Why British Prime Minister Theresa May Got 19-Gun Salute Instead of 21

  • British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday visited State House, Nairobi as part her visit to Africa which also saw her tour Nigeria and South Africa.

    In her honour, the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) mounted a parade at State House Nairobi and accorded the visiting Premier a 19-gun salute.

    This is notably two guns less of the famous 21-gun which many people are accustomed to witnessing.

    However, a review of the 17th-century gun salute tradition that originated from maritime practice reveals the reason behind this obvious disparity.

    When a warship visited a foreign port, it would discharge all its guns to show that they were empty hence rendering a state of helplessness until the guns were reloaded.

    Given that reloading guns was a rigorous process which could not be achieved before a ship was within the range of shore batteries, the gun salute was a clear demonstration of friendly intentions by going in with empty guns.

    The practice required ships to fire only seven guns, the forts ashore would then fire three shots to each one shot afloat, hence the number 21.

    The now honour-bestowing tradition borrowed from the US indicates that 19-gun salutes are reserved for the Prime Ministers, Vice Presidents, foreign deputy heads of state, and cabinet members.

    On the other hand, a 21-gun salute is also rendered for foreign Heads of State and members of the reigning royal family.

    In the case of the British PM, she falls in the former category given that she is second in command in the UK after the Queen.

    On July 11, 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was equally honoured with a 19-gun salute in Nairobi while visiting Israel Premier Benjamin Netanyahu received 19-gun honour on August 21, 2018.

    The gun salutes descend depending on the political position of the visiting leader from 21, 19, 17, 15, 13, 11, 9, 7 and the lowest 5 which is given to Vice-consuls and consular agents.

    In Israel, gun salutes have been abolished due to the many terror attacks the country had suffered in the past, forming a perception that firing of arms was a negative gesture.

    Israel, a Middle East powerhouse only allows three-volley salute in military funerals.

    Gun salutes are the most commonly recognized form of military honour that is performed by firing of cannons or artillery.

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