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Kenya's Promulgation Day

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Woke up on Friday and flicked on the TV to watch the Promulgation day live broadcast from Uhuru Park.  Dignitaries were arriving, the park was already packed with thousands upon thousands of spectators, some climbing trees to get a better look.  It was so gripping that it was hard to tear ourselves away to grab breakfast. 

What was so fun was the vast crowd's unchecked reaction as events unfolded.  They heckled as former President Moi arrived, to the point where the MC had to ask them politely to show some respect to their former leader.  Moi was part of the 'no' group, staunchly against the voting in of a new constitution - he looked rather sombre for the remainder of the ceremony.  More dignitaries and leaders kept arriving.  We were on the edge of our seat as we hardly knew who would step out and walk up to the stands next.  Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Kofi Annan, Benjamin Mkapa, Tanzania - then unexpectedly, Omar al Bashir - Sudan's president - currently with a warrant out for his arrest by the ICC!  He was certainly not on the list! 


TV commentators were saying;

'There's a surprise! - a rather unfortunate one as this ceremony is supposed to symbolise and end to impunity for Kenya - and here we are hosting a wanted war crimes criminal'
The commentary was then hurriedly switched off and we went to the live sounds of crowds shuffling.

I love the way you cant control the reaction of the crowd.  Raila Odinga, hero of the day and family arrived to ecstatic cheers.  Raila is still wearing a big hat, presumably to hide scars from his recent head surgery.  When Lucy Kibaki, the President's wife climbed out of her Merc, complete with chase cars and outriders - the crowd sighed somewhat exasperatedly.  President Kibaki finally pitched up in a Pope-mobil.  Obama was a no show - fortunate in light of the fact that Bashir was there! Kofi Annan was squirming in the stands.  (in fact Bashir's presence has opened a hornets nest, not just internationally but its also caused a huge rift in the coalition.  Raila, who was in charge in inviting distinguished guests, says he had no idea that Bashir was invited.  Obama and the international community want to know if Kenya still recognises the ICC.  To read more click this link:
http://www.nation.co.ke/Kenya%20Referendum/Storm%20over%20al%20Bashir%20/-/926046/998960/-/69nwjj/-/index.html

Raila Odinga's speech was punctuated by the cheers of the crowd - who were delighted when he switched to Swahili and went off the cuff with euphemisms used about the struggle to get to such an auspicious point in history in the face of detractors and those determined to upset the process - chickens and snakes were mentioned.  Kibaki's speech was more of a damp squib.

Our children were bemused by the fact that I was still glued to the TV at 12.30. 
'Can we watch our program now?' they asked hopefully.
'No' we shouted.
The last time we were so gripped to local TV was during the late 2007/early 2008 post election chaos.

Meanwhile, while looking at emails on his phone, my husband casually mentioned that he had been invited to Raila Odinga's party/reception at the Carnivore later that night.

'Let's go!' I said enthusiastically, 'could be fun!' 

Unsure of what to expect, (or even if spouses were invited!) we got dressed up in our glad-rags and tooled out the the Carnivore.

The evening did not disappoint.  When we found the 'State Function Parking' we realised that this was was not going to be a cosy cocktail affair.  On arrival into the grounds, my husband pointed out that the scrolling images of 'struggle for independence' heros on 3 large overhead projectors - might make our 'white' presence rather uncomfortable.  I brushed him off.

There must have been more than 3,000 guests - all African and many dressed in the most fantastic silver and gold finery.  White and Asian guests totalled perhaps 10 in all, maybe 12 people.  We resisted the temptation to run over and talk to them just because they belonged to the same minority group.  I spotted the British High Commissioner working the floor.  It was exciting to be there, however incongruous our presence was and even though we got a few clearly odd looks.  It felt like a bit of a gatecrasher to be honest.  However, there are more Kenyans in UK than there are English in Kenya - I thought to myself - why shouldn't we mix it up a bit, stretch all our comfort zones.

There was a huge tent, but first we had drinks outside where there were dancers, open fires under the stars, drinks flowing, samosas and nyama choma and a huge roasted cow on a spit.  After a short performance about Kenya's political history, Raila Odinga (still in the same hat - this time dressed in black tie) and Ida came up on stage and proposed a toast to Kenya's new beginning - or new year.  I thought that Ida looked like a lot of fun - she had a twinkle in her eye.


Next came the most impressive fireworks display that I've ever seen.
'They must be enjoying this in Kibera' I said.
'Who's paying for all this?' my husband wanted to know.
'Happy new year to Kenya, a new dawn!' the compare boomed as guests whooped, ululated and cheered.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YV-xvq_NtY8

Inside the tent was more food, entertainment, singing and dancing.  Drummers from Burundi, dancers from Tanzania, Ugandan musicians.  Raila and Ida took VIP seats and were offered food as I (a confirmed groupie) played 'spot the politician' mixing in the vast crowd.

It was fun to see Raila and Ida tucking in, constantly interrupted by fellow guests negotiating past body guards wanting to pay their respects to the day's hero.  Then Raila was called up to lead the first dance - for a moment I thought he was going to refuse - but soon he bowled up and wiggled to the music, then quietly he slunk off home.

The whole evening was voyeuristic heaven for me, a great atmosphere.  We were lucky to be there.

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