for a legacy of corruption that still haunts the East African nation to date.
His coffin was flown by military helicopter early in the morning to the estate, some 185 km northwest of Nairobi, before it was transferred by a gun carriage into a large tent for a religious service and speeches by politicians.
Deputy President William Ruto told the mourners that Moi had worked to ensure that the vast Rift Valley region was home to all of Kenya’s 45 ethnic communities, which have periodically been riven by bitter divisions over land and politics.
“Rift Valley will continue to be the valley of peace, and from the valley, we will continue to build so that it is the fountain of politics of uniting Kenya and all communities in our country,” said Ruto, who also hails from the region.
“Moi taught us that hate is big burden to carry, and told us tribalism is stupidity; let us not give stupidity a chance. That is why we are going to be steadfast and firm in ensuring that our great country shall continue to be knit together.”
The Rift Valley, rich with fertile land used to produce tea and other commodities, has been the epicenter of election violence.
Tribal clashes broke out there during the 1992 and 1997 elections, as Moi’s Kalenjin tribe sought to kick out opposition supporters who were perceived as outsiders because they had settled there after independence from Britain in 1963.
Violence flared again during the 2007 presidential election campaign and Ruto himself was accused of being behind it. He was charged at the International Criminal Court at The Hague before the court dropped the charges later.
Moi came to power in 1978 when he was serving as vice-president, after the nation’s first leader President Jomo Kenyatta died.
During his 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.
Officers from the Kenyan navy fired a 19-gun salute in tribute to Moi, before his body was lowered into a grave next to his wife who died in 2004.