NAIROBI, Kenya — Catholic bishops urged Kenyans to respect what former President Daniel arap Moi did for the country, as the East African nation entered into a mourning period following the death of its former leader.
President Uhuru Kenyatta announced Moi’s death in a presidential proclamation Feb. 4, saying he had died while undergoing treatment at The Nairobi Hospital.
“It is with profound sadness and sorrow that I announce the passing of a great African statesman,” said Kenyatta.
Some praised Moi as a leader who kept Kenya stable amid turmoil in the region. Critics said he would be remembered as a dictator who destroyed Kenya’s thriving economy and tortured people.
Bishops joined in mourning the 95-year-old. The country has entered into a mourning period until Moi’s burial at a later date.
“I urge all citizens to mourn the leader while respecting what he did for the country. He did a lot of good things for this country,” Bishop Joseph Mbatia of Nyahururu told Catholic News Service. “He liberalized education and encouraged everyone to study. He loved children and wanted all of them educated.”
Moi ascended to power in 1978 following the death of Jomo Kenyatta, the founding father of the nation. Moi stepped down in 2002 and later handed over power peacefully to Mwai Kibaki, his former deputy-turned-opposition leader.
Mbatia said Moi wanted Kenyans to remain united and religious, and he respected the faiths. He attended church every Sunday, but never spoke politics inside the church, according to the bishop.
“This was a sign of respect,” said Mbatia.
Bishop Dominic Kimengich of Eldoret said Moi had stood by his faith and wanted the best for Kenya, despite facing many challenges.
“He did the best to keep the country united,” said Kimengich.
The former president’s relationship with the Catholic Church was mixed. He clashed with bishops over what they saw as widespread human rights abuses, official corruption, nepotism and assassinations.
A constitutional change in 1982 after an attempted coup turned Kenya into a one-party state. That gave Moi excessive powers. He targeted his opponents, detained human rights activists, students, scholars and even a cleric in underground torture chambers in Nairobi.
“When the Church raised the issues of social justices and life itself, he at times felt very bad,” said Mbatia. “I don’t think this meant he hated the Catholic Church. But the Church was standing on the side of the people.”
In 2004, Moi sought forgiveness from those he had wronged when he ruled the largely Christian East African nation.
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