Nation holds unconventional 57th Madaraka Day fete
Eric Wainaina @Ewainaina
The 57th Madaraka Day was drastically unconventional— the first of its kind in history.
A close-up shot of First Lady Margaret Kenyatta and Rachael Ruto perched on a balcony at State House as they peered down at President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, who sat about two metres apart, as they led the nation in celebrating the fete, illustrated the new normal, necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ordinarily, the two, known for their elegant dress code on such occasions, would have been seated next to their husbands at the front row in a well-decorated dais in a stadium crowded by patriotic citizens resplendent in red, green and red – the national colours, or waving Kenyan flags.
Conventional celebrations are normally attended by thousands of citizens and hundreds of guests in stadiums all over the country and marked with pomp and pageantry, colourful military parades, displays and entertainment.
This time around, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the national Madaraka Day fete was graced by less than 50 guests.
There was no entertainment by choirs and traditional dancers.
Even prayers were pre-recorded in keeping with government protocols, including social distancing, to curb the spread of the vile and invisible virus which has infected 2021 people, with Nairobi having the highest number of cases at 1,026. Mombasa, the other coronavirus hotspot has 546.
Prayers by Anglican Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit recorded at All Saints’ Cathedral, Sheik Hassan Sukyan recorded at Jamia Mosque and a traditional one by Orume Ole Nkaru, recorded at an open grazing field in Kajiado, complete with cattle in the background were beamed during the celebrations which lasted approximately two hours, making it the shorted since Independence.
Ordinary, they would have been present in the event and would be part of those occupying some of the reserved seats at the main dais.
“Today, we are not cerebrating (Madaraka Day) together (in a stadium) like we are used to.
We are cerebrating when everyone is in their respective homes listening to radio, watching on television or social media, but even if we are not together, our hearts and minds continue being together as Kenyans and I am sure we shall overcome,” said the President referring to the uniqueness of the event.
Yesterday’s event had been scheduled to take place at Gusii Stadium in Kisii county, in line with State practices to rotate the fete among the counties.
The usual numerous speeches were whittled down to Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya who is also the Council of Governors (CoG) chair, Deputy President and finally the Head of State addressing the nation.
County chiefs did not also relay the President’s speech in their respective jurisdictions as normally happens.
Ruto, who was invited by Oparanya to address the nation, in turn invited Uhuru. He spoke on how the coronavirus had turned the lives of Kenyans upside down.
“Today, this celebration is unique. It has never happened like this. Today, our schools are closed, our places of worship are shut, millions of Kenyans have had to leave work, business people have been affected our life as a nation and as global community is upside down, to use the words of Mutahi Kagwe (Health CS), things are really abnormal,” he said.
The privileged few invited to the hallowed lawns of the seat of power included Chief Justice David Maraga, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi (Amani National Congress), National Assembly Justin Muturi and his senate counterpart Ken Lusaka.
All donned face masks and sat metres apart in line with social distancing protocol.
The military, the face of colour in the celebrations and in their ceremonial dress, stood and marched while observing social distancing.
They also put on face masks. So did the President while inspecting the guard of honour.
The new realities did not escape Ruto’s attention. “When I saw you marching here, I was wondering why the parade was different today. I realised later that there was social distancing.
It has really changed,” added the DP, who walked to the State House gardens where the event took place at exactly 11:53 am.
And after the celebration, the President and his deputy, who have recently appeared to be on parallel paths, rekindled old times when they displayed some camaraderie, exciting DP supporters who flooded social media platforms with the photos, reminiscent of the UhuRuto bromance of yore.
It did not escape them that Uhuru appreciated his deputy with warmth, saying; “thank you, William”, as he rose to deliver his speech.
The two wore matching suits, shirts, ties and shoes and after the event ended, they held a brief chat, exchanging pleasantries before taking a walk to the front of State House to wave to their spouses at the balcony.