Kwaheri Mzee: From Uganda with love and respect...

Ibrahim Mugabe from Uganda at City Hall, Nairobi, yesterday. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]
Ugandan Ibrahim Mugabi knew President Daniel arap Moi, the same way Kenyans know about former Ugandan leaders – a familiar name, a vague face and stories of obscure origins.

Yet while the thousands of Kenyans queued outside City Hall to catch a glimpse of the former president as he lay in State at Parliament Buildings, Mugabi stood amongst them with a handful of blue and white T-shirts bearing the familiar portrait of Moi.

Had it not borne Moi's date of birth -- September 2, 1924 -- and the date he died, it could well have been a Kanu era campaign t-shirt.

Other memorabilia lay on the pavement at his feet. Calendars, key holders and cards bearing condolence messages suspended on lanyards. All were on sale.

His grasp of Kiswahili is poor. Whenever a customer approached to inquire about the price, he would answer in English.

“Four hundred,” he would say, in a heavily accented English.

When the would-be customer persisted in Kiswahili – hii inakaa kama itafade (This looks like it will fade) – he stared back blankly and asked almost pleadingly, “English?”

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 “I have sold two so far. I want to see how I will do selling these then I will go and print some more. I have the screens and the plain t-shirts in my bag,” he told Sunday Standard.

Mugabi made the journey to Nairobi immediately he heard of Moi's death. Through a compatriot who lives in Nairobi, he made it to Parliament to pay his respects and make a shilling out of it.

He was part of thousands of Kenyans who stood in zigzagging queues that stretched from Parliament Buildings to Kencom Towers on Moi Avenue and braved security checks under the scorching sun to view the former Head of State's body.

Many in the queue that snaked along City Hall Way and Parliament Road were too young to know about Moi or the years of his tenure between 1978 and 2002, and were seeing him for the first and last time.

One National Youth Service (NYS) officer joked: "Na wengi wenu ni watu ata hamjawai kuona Moi (Some of you are too young to have seen Moi)."

“I was in the first year of nursery school when Moi retired and when I heard that there was going to be a public viewing in Parliament, I said why not go and see him,” Hudson Mwiti, who said he worked as a boda boda rider in Eastleigh, said.

A woman in her 30s walking alongside him on Uhuru Highway and chatting animatedly as the group left Parliament Buildings told anyone who would listen about her army husband who was part of the officers mounting an honour guard.

"They were called three days ago and told they had to be in ceremonial dress. The sabers were not enough and some had to be brought in from Eldoret. I saw his body and my heart beat quickened. I had never really believed that he was dead until I saw the body. It is all now sinking in," she said. 

The reaction to Moi's death has not been concentrated in Nairobi and his Kabarak home alone.

In Belgut, old men who grew up under the leadership of Mzee Moi and to whom he is still fondly remembered are pulling together and collecting money to fund their trip to Nairobi to pay their respects.

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Ibrahim MugabiDaniel arap MoiDaniel Moi