A phone call from President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday evening was enough to convince Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi and Ford Kenya boss Moses Wetangula to attend the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) meeting at Bukhungu Stadium in Kakamega Saturday.
It has emerged that the President was concerned that the absence of Mr Mudavadi at the meeting graced by Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party chief Raila Odinga and other leaders, would have sent wrong signals and scuttle much needed support for the BBI, which is proposing various constitutional and legislative changes.
The Bukhungu meeting was the second BBI public engagement exercise after the Kisii one last weekend.
There had been initial efforts by leaders from the region, including Cotu secretary general Francis Atwoli and Devolution cabinet secretary Eugene Wamalwa to ensure the two did not keep away or attend the banned parallel rally in Mumias.
While CS Wamalwa admitted in an interview on Friday that his efforts had not borne fruit, Mr Atwoli appeared to take credit for convincing Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetangula to attend.
On Friday afternoon, Mr Wetangula had confirmed to Sunday Nation that he and Mr Mudavadi would not attend the Mumias meeting.
But their positions changed after the call from State House.
According to sources who spoke in confidence, the President regretted the lack of consultation in the organisation of the meeting even as he told Mr Mudavadi that his differences with the ODM leader in the National Super Alliance (Nasa) should not stop him from attending.
Having been convinced, it was then Mr Mudavadi's turn to convince Mr Wetang'ula to attend the meeting.
Confirming the phone call, Sabatia MP Alfred Agoi, a key ally of Mr Mudavadi regretted what he called the lack of structured engagement in the process despite the BBI steering committee being in place.
"It is not strange or unusual for the Head of State to call my party leader and engage in a conversation. They always talk and the latest conversation about attending the Bukhungu meeting should not be an exception," Mr Agoi said.
The two leaders, by virtue of their political seniority in the Western region, had planned to stay away from the Bukhungu meeting on account of not being consulted, and that the meeting had been hijacked by 2022 political interests.
"Mudavadi explained his misgivings that the meeting had been turned into a decoy for promotion of political interests as opposed to the BBI ideals. But the President told him that he needed his support," one of the sources, a former member of parliament close to the President, said.
Curiously, ANC secretary general and Mudavadi's close associate Barrack Muluka said he had no idea how his party leader's decision to attend the meeting came about, adding that he was not privy to the last minute intervention.
"He (Mudavadi) only told me yesterday (Friday) evening that he will be in Bukhungu for the BBI meeting. The rest is neither here nor there," Mr Muluka, who has equally not had kind words for the BBI, said curtly when asked whether he knew about the President Kenyatta's call.
Addressing the rally, Mr Mudavadi said he has never been opposed to the BBI process and his only position was that it should be about the interests of Kenyans and not individuals.
"I have arrived because I am Kenyan and I am born here and when important matters are being discussed I must be there. I am your son, I am a Kenyan and I am your son ... and I am here to dispel rumours and hearsay that I don't support BBI because I have been involved since the launch of this process," he stated.
"My position has been very clear from the start, however, that it should be about the common man's interests and not about individuals, and that Kenyans must read the report and give their views. So who are you to say Musalia is against the report?" he asked.
He added that his biggest wish for BBI was for it to bring safeguards that will see Kenya's economy grow to a level that all Kenyans can put food on their tables.
"We support it. Let us discuss it soberly and hear the opinions on this because there is always someone with a better idea," he stated.
He said there should be no bloodshed in the country because of BBI.
On December 22, 2019, the President and the ANC boss were in Garissa County for the unveiling of an army barracks as well as the inauguration of the 50MW solar power plant in Balambala.
Both Mudavadi and Wetang'ula have never forgiven Mr Odinga "for keeping them in the dark" over the events that led up to his now famous handshake with President Kenyatta.
According to Mr Agoi, the two leaders felt slighted and their opposition to the Bukhungu meeting was a clear message to the President that the ODM leader cannot organise a meeting in their backyard without their involvement and expect them to attend.
In fact, Mr Mudavadi had no kind word words for the meeting, saying that it has become a series of the many regional meetings planned not to drum support for the BBI report launched on November 26, last year, but to campaign against him.
He also noted that the public was yet to have copies of the BBI report to validate their initial views or give informed new views, adding that "there is no way you can gather views from a bussed crowd in a stadium."
"We wonder what views can be gathered from leaders and a public that have not seen or read the BBI report. The disgrace of the Kisii rally is a study case in how not to manage serious issues that concern constitutional changes," Mr Mudavadi said last week.
The ANC boss was not done yet with the BBI meetings: "These regional meetings are therefore actually biased political rallies where paid participants will be whipped to pass ready-made partisan resolutions tailored to fit desired results."
Senator Wetang'ula said he has taken part in constitutional forums in the country and it was important to trace where the rains started beating Kenyans.
"Now we must make Kenyans the centre of BBI and not individuals. There are nine pillars in this initiative, let us not run with only one and forget the other eight," he stated.
He said Luhya leaders would not allow themselves to be despised by outsiders.
"Let it not be that if we don't agree with you then I am your enemy," he said. "We have come with Musalia, you have seen us, we are not strangers in Kenya, we have the right to be here and have, we shall be and remain here to talk and bargain and chart the way forward," he stated.
As a protest, Mr Mudavadi, Mr Wetang'ula and MPs from the region allied to Deputy President William Ruto, had gone on to plan a parallel meeting in Mumias, a few kilometres away, to counter the Bukhungu meeting.
But the meeting did not go on after it was cancelled and a heavy contingent of police officers in riot gear deployed to cordon the venue.
On Monday last week, through a gazette notice, President Kenyatta extended the mandate of the 14-member BBI team until June this year.
According to the terms of reference (ToRs), the BBI team will be required to distil the BBI report with a view of separating administrative, policy, and statutory as well as constitutional issues.
The import of this is to have those issues that do not require a referendum passed first before the popular vote is called at a later stage.
During the conversation with the President, Mr Mudavadi is also said to have raised the issue of lack of stimulus packages for sugarcane and maize farmers compared to their coffee, tea and milk counterparts from the Mount Kenya region.
According to the source, the President said that he had not received the Mumias Sugar Task force Report seven months after it was formed. Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and sacked Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri co-chaired the task force.
"The president assured the ANC party leader that he has since requested for the report and will make necessary policy directives in a rescue plan that will ensure the interests of farmers from the region are catered for," said the source.
In his directive on Tuesday, President Kenyatta told the National Treasury to release over Sh1 billion to address problems in the tea, coffee, milk and rice sectors.