NAIROBI, Kenya, March 22 – It all began with the choreographed landing of a Puma military helicopter, smack in the middle of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) barracks in Nairobi’s Eastleigh, as the troops pulled all stops to give their departing Commander-in-Chief the fitting farewell.
All heads turned to the sky, dotted with scattered grey clouds, when the buzz of the helicopter rotor blades rented the air as they waited for the President’s landing.
To underscore the momentous occasion about to unravel, the pilot grounded the bird as if it were descending a staircase much to the bewilderment of those watching.
And upon touchdown from the short trip from State House Nairobi, Kibaki was ushered in to the ceremonial military Land Rover flanked by the outgoing Minister for Defence Yusuf Hajj and KDF’s senior command.
In his keynote address, the Head of State praised the country’s military for its outstanding performance in safeguarding the country’s territories throughout his ten-year tenure urging them to extend the same treatment to the incoming President.
“We recently held a historic General Election and I call upon our men and women in uniform to work hand in hand with the leaders who have been elected to serve in various positions for the betterment of our beloved nation,” he said.
The Swiss-clock precision ceremony, complete with the President’s inspection of the Guard of Honour, took slightly less than three hours before he was ferried back to State House in the same chopper whose take-off was another spectacle to behold.
Military officers in red, blue, white and combat green uniforms graced the occasion and played their part to minute detail, leaving no room for mistakes in the colourful send-off that will linger long in the memory of the outgoing Head of State and those who had the privilege to witness it.
A quick match would be employed every time officers had to carry seats to and from the open field, much to the amusement of the audience.
Speaking during the ceremony, the Chief of Defence Forces, General Julius Karangi said KDF had achieved great strides under Kibaki’s watch including the successful war against the international terror merchants Al Qaeda backed Al Shabaab militants in Somalia.
“Your Excellency we recognise that your pending retirement marks the beginning of yet another chapter of our country. Words alone cannot express our appreciation for your remarkable accomplishments,” he said.
Kibaki was also showered with gifts during the pompous fete including a six-ton Massey Fergusson tractor to plough his vast retirement estate in Mweiga, Nyeri as well as four thorough-bred expectant Friesian cows that can produce 30 to 40 litres of milk per day.
And as if that was not enough he was honoured with a complete army uniform, neatly stacked in a glass chamber, a huge portrait to remind him of yet another parade he presided over at the Nyayo Stadium, dinner sets for the First Lady and farewell cards.
The President has never been spotted in the military regalia despite being the Commander in Chief for the past ten years and it will be interesting to see if he ever adorns the one he was gifted with.
“I hope that you and Mama Lucy will not mind an occasional visit at your rural home for tea and a few pleasant retirement chit chats for old time’s sake. Wazee hukumbuka Mzee (elders recall jolly old times),” Haji quipped on a light note during the sombre occasion.
Head of the Civil Francis Kimemia and the president’s son Jimmy Kibaki were also in attendance.
Kibaki is set to retire after serving as president for two terms and he becomes the second retiring Head-of-State to be officially sent off by the three arms of the Defence Forces following the farewell fete held for retired President Daniel Arap Moi in December 2002.
As the Puma helicopter disappeared into the skies, few on the ground were left with lump throats as they reflected on the tenure of the man who though not flamboyant, established himself as a firm Commander-in-Chief.
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