At 2.55pm yesterday, President Uhuru Kenyatta was ushered into the floor of the House to give his State of the Nation address.
At 3.03pm, the President started reading his typed speech, careful to hail the tranquility being witnessed countrywide, which he attributed to the Building Bridges Initiative.
A roar of approbation swept through the packed chamber, as lawmakers cheered.
But these were not the President’s men and women signaling their approval. No, these were members of the Opposition.
In what must surely pass as a first in the country’s long history of perfectly delineated politics, the President’s remarks were punctuated with louder applause from the Opposition seats than from the numerically stronger Jubilee side.
It was a sight to behold, as loud foot-thumping and hearty clapping greeted the President’s declaration that he would neither waver in his support for the handshake nor slacken his pace in the fight against corruption.
The handshake, of course, is what transpired when Uhuru met Opposition chief Raila Odinga at Harambee House on March 9, last year, and the two leaders entered into a pact whose ramifications were in clear view yesterday.
In stark contrast, legislators seated on the Government side remained largely muted, as their party leader repeatedly vowed to take the fight to the corrupt.
For the better part of Uhuru’s speech, his lieutenants appeared unmoved, as their colleagues across the aisle stole the applause show.
Homa Bay Woman Rep Gladys Wanga, formerly a firm critic of the President but lately one of his strongest defenders, was conspicuous in her thunderous applause in her front row seat on the minority side. So was her neighbour Kisumu Woman Rep Rosa Buyu.
Then the energy switched, as the President, nearing the end of his speech, announced that the fight against corruption would have to be conducted within the strict confines of the law.
“We will not pursue justice on one hand while we are committing an injustice in the other,” said Uhuru, as he declared that due process would have to be followed in the graft war.
It was now the turn of his party members to raise their voices in their loudest cheer of the afternoon. Uhuru’s statement that there would be no "vigilante justice" or condemnation without due process would have been seen as vindication by Jubilee members who had felt that Deputy President William Ruto had been hang out to dry.
The unity that has been witnessed in recent days across the political divide was visible, as all major party leaders showed up for the President’s address.
Raila and his former running-mate Kalonzo Musyoka had arrived separately at Parliament and held discussions with party members in the cafeteria before being escorted into the chamber at 2.25pm.
They occupied the Speaker’s gallery, where they were joined by Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, Chief Justice David Maraga, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko, former Speakers Francis Kaparo and Ekwee Ethuro, and top military brass.
The President arrived at 2.31pm and was received by Dr Ruto and Speakers Justin Muturi (National Assembly) and Kenneth Lusaka (Senate). He inspected a guard of honour mounted by the Kenya Army.
At 2.49pm, there was no denying the huge support that Ruto enjoys in the House, as his entrance was received with loud applause from the Jubilee side. [Moses Njagih]