It was during a mid-morning burial service at Tribun in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, that I laid eyes on the former Vice President of Kenya, Daniel Toroitich arap Moi.
On October 20, 1969, Moi led the Kenyan delegation that attended the funeral of assassinated Somali President Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke.
I had that opportunity to be near the burial place, thanks to activists of the then ruling political party known as the Somali Youth League (SYL).
They positioned buses opposite the SYL headquarters at Iskuraran in downtown Mogadishu, the area in which I lived.
The headquarters was just a block away from the house in which I shared a room with a schoolmate.
The October 15 assassination of President Sharmarke at Las Anod town, about 800 km northwest of Mogadishu, touched me deeply because he officiated the opening ceremony of Hodon Secondary School, where I was among the first to be admitted in its first year. The school was later renamed Dhagahtur Secondary School.
I felt sad that the president whom I saw cutting the ribbon at my new school in September was killed by one of his bodyguards less than a month later.
I watched the best part of the burial service from the roof of one of the SYL buses.
Moi was seated close to hitherto Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, whom I remember shortening a visit to the United States of America to rush back to Mogadishu to attend the funeral of his slain President.
I remember Moi as a tall, slim, elegantly dressed man, attending the service alongside foreign dignitaries including former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda.
Around mid-day, I learnt that he had left Mogadishu for Nairobi. He headed straight to the airport soon after Sharmarke was laid to rest.
Speaking to the Somali National News Agency (SONNA), the Kenyan leader explained that he needed to attend a function involving his President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
“I wish I could stay but I cannot miss such an event,” I recall a translator saying on Radio Mogadishu, one of the two broadcasters in Somalia at the time.
Had Moi stayed in Mogadishu like Dr Kaunda, he would have experienced some of the drama that unfolded.
After the burial, the central committee (CC) of the ruling SYL party, which commanded an absolute majority in the then National Assembly (parliament) with 122 out 123 MPs, held a meeting in the evening.
Only one member, former prime minister Abdirizak Haji Hussein and leader of the African Democratic Party (DAP), was in the opposition.
The meeting proposed the election of a new president by legislators within a week.
But the CC called off the sensitive meeting and went home before midnight, with the whole nation in great anticipation of who would contest.
Oddly, however, a group of army officers led by the military’s chief of staff, General Mohamed Siad Barre, were secretly plotting a power takeover.
By three o’clock on October 21, armoured personnel vehicles and tanks were positioned at all strategic junctions in Mogadishu.
All the influential politicians including PM Egal, his 12 ministers, Parliament Speaker Sheikh Mukhtar Mohamed Hussein, Somalia’s first President (1960-1967) Adan Abdulle Osman, popularly known as Adan Adde, and opposition leader Hussein were picked up by a special army unit and whisked off to a house in a farm near Afgoye town, 30 km southwest of Mogadishu.
They remained in detention for three years and were set free in 1973, after Barre consolidated his grip on power.
While President Kaunda was among those caught in the confusing development, Moi must have received news of the coup d’état in Mogadishu while at home.
The military takeover that Moi narrowly missed led Somalia into two decades of dictatorship that culminated in a devastating civil war, with General Siad Barre fleeing the capital city on January 26, 1991.
Out of power, Barre found refuge, albeit being very briefly, in Kenya.
Moi allowed him into the country and then facilitated his passage to Lagos, where he was given asylum by former Nigerian strongman General Ibrahim Babangida.
Moi and the history of Somalia are somehow intertwined, with Kenya hosting several reconciliation meetings for the Somali groups.
In October 2002, Moi opened the most important reconciliation conference ever held in Kenya, for Somalia’s politically opposed sides, at Eldoret town in the Rift Valley Province.
In 2004, the process produced the Transitional Federal Government led by Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed in 2004.
Under his command, Moi authorised the largest influx of human beings anywhere in the world, allowing Somali refugees who fled one of the most distressing civil wars to find sanctuary at Dadaab camps in Northeastern Kenya.
Moi died in Nairobi on February 4 after a long illness and was buried on Wednesday as his home in Kabarak, Nakuru County, on Wednesday.
His final resting place is to the right of his wife Lena Moi, as per the Kalenjin traditions, outside the house that was the seat of power for much of the 24 years he ran the country.
His was a State funeral — the second such ceremony after that of founding President Jomo Kenyatta — with a 19-gun salute accorded at the graveside.
Among dignitaries who attended the burial were Presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Ismail Omar Guelleh (Djibouti) and Brahim Ghali (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic).