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Kenyans Glean Inspiration From Mandela’s Legacy of Leadership

  • Gabe Joselow

FILE - Helen Mashele from South Africa reads the biography of former South African president Nelson Mandela to pupils at Kilimani Primary School in Kenya's capital Nairobi, July 18, 2013.

FILE - Helen Mashele from South Africa reads the biography of former South African president Nelson Mandela to pupils at Kilimani Primary School in Kenya's capital Nairobi, July 18, 2013.

As Kenyans mourn the death of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, they also are pausing to reflect on the lessons their country’s leaders could learn from the life of the political icon.

St. Andrews Church in Nairobi fills with the sound of singing at a public memorial celebrating Mandela's life.

The parking lot is filled with cars bearing diplomatic license plates, as foreign ambassadors and embassy staff join Kenyans in mourning.

Some here felt a personal connection to the man remembered as a leader whose legacy stretched beyond South Africa, and inspired the continent.

More than 90 world leaders gathered in Johannesburg on Tuesday for a memorial service honoring the late South African President Nelson Mandela. Below are excerpts.

  • South Africa's President Jacob Zuma: Mandela was a "fearless freedom fighter who refused to allow the brutality of the apartheid state" stand in the way for a struggle for liberation.
  • President Barack Obama: "Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals."
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "His compassion stands out most. He was angry at injustice, not at individuals."
  • Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff: "His fight went way beyond his national border and inspired men and women, young people and adults to fight for independence and social justice."
  • India's President Pranab Mukherjee: "He was the last of the giants who led the world's struggles against colonialism and his struggle held special significance for us."
  • Cuba's President Raul Castro: "Mandela has led his people into the battle against apartheid to open the way to a new South Africa, a non-racial and a united South Africa."
  • China's Vice President Li Yuanchao: "The Chinese people will always cherish the memory of his important contribution to the China - South Africa friendship and China-Africa relations.''
Kenyan Susan Nzii returned to Nairobi from a work assignment in South Africa before Mandela passed away.

“It was that time when he was sick for some time, and I was like, I wish he could just stay and wait for me so that we could breathe the same air for some time, and we could be in the same space for some time. And indeed it happened,” said Nzii.

Nzii said she hopes more African leaders will follow the example set by Mandela.

“When he became the president, he stayed only for one term, something that is not common with African leaders. Some want to cling on and cling on. But for him, one term was enough and he was out to be a citizen and to do his thing and to be with his family,” said Nzii.

Lawrence Musyoki, also in the crowd, has not had it easy. He is unemployed and struggling to find the money to complete his high school education. He said he was touched by Mandela’s humility, and has come here to pay tribute to a man he considers a hero.

“In fact the current crop of leaders in Africa and especially the young leaders of the east African nations, like our president Uhuru Kenyatta, they have a lot of lessons to learn from Madiba.”

Kenyatta’s first term in office has been overshadowed by the International Criminal Court case against him and his deputy stemming from the inter-ethnic violence that followed Kenya’s 2007 presidential election.

A lecturer on ethics and governance at the U.S. International University in Nairobi, Nicholas Kimani, attended the memorial ceremony. He said he hopes his students will be inspired by Mandela’s life to take Kenya in a better direction.

“I will say we could do with many Nelson Mandelas, but nonetheless, I am hopeful that the next generation of Kenyans will take stock of what he stood for and strive to be nationalists in everything that they do, not just for themselves but for the country,” said Kimani.

Kenyatta attended the official service for Mandela in South Africa, along with more than 100 other past and present international leaders.