It was a silent night devoid of fireworks, hooting and merrymaking as Kenya welcomed the New Year with renewed hope amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
In some places, however, merrymakers defied government regulations on social distance as they partied to welcome 2021.
The celebrations in Nairobi were muted. The usual pomp at the iconic Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) marked by a fireworks display did not attract the usual crowds.
The 10pm curfew and closure of entertainment joints by 9pm imposed by the government to contain the spread of Covid-19 slowed down the celebrations, forcing many Kenyans to watch from their homes as the clock ticked away to usher in 2021.
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It was a stark contrast from the night of December 31, 2019, when President Uhuru Kenyatta led the colourful New Year celebrations at KICC, an event that attracted hundreds of revellers.
This time round, the iconic 28-storey building was a ghostly place as revellers kept off to adhere to the Ministry of Health regulations. The communication department at KICC told Saturday Standard that they had no plans for fireworks.
The Carnivore in Nairobi, which has also been an attraction for many Kenyans, adjusted its schedule.
Unlike in the past when fireworks were ignited at the stroke of midnight, the skies above Carnivore were lit up at 8.45pm on Thursday, barely 15 minutes before the facility was closed in accordance to curfew restrictions.
The restaurant is known for its live performances to usher in a new year.
This time, the party was muted, with merrymakers forced to maintain the one-metre social distance rule.
Churches, which normally hold services as congregants await the countdown to a new year, were also closed on Thursday night.
Most churches conducted online sermons while a few that had congregations closed as early as 8pm. Across the country, the New Year was ushered in with low key house parties within estates.
Night clubs and eateries were fully packed as early as 6pm, giving revellers a few hours to enjoy themselves before the curfew.
In Nakuru East Sub-county, Police Commander Elena Kabukuru went round talking to revellers from her vehicle with a public address system.
“We wish you a happy New Year but we don’t wish to have you spend the night in our cells. Have your means to get home before 10pm. We will not allow anyone to be here past that hour,” Kabukuru announced.
Mirriam Njeri, an elderly woman who had attended a funeral in Maragua, Murang'a County, said she arrived in Nakuru town at 8.30pm only to find long queues at the terminus with no matatus on sight.
At midnight, however, various residential estates came back to life as the residents dashed to the roads in song and dance while firing fireworks to the skies. “2020 was such a long year for us, full of economic ups and downs and the dangers of Covid-19, but we have finally made it to another year. We hope businesses will now open up in this new chapter,” said Jared Owino, a Nakuru businessman.
The police forced the curfew breakers back to their homes.
“The town was calm except for a few places where we managed to control crowds after we received the information they were on the roads. It is unfortunate that some people had to wait for the last minute to rush to their homes,” said Kabukuru.
Yesterday, faithful gathered in various churches in Baringo County to celebrate the New Year and pray for the country.
At Kabarnet African Inland Church (AIC), the worshippers were seated as early as 9am. The church had marked its pews to allow social distancing.
In Eldoret, Catholic Bishop Dominic Kimengich appealed to political leaders to unite the country in 2021.
The cleric warned that divisive 2022 politics may plunge the country into election violence. Speaking after an evening mass at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Eldoret town, Bishop Kimengich said political gatherings are now characterised by politics of hate.
“We are asking politicians to put aside divisive politics and focus on uniting the country. We have learnt from previous experiences, and never again will our country be faced with election-related violence,” Kimengich said.
Most churches concluded their New Year worship services at 8pm to allow worshipers to get home before 10pm. Other churches, including the Anglican Church of Kenya and AIC in Eldoret, did not admit worshippers to usher in the New Year.
Police officers in Eldoret went round the town urging residents to get home early.
Eldoret West Sub-county Police Commander Edward Masibo said many residents left town before the curfew hours. The few who were still in town past 10pm were asked to go home and were not arrested.
“We intensified patrols throughout the night and no cases of burglary and crimes were reported,” the police boss said.
He said most bars within Eldoret town centre were closed by 9pm.
However, social media was full of live videos of entertainment joints on the outskirts of Eldoret, where revellers ushered in the New Year at midnight.
In West Pokot, faithful gathered in churches to welcome the New Year. This time, the popular Chelang’a Gardens was deserted. Some churches had sought permits from the authorities to usher the New Year in accordance to laid down health regulations.
“We thanked God for helping us through 2020. We lost good friends and family members, but God kept us and we have seen 2021,” said Redeemed Gospel Church Pastor Robert Nato.