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Military steals the show as soldiers salute former boss

Soldiers march along Uhuru Highway yesterday as the body of former President Daniel arap Moi was removed from State House to the Nyayo National Stadium for a funeral service. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

By 6am yesterday Uhuru Highway was a sea of blue. Officers from the Kenya Police had lined up from the city centre to Nyayo National Stadium where the funeral service of former President Daniel arap Moi was to be conducted.

Occasional sirens from security vehicles would disturb the otherwise empty roads that had been cleared in preparation for a military gun carriage that was expected to transport Moi’s body to the stadium.

Police officers, National Youth Service personnel, private security guards, presidential security and soldiers were strategically placed in and outside the stadium to control the crowd that slowly streamed into the facility after mandatory security checks.

At 8am when the 30,000-seater stadium was full, the military took over. They cleared all the paths to be used in the lap of honour. The shaded area where the casket would lay was given one final sweep.

Chief of Defence Forces Samson Mwathethe arrived at 9.35am accompanied by Kenya Navy Commander Levy Franklin Mghalu. They were dressed in white fatigue - the official ceremonial attire of the Kenya Navy.

General Mwathethe consulted with Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho and a host of senior military men. Salutes and nods were exchanged followed by the distant sound of percussion and trumpets that indicated the funeral procession was nearing the stadium.

President Uhuru Kenyatta arrived at 10.06am. Barely 15 minutes later, at 10.20am, the rumble of the military band permeated the air. The soldiers' arrival was preceded by two outriders and two military Land Cruisers.

The gun carriage ferrying Moi's body was draped in the Kenyan flag and the presidential standard green flag; an ode to the man who chose the colour for his love of the environment.

The crowd stood. Silence reigned. The instrumental sounds to the song Abide with Me announced the start of the lap of honour.

Slowly, to the beat of the music, the soldiers walked in harmony – a symbolic gesture of Moi's sturdy walk during his 24-year rule.

Fallen icon

Poignant songs – The Lord is my Shepherd and Surely Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow Me – solidified the solemnity of the moment.

The flags – KDF, East African and Kenyan – were at half-mast and still in the windless and sunny day, as if in salute to the fallen icon. Only Uhuru’s presidential flag was at full mast.

The crowd stared as the military band paid their respects to their former commander-in-chief. The eight pall bearers carrying the casket walked on; their hats off in honour to the fallen leader. Heads covered in beads of sweat, but not a step missed as they walked to place the body at the tent where the family sat waiting.

Behind the gun carriage were two Land Cruisers carrying Moi’s sons, Raymond, Philip and Gideon, among other relatives.

When they got to the service tent, another military team was waiting. Uhuru stood next to Mwathethe waiting to receive the body. A sombre mood defined the moment. The military band continued with their renditions of hymns specially selected for the occasion.

The leaders met with the clergy and after the casket rested, the preaching began in earnest, led by retired African Inland Church Bishop Silas Yego.

The tributes flowed from family and leaders who remembered Moi as a statesman.

The event ended at 1.46pm and the soldiers readied to return the body to Lee Funeral Home, where it will be kept overnight before the burial today.

At least 20 officers from the Army, Air Force and Navy started the ritual they had performed in the morning. The eight pall bearers stood waiting to carry the body. Two carried the national flag and the president’s flag.

Inside the hearse – a black, shiny Jaguar – three officers sat waiting. The song “Then sings my soul my saviour God to Thee” played on. The crowd stood to pay its respects as the car slid out of the stadium, slowly building speed, until it was on the main highway. The national anthem played again, followed by the East African anthem.

The crowd remained standing. The military band played on. The president’s motorcade followed the hearse.

The diplomats also headed for the exits. They had all experienced the first Kenyan State funeral for a former president.

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