Eldoret was Wednesday sucked by an unprecedented whirlwind of protocol as three presidents landed for a requiem service for Kenya Defence Forces.
Host President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto welcomed Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the Eldoret International Airport early afternoon, shortly after Somalia’s Head of State Hassan Sheikh Mohamud had landed at the same airport.
The Somalia President was received by Mr Ruto and travelled by road to the Moi Barracks, where the inter-denominational prayers for the Kenyan troops killed in the January 15 attack on their El-Adde base in Somalia were being held, while Presidents Kenyatta and Buhari flew from the airport to the barracks.
President Kenyatta arrived at 12.30 p.m with President Buhari landing at 2.35 p.m with his advance delegation having arrived an hour earlier in another aircraft.
President Mohamud, who landed at the Eldoret airport at 11.10a.m, just 10 minutes after Mr Ruto’s arrival at the airport, briefly held talks with members of the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations before meeting potential investors at Eldoret’s Boma Inn hotel.
At the Moi Barracks, security was tight with journalists asked to assemble at the Sirikwa Hotel in Eldoret at 11a.m before being shepherd to the barracks, about 25 kilometres away, by uniformed military officers.
The journalists, clergy and family members all underwent through body searches and security checks at the main gate.
And once inside the barracks, journalists were not allowed to access the survivors of the Al-Shabaab attack and were gathered at a secluded area.
KDF flags were flown at half-mast all around the barracks with Kenya, Nigeria and Somalia flags at full mast.
Armed soldiers, including those in armoured vehicles, were stationed at strategic positions inside and outside the barracks as snipers kept vigil atop surrounding buildings and along the busy Eldoret-Kitale highway.
A team of choirs, including one from the Moi Barracks Primary School, along with children of some of the slain soldiers consoled the mourners with their well-rehearsed hymns, while other recited poems in praise of the gallant soldiers.
The prayers were led by, among others, Bishop Philip Anyolo, the chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, who represented the head of the Catholic Church in Kenya, John Cardinal Njue.
A group of retired soldiers, including Major (Rtd) John Seii, were also present.
The government is yet to reveal the exact number of casualties in the January 15 attack.
Once identified, their names will be etched in a plaque at the Moi Barracks’ main gate alongside the names of Eldoret’s 9th Kenya Rifles soldiers killed in action in 2011 and 2012.
President Kenyatta and Buhari along with Kenya’s Chief of Defence Forces Samson Mwathethe landed at the barracks in three helicopters at around 4:10pm to kick off the formal part of the programme.
President Buhari is on a three-day State visit to Kenya and will on Thursday hold private talks with President Kenyatta, before a bilateral meeting at State House, Nairobi.
Members of affected families who spoke to the Nation said some of them were yet to hear from their kin who were in Somalia and feared for their fate. The families of the missing officers have since submitted their DNA samples.
Lorna Kosgei from Kapseret in Uasin Gishu County said she last spoke with her husband of 11 years Abraham Kimeli Kosgei, a KDF sergeant on January 6, but was yet to hear from him since then.
His phone has since gone off.
“I only hope he is safe wherever he is. The children have been asking me where their father is and I don’t have the answers,” said the mother of three while fighting back tears.
Report by Elias Makori, Wycliffe Kipsang, Stanley Kimuge, Barnabas Bii, Dennis Lubanga and Gerald Bwisa.