Kenya: Dilemma in DP Lieutenants Joining BBI Meetings

26 January 2020

Picture a scenario where Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga is seated on a podium as the chief guest of a Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) regional consultative meeting in central Kenya and Deputy President William Ruto lands in a helicopter in a nearby field for the same rally.

It is difficult to visualise the magnitude of protocol confusion such a scenario can throw a rally of that kind into. Yet some are whetting their appetite for such drama.

"We will be requesting the DP as well to attend the rallies and as you know protocol demands that he gets full honours due to him. Once that happens, it will be clear to Kenyans who wields more power and who commands a larger following," says Pokot South MP David Pkosing.

But National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed vows to thwart such a plot.

Claiming Dr Ruto holds the DP title but is politically junior to his party boss, Mr Mohamed says, "We will place him (Ruto) where he belongs, and the earlier he comes to terms with that the better for us all."

The last three BBI meetings in Kisii, Kakamega and Mombasa had Mr Odinga as chief guest.

PROTOCOL CONCERNS

Noting the arrangement at the Bomas of Kenya, where Mr Odinga spoke last after Dr Ruto during the launch of the BBI report, ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna argues the same protocol on BBI matters will be maintained.

If Dr Ruto joins the rallies, political observers warn that small battles are likely to emerge over protocol and control of who speaks and the subject of that speech, thereby frustrating the process.

"Any attempts by either side to control the process amounts to a political move which will be countered by opponents. Disagreements are imminent and chances of one team bolting out and rolling out parallel rallies, where hard politics will be at play are high," opines political scientist Dr Richard Bosire.

Already the generals of the two rival camps are speaking at cross purposes. Speaking on NTV in a live interview on Thursday, Dr Ruto hit out at unnamed people, who he said must stop arrogating themselves the prefect role of who should attend the BBI rallies and the contributions they should make.

"There are people who have been looking for an opportunity to create camps in this country -- us versus them kind of situation. But I read their scheme beforehand and we will not give them the opportunity to create camps and to divide Kenyans," DP Ruto vowed.

PURSUE INCLUSIVITY

And while welcoming Dr Ruto and his allies on board, Mr Odinga warned against manoeuvres to sabotage the process..

"This is a people's process and I do not think anybody can stop it," he said during a meeting with senators from the Mt Kenya region.

On Tuesday, senators and National Assembly MPs allied to the DP declared they would participate in BBI regional consultative meetings.

Through a statement read by Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, they said they had decided to be part of the process "in order to pursue the original spirit of the BBI, which is inclusivity".

But Mr Murkomen warned that where necessary, "We would take charge of these public rallies".

Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa has welcomed the development, saying it gives Kenyans an opportunity for an all-inclusive national process.

However, alive to the underlying political overtones, Mr Wamalwa appeals to political leaders to be more tolerant and accommodative.

"We do not have to agree on anything, but we can disagree without being disagreeable. The notion of sharing a podium by players from different political camps is going to test our maturity and I have talked to our leaders and urged total sobriety," Wamalwa told the Sunday Nation.

POLITICAL RELEVANCE

Judging from the watershed meeting in Kisii County on January 10, Dr Bosire says it became apparent the BBI meetings were going to pick momentum and shape the country's political landscape ahead of the forthcoming elections in 2022.

"My observation then was that these meetings were unstoppable and given the Nyanza instance where all elected leaders, except two or three, got on board, including those who are allied to Ruto and the fence-sitters, it was obvious that it was only a matter of time before a calculative politician got on board," observes Dr Bosire, the University of Nairobi lecturer.

According to the don, the Ruto team has been compelled by circumstances to get on board for the sake of political relevance and visibility, which the rival team has been enjoying unabated.

A politician from the Eastern region concurs: "We dissected the situation and realised that Raila was capturing the imagination of the people. A decision was made that we stop him from hogging the limelight and there is no better time than now after he has exhausted business in his three key strongholds of Nyanza, Western and Coast."

Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot sums up the salient strategy of the Jubilee team: "We shall go to these rallies with an open mind -- gentle as doves but wise as serpents."

"We know what ODM will try, but we do not care, as Jubilee controls a larger part of the country. So whatever they do let them be ready when they come to our home turfs as well. In simple terms, let's be respectful to each other and build a Kenya we can all be proud of," he says.

'ENEMIES OF GROWTH'

On the flip side, though, politicians allied to the DP may just be playing into the net of their opponents, who have been itching to have a political contest with them over the BBI.

According to Mr Sifuna, there is sufficient ground to doubt the sincerity of Ruto allies in the process "owing to their double-speak".

The ODM spokesperson said they are monitoring events cautiously before engaging another gear.

"Ruto's last-minute entry is equivalent to the biblical King Herod insisting on viewing the bodies of male children he ordered killed. Those of us who have nurtured this BBI baby from the time it was born will not allow anyone to take its life away."

Mr Mohamed says Dr Ruto and his allies have all along "bastardised" the process, with [Senator] Murkomen even suggesting the handshake is the biggest con game in Kenya's history, when BBI is a product of the very handshake.

Noting that Dr Ruto is on record claiming the creation of positions in government was tantamount to constitutionalising big tribes and marginalising small one, Mr Mohamed poses: "Why can't he then relinquish his quest for the presidency and allow Jubilee to field a candidate from a small tribe?"

PRIME MINISTER POST

But Mr Pkosing points out that it is the ODM party that is playing games on the BBI product.

The Orange party, he observes, wants an executive prime minister position and a powerless President, as per the resolutions of the Kisii rally.

"They realised they never got this in BBI I and now want to push for it in BBI II. Their concern revolves around raw power, while we are keener on a conversation that touches on the lives of our people, like altering the crazy situation in Pokot, where the cost of milk is cheaper than that of water," he says.

Indeed, Jubilee politicians are promising to redirect the narrative of the current rallies, saying they are focused more on the 2022 politics, with DP Ruto as the main target of attack.

"We will be participating in the rallies partly to confirm whether or not BBI is a national or a certain group's project. If we are not given a fair chance to participate or are booed on stage, we will chart our own course," Mr Pkosing says.

DETERMINED TO WIN

Claiming Jubilee controls two thirds of the country, Mr Cheruiyot pokes holes in the rivals' strategy of utilising "inconsequential politicians" in Jubilee-allied regions to drive the BBI campaign.

For properly mobilised meetings, the senator instead appeals for inclusion of mainstream popular politicians.

With the ongoing ping pong, Mr Wamalwa is alive to the challenges ahead. "There could be an element of mischief in the merger, but we shall ensure the process moves forward without delays and derailment. Any moves to frustrate the process will not succeed, because BBI has to happen."

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