Departed Internal Security minister Prof George Saitoti was laid to rest shortly after 5 p.m. on Saturday in an emotional ceremony at his Kitengela home on the outskirts of Nairobi.
The burial was preceded by a funeral service at an open field across the road during which various speakers led by President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, retired President Daniel arap Moi and former Ghanaian President Gerry Rawlings eulogised the departed Kajiado North MP as a true patriot and statesman who put Kenya ahead of his personal interests.
Hundreds of Kajiado North constituents lined up the Kitengela-Namanga road, thousands sat in the tented arena and thousands more braved the scorching heat in the open field for over six hours to bid farewell to the man who had represented them in Parliament for the last 29 years.
It was a ceremony that united – in grief – both long term friends of the minister such as former Kanu secretary-general Joseph Kamotho, former assistant minister David Sankori and former Provincial Commissioner Francis Lekolool and his political foes such as former Ol Kejuado County Council chairman Daniel ole Muyaa and Kajiado North parliamentary aspirant Moses ole Sakuda.
The cortege arrived at the minister’s palatial home at 9.48 am, having left the Lee Funeral Home shortly after 8.30 am, escorted by 20 Cabinet ministers and dozens of Members of Parliament.
The ministers had earlier on converged at the funeral parlour to receive the body of their fallen colleague.
But it was not until 10.54 am that the mahogany coffin draped in national colours was wheeled to the tented arena by his Cabinet colleagues led by Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Deputy Prime Ministers Musalia Mudavadi and Uhuru Kenyatta.
The presidential motorcade arrived shortly after 11 am and was welcomed by Mr Odinga, Mr Musyoka, John Cardinal Njue and former Cabinet minister George Muhoho. Then came the former Ghanaian leader followed minutes later by retired President Moi.
For the next three hours, the congregation was taken through an emotional service led by the bishop of the Ngong Catholic diocese John Oballa Owaa assisted by Cardinal Njue.
The Kiswahili hymns such as Deni yangu ya dhambi (My debt of sin) and Msifadhaikeni (Let not your hearts be troubled) were liberally interspersed with Maasai ones such as kaanyikaki enkai and ten eipoti inkarn to illustrate Prof Saitoti’s mixed heritage.
Speaking on behalf of the Maa community, Mr Sankori, a former MP for the neighbouring Kajiado Central constituency, paid glowing tribute to the man he helped fight many political battles in the larger Kajiado district since his entry into politics in 1983 as a nominated MP.
“Professor Saitoti lived what he meant. He was the bridge between the Maa community and the government,” he stated.
The chairman of the Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee (CIOC) Abdikadir Mohammed called on all leaders to complete the police reforms initiated by the minister and his assistant, the late Orwa Ojodeh. “It is the only befitting way of honouring Professor Saitoti,” he told mourners.
Regardless of affiliation
Kajiado Central MP Joseph ole Nkaiserry said Prof Saitoti related well with other MPs from the Maa community regardless of their political affiliation.
“He was a hero and a true patriot, it did not matter to him which party one belonged to, we related well despite the fact that he was in PNU and I in ODM,” he said.
Water minister Charity Ngilu promised to ensure that a sewerage system was constructed in Kitengela township in honour of Prof Saitoti while Eldoret North MP William Ruto said the minister would have made a worthy competitor in the next presidential elections had he lived.
Lands minister James Orengo asked politicians to emulate Prof Saitoti by observing good manners while Mr Mudavadi described his departed colleague as a reliable person from whom he learnt a lot.
Mr Kenyatta asked Kenyans to emulate Prof Saitoti by putting the nation’s interests above their own.
Prof Saitoti’s widow, Margaret in a tribute read on her behalf by Ms Jean Muhoho, recalled with fond memories her 36 years of marriage to the minister, describing him as a loving and caring husband and father while their only son, Zachary Musengi, named after the minister’s late father, described him as a devoted father he will sorely miss.
Retired President Moi, the man who appointed Prof Saitoti his Vice-President for 13 years, only to overlook him in favour of Mr Kenyatta, retrospectively described the minister as a man whose leadership acumen had been ignored.
“Now that his life has been cut short by the cruel hand of death, I say with a heavy heart that Professor Saitoti was the cornerstone which the builders ignored,” he told mourners.
The statement seemed not to have gone unnoticed by Mr Odinga who, speaking immediately after the retired President, saluted him for belatedly appreciating Prof Saitoti’s leadership qualities and supporting him in his presidential quest.
Mr Odinga also claimed that he had entered into a memorandum of Understanding with Prof Saitoti before he met his death last Sunday in a plane crash a few kilometres from the Ololua Primary School which he attended in his formative years.
“Mimi na Saitoti tulikuwa na MoU, iko wawili watatu hapa ambao wanajua hiyo lakini sitaki kuwataja majina (I and Saitoti had an MoU, there are two or three among those seated here who were aware of this but I do not want to mention names),” he told the mourners.
A visibly emotional President Kibaki termed Prof Saitoti’s death painful, adding that he had left a rich legacy which ought to be emulated by all.
“Professor Saitoti was a personal friend. The loss of Prof Saitoti has been a painful experience for me,” the President said of the man he held in high regard and had once come out to defend against a barrage of attacks from First Lady Lucy Kibaki.
“Instead of saying what we have been saying, why don’t we decide to follow what George has been doing,” the President added.
With the service and speeches over, the time came for Prof Saitoti to be escorted to his final resting place at his home in a private ceremony attended by family members, Cabinet ministers, close friends and a few selected guests.