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Kenyan President’s Speech Interrupted by Whistling Lawmakers

  • VOA News

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta inspects a guard of honor before the annual State of the Nation address at the Parliament Buildings in Nairobi, March 31, 2016.

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta inspects a guard of honor before the annual State of the Nation address at the Parliament Buildings in Nairobi, March 31, 2016.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta's annual State of the Nation address to parliament was interrupted Thursday when lawmakers began loudly whistling.

The loud, screeching whistles started almost immediately as Kenyatta began speaking, forcing him to temporarily halt his speech while he asked House Speaker Justin Muturi to restore order.

Kenyatta chuckled as security personnel walked around the chambers looking for the lawmakers making the noises. The whistling continued for about three minutes until Muturi ordered security to remove those lawmakers making the loud noises and they were escorted out of the building.

More offenders

Muturi explained to lawmakers that the interruptions were against parliamentary rules, but as soon as he finished speaking, the whistles began again. Security was able to identify the offending whistlers and they, too, were removed from the chamber.

“As you know, everybody has a right to hold their opinions, and indeed, I would advise that any member who feels that they are not ready to listen to the address by his excellency the president feel free to withdraw from the chamber. It does not show any level of maturity to interrupt the speech,” Muturi said as the lawmakers were escorted out.

Kenyan Member of Parliament for Ugujna Constituency Opiyo Wandayi (C) is ejected from the National Assembly for blowing whistles during President Uhuru Kenyatta's annual State of the Nation address at the Parliament Buildings in Nairobi, March 31, 2016.

Kenyan Member of Parliament for Ugujna Constituency Opiyo Wandayi (C) is ejected from the National Assembly for blowing whistles during President Uhuru Kenyatta's annual State of the Nation address at the Parliament Buildings in Nairobi, March 31, 2016.

Kenyatta restarted his speech by saying, “After being thoroughly entertained, we can get back to serious business,” but he was interrupted by more whistles a few moments later. Muturi scolded the lawmakers’ behavior again, ordered several more lawmakers removed, and then asked Kenyatta to continue speaking.

Following that almost half-hour interruption, Kenyatta was able to finish his speech without issue.

The address was meant to highlight the government's achievements in the past year and its plans for the coming year.

“Despite economic and financial turmoil, our Kenyan economy has shown notable resilience," the president said. "A strong example of this resilience is the performance of the vital tourism and hospitality sectors that suffered severe setbacks as a result of terrorist attacks.”

Not the first time

After a disputed presidential election in 2007, a similar protest occurred in parliament, with lawmakers shouting and heckling. The whistling incident Thursday was the first of its kind since then.

Since Kenyatta took office in April 2013, his administration has been plagued by corruption and mismanagement allegations surrounding the National Youth Service job-creation program and the port in Mombasa, the country’s busiest import location.

Last year, the president fired a third of his ministers, but critics said they felt more needed to be done to prosecute those involved in graft.

In his speech Thursday, Kenyatta had something to say to those who opposed his government and were not happy with the direction the country was taking:

“Those in opposition and alternative society have disagreed with our understanding of this nationalist covenant, and as a democratically elected government, we have supported their concerns as part of the expansion of citizen expression."

VOA's Mohammed Yusuf contributed to this report from Nairobi. Some information for this report came from Reuters.

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