They stood unbowed, shoulder-to-shoulder and spoke courage to a traumatised nation. Last Friday’s attack on Kenyan troops in Somalia, yesterday brought together President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga in a striking gesture of national solidarity.
Together with Deputy President William Ruto, the three titans of Kenyan politics paid tribute to the warriors of El Adde – they saluted the fallen soldiers, celebrated survivors’ bravery and offered comfort to their grieving families.
Kenya stood as one.
Uhuru and Raila were among leaders gathered at the Forces Memorial Hospital in Nairobi to honour the Kenya Army detachment caught in the January 15 attack by Al-Shabaab fighters, in which an unknown number died and several were captured.
The Chief of Defence Forces, General Samson Mwathethe, led Kenya Defence Force service commanders in reassuring the country and the world that Kenya is safe.
Echoing the military brass, Uhuru and Raila rallied the nation behind the country’s military and spoke firmly of a common resolve to defeat the enemy.
“The Friday attack has only renewed our determination to destroy Al Shabaab and all terrorist groups that threaten Kenya,” said the President, also the KDF Commander-in-Chief. “Our Defence Forces are ready. Their bravery is undimmed, their skill and prowess is a credit to our nation. Let us rally around them.”
The President called on leaders across the political divide to unite against terrorism saying the evil knew no political barriers.
Mr Odinga issued a ringing call for courage: “As a country we refuse to cry. We are here to celebrate the heroism of our soldiers. We want you to believe with us in these three words – we shall overcome.”
Mr Ruto delivered a message of hope and determination. “As we overcame Westgate, Garissa and Mandera massacres, we shall overcome,” he said. “We celebrate the lives of our heroes who lost their lives. Blessed are the peace makers”.
Party politics, sectarian interests and divisive comments dissolved in a wave of national grief marked by defiance. The resounding message was clear “Kenya must not be cowed by terrorists”.
“For our political leaders, both at national and local level let us appreciate that the war against terrorism is real and should be treated as non-political,” said the President.
“Our national security knows no politics, only the unity and resolve of a mighty people. Here at home, let us watch more carefully for signs of radicalisation or suspicious activities by the terrorists.”
Raila too did not mince his words. His coalition, which has been calling for withdrawal of KDF troops from Somalia, had a different message.
“We may not agree on how best to fight Al Shabaab and secure our land. But we are in agreement that the terror groups are bad for Kenya, they are bad for Somalia, and they are bad for the whole world. Al Shabaab must be stopped. And when they try to stop us violently as they have, we must stand together and take the battle to them,” said the former Prime Minister.
He went: “We must stand up in unison for our common peace, our freedom and our way of life. As a tribute to our soldiers, let us teach our children that we must not succumb to the forces of fear. As a tribute to our heroes, let us stand up against blind hatred. Let us stand up against violence. Let us stand up and protect the right to life. Let us overcome evil with good.”
The sombre ceremony was a defining moment in more ways than one. It seemed to place a balm, if only for a few hours, on the open sore of Kenyan politics and brought out the Kenyanness in one and all.
The President had a strong message for his people: “You can play your role by coming together in being part of Nyumba Kumi so that you and your neighbours make your families and our nation safer. You can refuse to be a conduit for the terrorists’ images and messages on social media. You can challenge their ideology wherever you may hear it, by proclaiming loudly and proudly that Kenya is a country whose different religions and communities live together in fellowship, and the common aim of building a prosperous and peaceful tomorrow for our children.”