Facemasks and fist bumps as Uhuru makes his penultimate speech in august House

Deputy President William Ruto chats with Service Commanders during the State of The Nation Address at Parliament Buildings, Nairobi. [DPPS]

For the second year running, President Uhuru Kenyatta delivered his State of the Nation address before a partially filled National Assembly chamber.

The 127 lawmakers present sat socially distanced and had their facemasks on, a stark contrast of their modus operandi in public gatherings.

The sight was an apt reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic still lingers within our shores and that more care is needed to curb the threat of emerging Omicron strain.

The dignitaries shared the customary fist and elbow bumps and the namaste greeting. All resisted the urge to shake hands.

When he arrived at 3pm, the Head of State bumped his deputy William Ruto's fist, and others who formed his welcoming party, after inspecting a guard of honour outside Parliament Buildings.

Ruto, too, adopted the same greeting when he arrived 22 minutes before the president. As did former Prime Minister Raila Odinga who arrived earlier. The two leaders' allies tried to outsmart each other, shouting to demonstrate their loyalty and popularity.

ODM leader Raila Odinga salutes top uniformed officers during President Uhuru Kenyatta's 8th State of Nation Address at the Parliament buildings, Nairobi on Tuesday, November 30, 2021. [David Njaaga, Standard]

And Covid-19 would feature prominently in Uhuru's speech, another reminder to Kenyans for more vigilance.

But more happened before Kenyatta walked into the chamber to deliver his second-last State of the Nation speech.

The president didn't spare time for small talk with his deputy or those who had lined up to meet him.

President Uhuru Kenyatta (centre) alongside Speakers Justin Muturi (National Assembly) and Kenneth Lusaka (Senate) shortly after the State of the Nation Address at Parliament, on Tuesday, November 30, 2021. [David Njaaga, Standard]

As is customary since their fallout, Ruto trailed Uhuru as he walked to meet the leadership of Parliament led by Speakers Justin Muturi and Kenneth Lusaka.

The two didn't seem to exchange more than salutations, and did not speak long enough to make what would pass for a conversation. 

The DP had more time, exchanging pleasantries with leaders. He laughed deeply with Raila's allies National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi and his minority whip Junet Mohamed.

Raila had already taken his seat at the Speaker's gallery alongside former allies in Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi. Also at the gallery was Chief Justice Martha Koome, Supreme Court judge Njoki Ndung'u, Court of Appeal judge Daniel Musinga among other dignitaries. 

Ruto would join them there as soon as the President walked in.

Deputy President Wiliam Ruto chats with other leaders during the State of The Nation Address at Parliament Buildings, Nairobi. [DPPS]

And like everyone else, they kept silent as Uhuru flipped pages of his two-hour speech, routinely stomping their feet when he said something they deemed to warrant applause.

Seemingly aware that his speech would chip away some of their enthusiasm, the president would offer an "interlude".

"End of part one," he said an hour into his three-part speech, amid laughter.

There was more cheer when he admitted that the long speech had done a number on his tongue.

"Hata mimi nimechoka (I am also tired)," he said, before reading out the conclusion. 

During the president's speech which members patiently followed, only to appear awake and alert when he touched on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) push to change the 2010 constitution.

The court's position appeared to have rattled the president who then gave a blow to blow account on the constitutional change process now halted by the courts. He insisted on making his point, by adding," I speak to those who care to listen."

The BBI Bill was sponsored by President Kenyatta and Raila after the Handshake following the divisive 2017 presidential election.

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Download the BBI Judgement by all seven Judges - Civil Appeal No. E291 of 2021