The government and opposition on Friday cast aside their fierce political rivalry and united to honour Kenyan soldiers who died in a battle against Al-shabaab terrorists in El-Adde, Somalia.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Cord leader Raila Odinga, avowed critics of each other shared a podium and spoke with one voice — there is no political divide when troops pay with their lives while protecting Kenyans from terrorists.
The President said: “For our political leaders, both at national and local level, let us appreciate that the war against terrorism is real and as such should be treated as non-political. Our national security knows no politics, only the unity and resolve of a mighty people.”
And Mr Odinga said: “In a moment like this we stand together as Kenyans. There is no government or opposition, we are Kenyans. We may not agree on how best to fight Al Shabaab and secure our land. But we are in agreement that the terror groups are bad for Kenya, they are bad for Somalia, and they are bad for the whole world. Al Shabaab must be stopped. And when they try to stop us violently as they have, we must stand together and take the battle to them.”
Deputy President William Ruto and Cord leaders Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetang'ula joined the President and the former Prime Minister as they visited injured survivors of the attack at Defence Forces Memorial Hospital in Nairobi and spent time speaking with them and listening to their experiences in the battle field.
First lady Margaret Kenyatta and Defence cabinet secretary Raychelle Omamo also attended.
The leaders took time to console relatives and friends of the fallen soldiers as well as the missing ones, whose fate is still unknown.
Al-shabaab terrorists attacked a Kenya Defence Forces camp on Friday last week, prompting a fierce battle that resulted in massive casualties on either side.
The terrorists overrun the camp but KDF reinforcement troops launched a massive counter offensive and rescued injured colleagues who they flew back to Kenya.
President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga spoke after KDF personnel staged a meticulous ceremony complete with military traditions befitting fallen heroes.
It started with the military band playing the national anthem followed by Christian and Muslim prayers said by military clergy.
Four soldiers rose to sound their trumpets, a practice known in military parlance as “the last post,” which signifies the “final rest for a soldier who dies in combat.”
Military top brass was led by Chief of Defence Forces Samson Mwathethe and Service commanders Lt Gen Lawrence Ngondi (Army), Maj Gen Samuel Thuita (Airforce) and Maj Gen Levi Franklin Mghalu (Navy).
Gen Mwathethe pledged to the President, who is also the commander in Chief, that the Al-shabaab would pay heavily for the attack.
“I assure you the blood of our fallen heroes was not shed in vain. We will fight them deep in their hideouts. We shall smoke them out and suffocate them in their caves to the very end,” he said.
KDF jets and helicopter gunships have been carrying out airstrikes in Al-shabaab targets since the attack and Maalim Junow, the mastermind of the attack is believed to have been killed in the offensive.
The government and the opposition have been at war with each other, with the recent spat surrounding the expenditure of Sh250 billion from the Eurobond proceeds. They also hold divergent views on the presence of KDF in Somalia with the opposition calling for the withdrawal of the Kenyan forces.
But on Friday, Mr Odinga appeared to have changed tune when he said; “we must stand together and take the battle to them (Al-shabaab).”
The President said KDF troops would remain in Somalia as long as was necessary.
“Our duty does not end, and our mission continues. Right now, your fellow soldiers in the Army and the Air Force are in Somalia conducting search, rescue and recovery operations. We are at war; the nature of the threat not only locally, regionally but globally is growing. It threatens democracy, development, and the humanity’s hopes for peace,” he added.
President Kenyatta said since the mission in Somalia was launched in 2011, KDF had taken control of large areas from Al-shabaab and asked the Somalia government to take advantage and establish its authority throughout the country.
“I urge the government and people of Somalia to seize the opportunity to build a peace and prosperous country. You have suffered greatly in the last quarter of a century. It is your moment to demonstrate that you are ready to build a stable and credible government in the control of your entire territory,” he said.
Representative of the European Commission, United Nations and Africa Union Mission in Somalia attended the function and pledged to continue supporting KDF in the war against terrorism.
Mr Ruto assured the President: “We stand firmly and solemnly behind the decisions you make to ensure we are safe. We overcame Westgate and Garissa University attacks, and so we shall overcome.”
United Kingdom High Commissioner Nic Hailey also supported KDF mission in Somalia, saying: “The United Kingdom stands in sorrow with Kenya, the Kenyan Defence Forces and the families of the brave troops killed or injured at El Adde. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Kenya in our strong resolve to defeat the evil of terrorism in Somalia and to build a better future for its people.”
The US embassy also released a statement, standing with Kenya as the country mourned the fallen heroes.” The United States and the American people are with you, united in grief and in resolve. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Kenya in the fight against Al Shabaab and all terrorist groups and for freedom and democracy. Together, we will defeat the scourge of terrorism,” it said.