An elaborate performance by a unit of the the Kenya Defence Forces characterised the 55th Jamhuri Day celebrations yesterday.
It was also the first time President Uhuru Kenyatta was wearing a red tunic ceremonial gear for the Commander in Chief as the 17 Battalion, the Kenya Rifles thrilled audience with consecration, presentation and trooping of colour.
So significant is such an event that the President had to trade his suit for the ceremonial outfit. The red tunic decorated with medals and gold colours, accompanied by a black trouser, also with gold stripes, was a major surprise to the crowd at Nyayo National Stadium.
The unique dressing was for the purpose of consecration, presentation and trooping of colour by the 17 Battalion, the Kenya Rifles which is a ‘sacred’ military event.
During such an event, the Commander in Chief officially recognises or forms a new military base or unit for special assignments.
The last time this happened was 1998, during retired President Daniel Moi tenure and the military unit of the moment was from the Kenya Air Force.
Yesterday, Uhuru was basically unveiling a new unit formed in 2009 following some changes in the Kenya Army Strategic Defence Plan. This now means the unit can parade its flag, colours and have its own base, which will now be in Garissa.
The Kenya Rifles is identified by purple. The unit was consecrated by Cardinal John Njue of the Catholic Church, Anglican Church of Kenya Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit and Deputy Chief Kadhi Hassan Omar.
The ceremony’s programme shows there is a strict drill for marching in and out and handling of the colours. This is because the colours are always kept under lock and key and only taken out occasionally for ceremonial displays.
The Kenya Rifles, in military protocol, is the senior-most unit of six infantry brigade units, others being 19 and 21 Kenya Rifles.
“Since inception, the 17 Battalion has undertaken major operational assignments including at the Kenyan Coast, North Eastern and several tours under the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom III, V and VI) in 2014, 2016 and 2017,” reads a brief history of the unit.
It adds: “The purpose of the unit was mainly to handle emerging cases of terrorism. In one of their many operations, the combat team neutralised an Al-Shabaab camp at Hagar, which is 50 kilometres North East of Afmadhow.”
The crowd did not wait for the military emcee, Gibson Mwandawiro, to alert them over the President’s outfit. They burst into uncontrollable ululations.
Musicians, including Msupa S and DK Kwenye Beat had sucked their energy during the morning session when they forced them to sing. However, their energies appeared to have suddenly been renewed when Uhuru stepped on the dais.
The two were part of a group of artistes who kept the crowd busy before the actual event started. The sound system was on point this time round unlike during Mashujaa Day on October 20.
Also in the entertainment team was a group of women from Mathira in Nyeri County, which was invited by the President himself.
The weather, too, was perfect. There was no drop of rain even though the skies had, in the morning, threatened to open up.
It was the first time Uhuru was dressed in the ceremonial attire that even his deputy William Ruto had to comment about.
“Like many people in this stadium, we always knew that as our president, you are also the Commander in Chief of our Defence Forces, but it is only today that the Commander in Chief part is home, seeing you in that uniform,” said Ruto.
Mr Mwandawiro had warned the crowd that this year’s celebrations would take longer because the event was special. “It may take about two and half hours,” he said.
Former President Mwai Kibaki never had a chance to wear the regalia during his time.