Daniel arap Moi, who took over as interim president of Kenya after the death of Jomo Kenyatta on Tuesday, said yesterday that he and his colleagues in the government were "absolutely determined" to run the country in accordance with Kenyatta's domestic and international policies.
Kenya, he said, would continue to be a stabilizing force amid the turbulence of Africa, seek good relations with all neighboring countries, and continue Kenyatta's moderate internal political system.
Moi seemed relaxed and very much in command during a grief conversation in his vice presidential office, where he is still working. But he declined to discuss any specifics of his program or to go much beyond an official statement pledging that the country "would continue to uphold democratic institutions and pursue the domestic and foreign policies that the late president Kenyatta set."
That statement said Kenya would continue to abide by the charters of the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations and "conduct our relations with other nations in accordance with our policy of nonalignment."
Moi said it had been agreed in Cabinet meetings he has been conducting since Kenyatta's death that no specifics of foreign or domestic policy would be decided until after Kenyatta's state funeral on Thursday.
What matters most, he said, is "to ensure an orderly transition." He and his Cabinet, which includes powerful ministers whose support Moi needs to consolidate his position, "will be strict" in their efforts to ensure that no individual or faction threatens the country's internal stability, he said.
So far, he said, he has been gratified by the way "the people have contained themselves" despite their grief over Kenyatta's death.
The soft-spoken school teacher turned politician is technically only president for a period up to 90 days, with powers limited by the constitution. But he is a heavy favorite to be nominated for the office by Kenya's sole political party, the Kenya African National Union and thus assume full control.
With a broad grin, he declined to say if he expected to be president of Kenya when the transition period has ended and the party has acted.
"It is for the people to decide," he said.
"The late president was a very democratic man.He always consulted with them." Moi added, promising that the new government would do likewise.
Moi is said to be moving quickly to consolidate support for his succession, but he said he did not want to say anything that would encourage speculation. This is the wrong time, he said, to talk about how "this or that individual" would affect the country's future. The choice of a president is strictly an internal Kenyan matter, he said, but outsiders could be assured that whoever is chosen will adhere to the country's traditional policies, which are generally moderate and pro-Western.
Moi and other officials are in fact devoting much of their time to a matter much more ugent than the country's future policies, the details of Kenyatta's state-funeral.
Although Kenyatta was at least 86 when he died, he had discouraged any talk of his departure and as a result, no advance funeral planning had been done, not even the selection of a burial site. It has now been decided that Kenyatta will be interred in a mausoleum on the grounds of the Kenyan parliament, and construction crews were at work on it yesterday.
But with personalities as diverse as Prince Charles of Britain and Ugandan President Idi Amin expected to attend, the funeral will tax Nairobi's logistics and security resources as never before.
At the request of the government, the Pentagon has dispatched an expert funeral organizer from the Department of the Army to assist in the preparations, informed sources said.
Nairobi and the rest of the country continued calm, and apprehension that Kenyatta's unexpected death would touch off violence or attempts by some factions to circumvent the constitutional process of succession have quickly faded.
While Moi and other government officials and powerful members of Kenyatta's family are assumed to be jockeying for position, they are doing so out of the public eye, contributing to an atmosphere of stability that has come as a surprise and a relief to Kenyans and foreign residents alike.