Kenyans Mourn Longest Serving President Who Hosted Three Papal Visits

The late retired president Daniel Moi with Pope John Paul II
Credit: Getty images

Kenya’s President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi who passed on Tuesday, February 4 will be remembered not only for being the longest serving president of the East African country but also for hosting the highest number of Papal visits in the nation.

News of the demise of former President Moi who died at the age of 95 was announced through a Presidential proclamation by President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday morning.

“It is with profound sadness and sorrow that I announce the passing of a Great African Statesman, H.E. Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, the Second President of the Republic of Kenya,” Kenya’s President announced. 

During his tenure between 1978 and 2002, the late retired president hosted the late Pope John Paul II three times, that is, when the Pontiff toured Kenya for the first time in 1980, the second time in 1985 and finally in 1995. Former President Moi also witnessed Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to Kenya in 2015, his maiden trip to Africa. 

Pope John Paul II, while visiting Kenya for the first time in May 1980 and after kissing the ground upon arrival was greeted by Moi, senior government officials, and members of the diplomatic corps. And while addressing hundreds of thousands of people in Kenya’s Uhuru (freedom) Park in his maiden speech, the Pope urged the Catholics in Africa to adhere to the church's strictures on abortion, sterilization, and polygamy.

In his second tour in August 1985 and while on his apostolic journey to Togo, ivory coast, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Zaire, Kenya and morocco, Pope John Paul II expressed gratitude to Moi for a warm welcome and what the Pontiff said was a “confirmation of the mutual respect and esteem”.

“I thank His Excellency the President for his kind welcome. It is a confirmation of the mutual respect and esteem which have always characterized our relations, and for which I am deeply grateful,” said Pope John Paul II.

“I offer cordial greetings to all the citizens of this country: to the elders and local leaders, to the young people, to the sick and suffering, and in a special way to the families, the backbone of your society. I want my words to convey the deep sentiments of love and brotherhood which fill my heart for each of you.

On his final pastoral trip to Kenya, Cameroon and South Africa, Pope John Paul II expressed a deep concern for Africa, which he said, was weighed down by ethnic, political and social divisions.

“I come as one who is deeply concerned for the destiny of Africa's peoples,” the Pontiff reportedly said and added, “Africa is at a crossroads. Social unity and solidarity are not easy in the best of times. They are made all the more difficult when ethnic, political and social divisions are allowed to smother the yearning for true peace.”

The late President Moi, in welcoming the Holy Father at the airport said, “We live in a turbulent world, and mankind looks up to its religious leaders. We the people of Kenya are grateful for the peace and freedom we enjoy.”

Moi has been hailed for “keeping Kenya a relative haven of peace during a chaotic period in east Africa which saw the genocide in Rwanda and civil wars in Burundi and Somalia.”

In a statement that was seen by ACI Africa, Kenya’s neighboring country Uganda praised the Late for being “a good neighbour” as he provided sanctuary to Ugandans who ran for refuge to the country due to political instability. 

“During his (late President Moi) presidency, which spanned from 1978 to 2002, Uganda went through throes of political instability. Over the period, Uganda witnessed seven regime changes. Many Ugandans fled and found refuge in Kenya,” read the statement that was authored by speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, Rebecca Kadaga.

Before assuming the post of Head of State, the Late Moi served as the country’s third Vice-president for 11 years (1967-1978) after the death of its founding President (Mzee Jomo Kenyatta) in August 1978.

President Moi was famously known to Kenyans as Nyayo, a Kiswahili word for footsteps, which he often used to mean his leadership was being modeled after his predecessor, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. 

Pouring their tributes to their second Head of State, Kenyans remembered a leader that had introduced milk to school going children in all public schools in the country in a programme that was dubbed “Maziwa ya Nyayo.”

President Moi’s final message of forgiveness while he prepared to hand over power at the end of his presidency in 2002 has been played over and over again to the public as the country prepares to lay the president to rest on Wednesday, February 12.

“If there is anyone who called me names, I forgive them and if there is anyone whom I offended, please forgive me,” the late President is seen saying in the video that has been widely shared.


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]