The Mace: Symbol of Mayhem and Controversy

By Joe Aura,

An unprecedented Tuesday in Nairobi, intended for peaceful protest against a controversial finance bill, devolved into mayhem and bloodshed. The heart of Kenya’s capital was engulfed in violence as police, responding to an increasingly volatile demonstration, opened fire with live ammunition, killing at least five people. The parliament building, a beacon of the nation’s democracy, was set ablaze by enraged protesters who managed to breach its defenses. In a startling twist, the ceremonial mace, the venerable symbol of legislative authority, was stolen amid the chaos.

Scenes of utter pandemonium unfolded as citizens, driven by frustration over proposed tax hikes, took unprecedented actions. Images of citizens being gunned down outside their parliament evoked a profound sense of loss and outrage. Inside the parliament, protesters turned the hallowed halls into a bizarre tableau—some were seen eating meals, others recording themselves donning the Speaker’s attire. In the streets, the stolen mace became a prop in a disturbing display of defiance, its significance as the emblem of parliamentary legitimacy starkly highlighted against the backdrop of disorder.

Historical Context

In independent Kenya, two maces were used by the bicameral House from 1963 to 1966. After that, only one mace was used until 2013, when the new Constitution reinstated the Senate. Former President Jomo Kenyatta officially brought the maces to Parliament on December 14, 1964, symbolizing the constitutional authority of the two houses derived from Kenyans (Parliament of Kenya).

Symbolism and Function of the Mace

The mace is an essential part of parliamentary regalia, providing credence and legality to the assembly of Members of Parliament. The Speaker of the Legislative Council, Mr. Cavendish Bentick, received the first mace in 1958 from the Crown Prince. Since then, the mace has been integral to parliamentary proceedings in Kenya (Kahawa Tungu). In Kenya, the mace is symbolic at the National Assembly, Senate, and all 47 county assemblies. The Serjeant-at-Arms, who is responsible for enforcing standing orders and maintaining order and decorum, also performs ceremonial duties, including carrying the mace to and from the House during sessions (Parliament of Kenya).

Recent Controversies

The theft of the ceremonial mace from the Nairobi County Assembly has significant implications. The mace is a symbol of authority and legality in parliamentary procedures. Without it, the assembly cannot conduct formal business, as it signifies the Speaker’s authority and the assembly’s legitimacy. Consequently, assembly sittings may be delayed until a replacement is acquired or the original is recovered.

The Nairobi County Assembly had already faced controversy over its plan to purchase a new 18-carat gold-plated mace for KSh 30 million, a decision defended by the Speaker as necessary for maintaining standard parliamentary protocol. This procurement is part of the county’s budget and has faced criticism for its high cost amidst other pressing needs (The Star, According to the Annual Development Plan 2023-2024, this acquisition will cost taxpayers a substantial amount of KSh 30 million. The tender documents specify that the mace will weigh between 10 kg and 10.5 kg, with a height of approximately 1.2 meters (The Star, The plan has faced criticism from various quarters, including MCAs who argue that the funds could be better used for other urgent needs. MCA Robert Alai stated, “It’s wrong for the Nairobi City County Assembly to buy a new mace as if that’s the most urgent thing. There are many things which should be spent on. A mace shouldn’t be a priority” (The Star, While the purchase of the mace and the Finance Act are related through the county’s budgetary processes, the mace purchase was not explicitly part of the controversial national Finance Bill 2024, which has also faced significant public backlash and protests (Kenyan Wall Street).


The controversy surrounding the mace highlights the tension between maintaining parliamentary traditions and addressing more immediate fiscal priorities. In a symbolic battle, the Kenyan youth took back what is rightfully theirs—the mace and its power—because their representatives have not used its power to the benefit of the citizens. As the country navigates these turbulent times, the symbolic power of the mace remains a focal point of both legislative authority and public dissent. Chest-thumping, opulence-flaunting state officials have angered their youth, with some opting for a dismissive demeanor towards the struggling population that they rode on to power. Understanding the significance of the mace and its role in parliamentary processes offers crucial insight into the gravity of the current crisis. The events of yesterday are a stark reminder of the delicate balance between tradition and progress, authority and rebellion, in Kenya’s ongoing journey towards democracy. The theft of the mace can be seen as the people reclaiming the power they vested in their politicians and the taxes they pay, emphasizing a profound discontent with how their resources and rights are being managed.


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