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Explainer: Lying in state and the role of the military explained

By Sigomba Ramadhan and Sammy Wambua | February 10th 2020 at 05:53:21 GMT +0300

Members of the Public viewing the former President Moi's body at Parliament building. [Standard, Edward Kiplimo

The handling of events after the death of former President Daniel arap Moi is steeped in military protocol. Ex-air force officer, now a security consultant, MWENDA MBIJIWE, explains why the fallen statesman is being accorded such treatment. Excerpts.

Standard Digital: What is the meaning of lying is state?

Mbijiwe:  It is the display of a body covered or not covered, of a prominent national figure for viewing by the public. It is the beginning of a State funeral and the body must be in a government building. If it is done elsewhere, the term used is "lying in repose" but not in state.

Standard Digital: Why is the former president getting a state burial with the military controlling everything?

Mbijiwe:  He was the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and retired in that capacity. It is not a small matter. He was also the Head of State and Government. There have been four other State burials for: Mzee Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya's first president), Wamalwa Kijana (Vice President), Prof Wangari Maathai (Nobel Laurette) and Lucy Kibaki (First Lady).

President Moi's ceremony will be bigger than Jomo Kenyatta's [in terms of military protocol] because he commanded a bigger military in terms of units and their capabilities. Kenyatta's body lay in state in State House but the pallbearers were Lieutenant-Colonels because the military was smaller. During Mzee Kenyatta's burial, the parade commander was a full Colonel but this time it will be a Brigadier who is actually a one-star General.

The pallbearers will be full 10 colonels but we say 8+2 but not ten. There will be two behind on either side of the casket.

Standard Digital: Describe the parade

Mbijiwe:  The parade will comprise three sections. There will be the pallbearers, the firing team and the bugler section (playing trumpets). The colonels will hold their swords in the reverse (as a sign of mourning).

When the parade will be waiting for orders, the firing team will hold their arms in the reverse ('reverse arms' in military jargon) meaning rifle butts will be up and the barrels on the ground. There will be 19 rounds fired and three (cannon) volleys.

Standard Digital: Why is the body being ferried on a gun carrier?

Mbijiwe: The gun carrier is from the Artillery Brigade. It is the superior weapon. When you replace the gun with a body, the significance is the same.

Standard Digital: Will Mzee Moi be buried in military uniform?

Mbijiwe: No, but his military dress (hat, shoes belt and uniform) will on the casket. The uniform, as well as the flag draping the coffin, will be removed by the pallbearers. The laying of wreaths will be done by the officers. And there will be a fly-past salute by fighter jets and there could be helicopter gunships.

Additional reporting

This tradition can be traced to America in 1852 when a Kentucky Senator Henry Clay became the first person to have lain in state in the US capital.

Since then, only American presidents, military commanders and member of the congress are granted the rare honour. However, it is not automatic except for presidents.

For others in the US, the honour either authorised by a congressional resolution or approved by the congressional leadership, when permission is granted by survivors to a deceased member of government (or former member)

The tradition would later spread to other countries where notable leaders like  British WWII Premier Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Angela Marguerite, 40th US President Ronald Reagan, have been accorded the tradition.

In the Roman Catholic Church, it has become a custom for a deceased pope lie in state in the Apostolic Palace and in St. Peter's Basilica since the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

Nelson Mandela lay in state at the Union Building in Pretoria, the same site where he was installed as first South Africa's President.

Others African Presidents who passed through the tradition include Omar Bongo of Gabon (2009), Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (2019),

Most of those who lie in state have done for a minimal duration of three days.


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