Monday, August 30, 2010



Experts Treated shabbily at Uhuru Park

Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

August 30 2010

It was indeed a new dawn; a nation reborn and a historic event no doubt, never mind the numerous logistical hiccups that could easily have been avoided.

The packed crowd told it all but the dais was not just a crowd; it was overcrowded for no good reason. It displayed the high point of a disorganized state function.

However, as we watched the ceremony in progress, interspersed with talking heads in our TV stations, one got the feeling that even talking heads did not know what they were talking about at times. For example, none of them could explain the relationship between the Senate. They were not sure which one was superior to the other and could check the excesses of the other.

At Uhuru Park, it was obvious that the oath of office had changed. Allegiance to the Head of State as was the case in the old Constitution went with the old law. Now all state officers required to take the oath owe their allegiance to the constitution, the country and swear the oath of execution of office. This was evident as the President, Prime Minister and Vice President took their oaths of office at Uhuru Park.

Friday August was indeed an important day. Its significance was evident when some MPs and even assistant ministers braved the dark and chilly morning to be there as early as 7.43am. However, in retrospect, they may not necessarily have arrived early because they respect time; it was more likely they knew there would be chaos at the VIP stand, hence the clamour for seats ahead of everybody.

One fact cannot be denied. It was the largest crowd seen at Uhuru Park since independence. And the actual figures being bandied around keep changing from time to time depending on whom one speaks to. Midway through the ceremony, some media companies were reporting that about a million people were at Uhuru Park ceremony against 8000 security officers. However, the following day, this figure was down by half and by day three, police estimates were estimating 150, 000. Kenyans will never really know how many people were at Uhuru Park considering that the National census results we took in August 2009 are yet to be known 12 months later. We are not very good at counting human beings except when they are voting.

Let me not go into the details why my day was spoilt. Many of my colleagues, the civil society and one set of politicians have alluded to it over and over again in the last three or so days. The Presence of Kamlesh Pattni and President El Bashir at the VIP area made my dark cloudy day even darker! To say that their presence at the VIP tent was in bad taste would be an understatement. It was repulsive and obnoxious to say the least. Nobody in his right senses can invite a murderer and a thief to his party even if they are his neighbors. The only way criminals, thieves and scoundrels are treated is to scorn them and show them that they are not welcome.

Inviting Kamlesh Pattni and Omar Bashir to Uhuru Park and providing them with the seat of honour among luminaries such as Kofi Annan, Obasanjo, Kagame, John Kufuor and Benjamin Mkapa was not only in bad taste but an endorsement of impunity, corruption and genocide. The State was telling Kenyans and the whole world that things will really never change much in Kenya.

For Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, former president Daniel arap Moi and Yoweri Museveni, I think that crowd tried its best to behave. I had feared that there would be a repeat of the past acts when Moi was not only booed but had mud thrown at him. I feared that traditional anti-Kalonzo elements would try to embarrass him. I feared that Museveni would remind a section of the crowd of the disputed Migingo Island. I was relieved to see that the crowd obeyed their leaders and behaved responsibly.

Although Raila’s arrival at Uhuru Park caused a commotion and set the crowd in frenzy, his fast pace to the dais diffused the enthusiasm of the multitude. Their shouts subsided as he sat down. It was also politically prudent to have the Prime Minister and the Vice President sit together even if there was little meaningful interaction going on between them. However, I noticed that they did not sit with their wives as is common in other countries. Was this protocol or was it just lack of planning from the organizers?

As a show of unity of one nation, the Reds finally ate humble pie- and attended the ceremony. It was good to see Cardinal Njue offer prayers for the document he so violently opposed until after the referendum. With him were fellow Red campaigners such as Dr. Machage Daniel arap Moi, Isaac Ruto, William Ruto among others.

Considering the number of African dignitaries that graced the event, it was disturbing to invite so many former heads of state, sitting heads of state and eminent African personalities such as John Kufuor, Kofi Annan, Dr. Ping, and Benjamin Mkapa yet not recognize them in speeches or award them with medals. What was so difficult in giving a sitting head of state and a retired head of state an opportunity to talk on behalf of their colleagues? What was so difficulty in giving Kofi Annan his 5 minutes of fame to talk on behalf of his colleagues whose efforts we were celebrating? Surely, these high profile guests didn’t fly all the way to come and merely be part of the Uhuru Park crowd and a meal at State House!

The curious absentee at Uhuru Park was Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete who was represented by his deputy, Abeid Karume of Zanzibar. This was despite press briefings a day earlier that he would come. Incidentally the two heads of state, Yoweri Museveni and Omar El Bashir who were not in the original list showed up. Did Kikwete give the party a wide berth after international intelligence leaked that El Bashir would be attending?

The President was 30 minutes late in arriving at Uhuru Park. Again, let nobody sell the idea that some heads of state were late. The protocol should know that before the programme is published, all and every detail including late arrival of heads of state are factored in. If young tell Kagame that all dignitaries must be seated at 9.00 am, he will be there 5 minutes to 9.00 am. Good governance includes the ability to keep and respect time.

Wasn’t it funny that Kenya’s borders were sealed off for the duration of the ceremony yet Omar El Bashir still sneaked in?

When it came to prayers for the constitution, the spiritual leader of the hour was our Maasai Priest. He was short and to the point. The other clerics made speeches instead of leading us in prayer, something that stirred the impatient crowd. One notable omission on the part of the clergy was that much as they offered prayers for the President, Prime Minister and Vice President, they seemed to have forgotten the Speaker and the Chief Justice. Incidentally; where were the Evangelicals and the NCCK brigade that opposed the constitution? Did they boycott the event or were they not invited?


I think the high point of the event was when Attorney General presented the instruments of the Constitution to the President. By a twist of fate, it was Wako’s moment of glory considering that 5 years earlier Kenyans rejected the draft that he had doctored in favour of the status quo. It fell on the two gentlemen to promulgate the new constitution.

When President Kibaki read the proclamation, the crowd went into frenzy! The greatest moment had finally arrived! When the President signed the instruments of the six copies of the document using six different pens at 10.23 the search for a new constitution was finally brought to an end. But it was not until the Attorney General and the Head of the Civil Service affixed the Seal on the New Constitution and presented it to the President to wave the New Constitution to the Crowd that Kenyans burst into song and dance!- Again, it was Wako’s moment of glory.

As the National Anthem was sung following promulgation; as the 21Gun Salute rented the air to a jubilant crowd; as the Jumbo Flag went up at Uhuru Park, a little bird joined the celebration and hovered over the flag uninvited!

There are other little details that the state function organizers should begin to pay attention to. One such thing is scripting to the minute details the sequence of events. Sammy Lui is a great MC but it is high time he started taking his job more seriously. He should learn that misleading the public to believe that the Chief Justice is about to take the second oath when in fact he is about to swear in the President was inexcusable. Had he written everything down, such a blunder would not have occurred.

The lowest point of the celebrations came when our so called celebrity artists appeared on stage. The fakeness and fickleness of Caroline Nderitu was too obvious to be ignored. Performers especially poets should strive to inspire rather than struggle to impress. Her poetry came from her lips when we expected her to drive us to tears of joy. Nothing personal but it was commercial poetry at its best. However, she lifted our spirits a little when she recited her last stanza in Kiswahili.

Emmy Kosgey was simply superb! All leaders including the First Lady gave her a standing ovation and danced to her beat! It was the kind of performance that would have set the Park ablaze had the organizers ensured there was a working public address system! Like Emmy, Eric Wainaina was excellent, powerful and inspiring. His song reminded us of the meanings of the colours of our flag in a most graphic manner

Where was Suzzane Owiyo? I thought the music was her idea with Achieng’ Abura? And what was Susan Kibukosyia doing on stage? How do you conduct a choir that is off beat and off the tune? How do you lump together big stars and amateurs and then give them no microphones to sing a song they had not rehearsed? The organizers were so unfair to Nameless, Achieng Abura, Idi Achieng and Eric Wainaina! Is this why Suzanne Owiyo was missing in action?

The final goof was the balloons that failed to fly! How can balloons fail to fly in a state function witnessed by the world press? How can we supply heads of state with balloons we know they will not release into the skies? Didn’t some greedy supplier realize that balloons would not fly unless they were filled with helium? This last act was painfully comical.