Anybody else but the main speaker can arrive ‘ahead of’ address

President Uhuru Kenyatta issues the SOTN address at Parliament on April 4, 2019. [Bonface Okendo]

It is the requirement of the Constitution that the president addresses the nation to apprise it of his government's achievements in the preceding year. Of course, there are challenges too, and the president is under obligation to acknowledge them as he outlines measures taken by his government to overcome them.

It is an enormous responsibility that requires tact to execute diligently. Beside, satisfying the individual needs of 45 million plus people is not a joke. But the question is; does the annual address avail Kenyans?

On a live stream from a local television station covering the event, the following text was displayed at the bottom of the screen: ‘President Uhuru arrives at Parliament ahead of address’. Let us start by examining the accuracy of this statement.

The State of the Nation Address is a straightforward thing; no fanfare. After the brief welcoming speeches by Speakers of the Senate and National Assembly, the president goes ahead with his presentation.

He is the main actor in the whole setup, without whom there would be no State of the Nation Address. Is it possible, therefore, that he could arrive while the address was underway to warrant the expression 'ahead of'?  Of course, this is a rhetorical question because it is not practicable.  Anybody else, but the main actor can arrive ‘ahead of’, ‘during’ or ‘after’ the address.

Closest challenger

The phrase 'ahead of' has several meanings attached to it. First, it is used to denote ‘before’ or ‘earlier than’ someone else or something. Second, it means taking lead in a competition. In the recent Embakasi South by election, for example, Julius Mawathe was ahead of his closest challenger Irshad Sumra by thousands of votes. Third, ‘ahead of’ means making faster progress than expected. For example, 'the pipeline reached the border point three months ahead of schedule (before the projected time of completion).

Ahead of oneself (idiomatic), means to focus too much on one's plans or future events without paying attention to the present. It also means to develop an opinion based on insufficient information or to take action prematurely. For example: "Those condemning the president for not sacking Cabinet Secretaries suspected of corruption are ahead of themselves in their judgement".

The expectation that heads would roll on the day of the State of the Nation Address was rudely dashed when the president said he would use tact as opposed to simply firing suspects. Reaction on social media was varied:  "We have been over this severally, what did you expect? "; " I am disappointed that despite the enormity of the scourge of corruption, the president is unable to do anything”; "The president should have availed information on the course of action his government intends to take against those who have been adversely mentioned in corruption deals", and other such sentiments.

Big size

The word 'severally' does not necessarily mean several times as many of us have been led to believe. Severally means separately, individually or respectively. On the other hand, beside the association with vastness or big size 'enormity' also means great evil, atrociousness or wickedness.

Thus, while corruption is an enormity dragging the country backward developmentally, it is so enormous that dealing with it conclusively is not an easy task.

Though many of us believe 'avail' is the shortened form of 'available', it is not. To avail means to benefit or take advantage of a thing or situation. For example, "He availed himself of the chance to get a chunk of meat from the hippo that game rangers killed".

As a phrase, 'to no avail means to attempt to do something unsuccessfully. For example; “he tried to convince his younger brother to give up crime to no avail”.

Tact, on the other hand, is not the shortened form of tactics. The first makes reference to sensitivity and skill in dealing with other people.Tactics refer to strategy and action put into ensuring that a desired end is achieved. For example, 'KDF used superior tactics to dislodge Al Shabaab from Kismayu'. 'President Uhuru Kenyatta used tact to win Raila Odinga to his side'.

Often, fanfare and fun fair are interchangeably used. Earlier, I made reference to 'no fanfare' which basically means no ceremony. Fun fair (two words), has more to do with amusement, sideshows and fun rides, especially for children in parks specifically set up for such things.

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State of the Nation AddressSenateNational AssemblyPresident Uhuru Kenyatta