Kenya's Kenyatta says queen was 'a towering icon of selfless service'

Kenya's Kenyatta says queen was 'a towering icon of selfless service'

The former British colony had long ties with the queen
The former British colony had long ties with the queen. Photo: Simon MAINA / AFP
Source: AFP

Queen Elizabeth was "a towering icon of selfless service", Kenya's outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta said Friday, in a statement expressing his "deep sense of loss" at her death aged 96.

"Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was a towering icon of selfless service to humanity and a key figurehead of not only the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations where Kenya is a distinguished member but the entire world," he said.

Kenyatta said he "received the sad news... with great sorrow and a deep sense of loss", noting the former British colony's close ties with the queen.

Elizabeth, then a princess, was on a visit to Kenya in February 1952 when she received news of her father's death while staying at the Treetops hotel, a remote game-watching lodge in the Aberdare forest.

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Kenya was the first stop on the tour of the Commonwealth she had embarked on with her husband, Prince Philip, in place of her ill father.

It was during their night at the Treetops hotel that Elizabeth would become queen, an episode immortalised in the popular TV series "The Crown".

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The royal visit -- and the legend to go with it -- made Treetops among the most famous hotels in the world.

Kenya declared independence from Britain in 1963, with Jomo Kenyatta -- the father of the country's current leader Uhuru -- becoming its first president.

Two decades later, the queen returned to the country on the invitation of then president Daniel arap Moi.

On the streets of the capital Nairobi, several Kenyans said they were saddened by the news of her death.

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"It's a sad day because Kenya was colonised by the British, so Kenyans are part and parcel of the British system," said Vincent Kamondi, a 51-year-old taxi driver.

Although Kenya's Mau Mau freedom fighters suffered horrific abuses under the colonial regime for taking part in one of the British Empire's bloodiest insurgencies, independent Kenya has maintained strong ties with its former rulers.

"The education we have, the religion we have, it came from the British, so it gave us a path of where we are heading to," said businessman Jacob Midam, 38.

The queen's death "matters a lot", he told AFP.

In 2015, thousands of Mau Mau veterans attended the Nairobi unveiling of a British-funded memorial to the thousands killed, tortured and jailed in the rebellion, in a rare example of former rulers commemorating a colonial uprising.

Commonwealth legacy

Kenya's president-elect William Ruto also paid tribute to the queen late Thursday, hailing her "admirable" leadership of the Commonwealth.

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"May her memories continue to inspire us. We join the Commonwealth in mourning and offer our condolences to the Royal Family and the United Kingdom," said Ruto.

"She steered the institution's evolution into a forum for effective multilateral engagement," Ruto said on Twitter, describing the bloc as a testament to the queen's "historic legacy".

The Commonwealth's membership has expanded to include nations with no historic ties to Britain, with Rwanda joining in 2009.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame condoled the queen's passing and said "the modern Commonwealth is her legacy."

The British government this year struck a much-criticised deal to deport asylum-seekers from the UK to Rwanda, with Charles -- now king and the head of the Commonwealth -- reportedly opposed to the scheme.

Source: AFP

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