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1978: Kenya's founding father dies

VIDEO : Kenyatta's rise from rebel to president

Kenya's president, Jomo Kenyatta, has died at his home in Mombasa.

An official announcement on Voice of Kenya radio said Mr Kenyatta died peacefully in his sleep on Tuesday morning.

Shops and offices in the capital, Nairobi, and other cities have closed for the day as a mark of respect.

In public appearances yesterday, Mr Kenyatta, 89, appeared to be in good health so news of his death has come as a shock to most Kenyans.

However, last week he called a family conference in Mombasa leading to speculation about his health.

Mr Kenyatta was widely seen as the founding father of his nation which he had led since its independence in 1963.

A member of Kenya's largest tribe, the Kikuyu, he was one of the first and best-known African nationalist leaders.

"We have lost a major figure of our time"

Shridath Ramphal

Baptised Johnstone Kamau, he changed his name to Kenyatta - Swahili for "light of Kenya" in the 1920s.

After spending 15 years in London promoting the cause of Kenyan's independence from Britain, he returned to his homeland in 1946.

In 1952 he was imprisoned by the British and spent the next nine years in captivity.

In spite of his time in prison, Mr Kenyatta was regarded as the most pro-British of African presidents and under his leadership the Kenyan economy prospered.

But he was intolerant of dissent in Kenya and outlawed some opposition parties in 1969.

The Queen has sent a message of sympathy to Mr Kenyatta's wife and the Kenyan people.

The Commonwealth Secretary General, Shridath Ramphal, said Mr Kenyatta's death had deprived Kenya of a great leader.

"We have lost a major figure of our time," Mr Ramphal said.

Mr Kenyatta's deputy, Daniel arap Moi, has assumed the office of president for 90 days during which time new elections must be held.

In Context
Jomo Kenyatta is still revered in Kenya and has a public holiday in October named in his honour.

Daniel arap Moi took over as president after Jomo Kenyatta's death. A one-party state was created in 1982.

External pressure led to elections in 1992 and 1997 but they were marred by widespread violence and fraud and President Moi remained in power.

Under President Moi, Kenya's economic situation deteriorated and was exacerbated by the worst drought in 30 years.

In December 2002 Mwai Kibaki and his National Rainbow Coalition party swept to victory in Kenya's elections.

Mr Kibaki defeated Daniel arap Moi's chosen successor, Jomo Kenyatta's son, Uhuru.

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