Two days after he was sworn in as interim president of Kenya, Daniel arap Moi strolled into the Red Bull, a popular Nairobi restaurant, and took his usual table for lunch with his usual cronies.

There were no bodyguards and the staff made no special fuss -- a reflection of the smoothness with which Kenya was recovering from the shock of Jomo Kenyatta's death and of the fact that Moi has been the heir apparent for so long that little seemed to change when he actually took over the presidency.

At 54, Moi has put in several years as the man who represented Kenya at international gatherings. He had taken over many of Kenyatta's official duties, criss-crossing Kenya as vice president and cementing his position as probable successor.

While his current limited mandate lasts only 90 days and he is theoretically liable to challenge from within the country's sole political party, it is widely assumed that Moi will be the leader of Kenya for some years to come.

Moi is not flamboyant, as Kenyatta was, and he lacks the legendary old man's credentials as imprisoned hero of the anti-colonial struggle. He may never have Kenyatta's control over parliament or his ability to keep rival tribes under control. But he is said to be a shrewd and patient politician who has used the Kenyan system to advantage to make himself the odds-on favorite as successor.

He is not a member of the Kikuyu tribe, which dominates political and economic life in Kenya, but he has gained the support of powerful Kikuyu politicians who might otherwise be contenders for the top job themselves.

Already newspapers in Nairobi, on government instructions, have dropped the words "acting" or "interim" and refer to Moi as president. Admiring profiles describe his activities as head of the Kenya Boy Scouts and an active Christian. Moi, who is still operating out of his vice presidential office, has been discreet about any public claim to be the rightful successor to Kenyatta, but he has managed to give the clear impression that he expects to remain in charge.

It has been a long wait for Daniel arap Moi, Kenya's vice president since 1967 and the longest-sitting member of parliament. His tenure in the legislature dates back more than 20 years, before independence, when he was one of only six blacks appointed to the Legislative Council of the colonial government.

"He is a very astute politician," a well-informed Kenyan said. "Another man would have let his frustration show in all those long years of waiting, and given the president an excuse to dump him. Moi never did."

Moi, as much the zealous worker as Kenyatta was the relaxed elder statesman, flew all over Kenya in the later years of Kenyatta's presidency, dedicating projects, donning tribal garb, making speeches, raising funds for charities and leading the government's team in the parliament. As a result he is said to be better known and to have more of a personal following than any other prominent politician in the country.

Like many Kenyan officials, Moi is believed to have prospered financially during his years in parliament and as minister for home affairs and vice president by conducting private business on the side, a practice Kenyatta tolerated. But he has a reputation for incorruptibility in his official activities, and he campaigned against corruption and nepotism in the government.

Moi was born poor, the son of a farmer with modest landholdings in the Rift Valley area. He is a member of the Tugen tribe of the Kalenjin group, a minority tribe with little national influence.

Although educational opportunities for rural Africans were limited when Kenya was a British colony, Moi went to school and his education carried him into public life.

He attended a government school and a teacher training college. Only four years after qualifying as a teacher, he was named headmaster of a school for African children and the year after that became principal of the teacher's college from which he had graduated.

His appointment to the Legislative Council in 1955 gave him the opportunity to travel around his province, campaigning for the right of Africans to elect their own representatives. That drive was successful in 1957 and Moi was one of the first eight Africans to be chosen by ballot.

In the two decades since then he has devoted most of his time to political and governmental affairs and is one of the most experienced men in the Kenyan administration. He was minister of education and then of local government in the final years before independence in 1963, and Kenyatta named him minister for home affairs of independent Kenya in 1964.

Little is known of Moi's family life. Unlike Kenyatta, who was proud of his large family and was often photographed with his children and grandchildren, Moi is never seen in public or depicted in the newspapers in the company of any family members.

In conversation, Moi gives the impression that he thought of Kenyatta as his family, speaking of him as "a very close friend for many years."

Like his predecessor, Moi moves without hesitation into crowds of ordinary Kenyans. When the long lines of mourners trying to view Kenyatta's body threatened to break through police lines and storm the official residence last week, Moi came out with a loudspeaker, stood before them unguarded, and told them, "It is the duty of all of us to be orderly. Everyone will get a chance to see the late president." With the help of a few swings of police billclubs, it worked.