— 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.
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.
People cheer as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the FNB Stadium during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.
U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the crowd during a memorial service for Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.
A man holds a placard with an image of Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium during a national memorial service, Dec. 10, 2013.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Nelson Mandela's former wife, listens to speeches during his memorial service at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.
A portrait of Nelson Mandela is seen through a sea of umbrellas during his memorial service at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.
Actress Charlize Theron speaks with musician Bono before the memorial service for Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.
People sing and dance as they arrive for the memorial service for Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.