By Joe Kiarie
Security emerged as one of the main talking points during Mashujaa Day.
As usual, heavily armed personnel from the General Service Unit, the Administration, regular police, and the National Youth Service jammed the Nyayo National Stadium, closely monitoring anyone within the stadium and its environs.
But it was the heavy presence of Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) that was uniquely striking, taking security levels to a scale never witnessed in the history of national celebrations.
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The KDF personnel, mainly drawn from the Kenya Army and the Kenya Air Force, cordoned off the entire stadium and gave those attending Mashujaa Day celebrations a real sense of security.
The defense forces were complete with some of the heavy artillery members of public in attendance have been seeing on television, as the military outfoxed the Al Shabaab militia group in Somalia.
And that was not all. In what could be the first approach of its kind, a military aircraft conducted aerial surveillance throughout the function, hovering over and around the stadium to detect any major security threats.
Inside the stadium, particularly on the terraces, there was a conspicuously high number of hawk-eyed plainclothes officers mingling with the crowd or taking vantage positions at the elevated rear end. Even chiefs were not left behind as they liaised with the disciplined forces or took action themselves whenever anyone threatened to disturb the calm.
The high security level was apparently prompted by a string of grenade attacks by suspected Al Shabaab militants in recent days. There has also been fear of revenge attacks after the KDF captured Somalia’s strategic port town of Kismayu last month, taking the Al Shabaab to its deathbed.
During Saturday celebrations, a profound yet rare sense of patriotism was evident. President Kibaki’s arrival was met with tunes of the nationalistic Kenya Taifa Letu song, while all the three stanzas of the national anthem were sang as opposed to past events where only one stanza was.
For the first time, freedom fighters and heroic sportsmen were also collectively recognised, with more than 100 heroes and heroines making a procession before the President, before taking their seats in the VIP section.
Having been treated to a Government-sponsored dinner at the National Museums of Kenya on Friday evening, they left the stadium in two buses led by motorcycle outriders as they headed to State House for a garden party.
Saturday’s Mashujaa Day celebrations, which were President Kibaki’s last as Head of State, were dominated by calls for heroic freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi to be accorded a decent burial.
While Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka emphasised this, it was perhaps Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, who best put the point across when he noted on his Twitter account:
“Let’s not forget Dedan Kimaathi Wachiuri is still in captivity. His spirit cries for heroic burial.”