The first consultative meeting held in Kisii on Friday to discuss the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report has elicited mixed reactions from political leaders across the country, setting the stage for a tough political duel ahead of the 2022 polls.
The varied reactions have also seen the emergence two camps pitting those opposed to the meetings against those supporting them.
As Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party leader Raila Odinga was leading the first regional meeting, Deputy President William Ruto was in Vihiga County questioning the rationale of the meetings, calling them a waste of public funds as nobody is opposed to the report.
In a swift rejoinder, ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna on Sunday in Narok told off the DP, saying it had been agreed after the Bomas convention that meetings will kick off countrywide to rally Kenyans behind the document.
“Kenyans will point out areas which they feel might have been left out in the draft report. For example, in Maasailand, there is the issue of historical injustices,” said Mr Sifuna.
The BBI report has seen DP Ruto, Amani National Congress (ANC) party leader Musalia Mudavadi and Ford-Kenya leader Moses Wetangula read from the same script as they question the source of funding and importance of the meetings at the county level.
Mr Odinga and his ODM brigade and some Jubilee leaders, on the other hand, are leading the BBI campaigns.
The second meeting will be held in Western on January 18 amid divisions among leaders from the region.
They have threatened to give it a wide berth, saying they were not consulted.
In Trans Nzoia, some leaders, led by Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, on Sunday dismissed claims that the event was meant to endorse Mr Odinga as the region’s 2022 presidential candidate.
The leaders further denied allegations that the meeting was also geared towards endorsing a Luhya kingpin at the behest of Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary-General Francis Atwoli.
Mr Wamalwa, accompanied by governors Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), Patrick Khaemba (Trans Nzoia), Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia) and Wycliffe Wangamati (Bungoma), said the meeting would allow locals to air their views to the BBI team.
Mr Oparanya maintained that the Bukhungu meeting is meant to deliberate on the BBI report that was released on November 2019 and has nothing to do with the 2022 succession politics.
In Kisii, the DP seems to have suffered a major political setback after six of the nine MPs, who have been supporting him, decamped from the Tangatanga brigade to rivals Kieleweke and attended the BBI consultative meeting at the Kisii Sports Club.
Two of the MPs — Mr Ezekiel Machogu (Nyaribari Masaba) and Mr Oroo Oyioka (Bonchari) — have publicly denounced their association with the DP and vowed to support Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i.
Mr Richard Tong’i (Nyaribari Chache) and Prof Zadoc Ogutu (Bomachoge Borabu) also showed up for the meetings.
The presence, at the meeting, of Kuria East MP Marwa Kitayama, who has been a key supporter of DP Ruto in Migori County, has also sent tongues wagging.
Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho appealed to Coast leaders to unite and start warming up for the BBI campaigns.
The ODM deputy party leader said the BBI will ‘rescue’ the region from economic marginalisation.
Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui raised concerns over the unavailability of the BBI report to the public after its official launch.
And speaking in Vihiga, Mr Mudavadi criticised the regional consultative meetings, saying they are meant to raise political temperatures ahead of the 2022 elections.
Mr Wetangula accused Mr Odinga of using Governor Oparanya and Mr Atwoli to divide the people of Western.
However, leaders from the region allied to Mr Odinga and led by Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala insisted that the Bukhungu meeting will go on as planned.
Mr Odinga, addressing the gathering in Kisii, said the country should be prepared to go for a referendum by June this year.
“We want the referendum to come before June. We have also instructed ward representatives to take this conversation to the grassroots,” Mr Odinga said.
In Ukambani, some politicians, led by former Machakos senator Johnson Muthama, dismissed the BBI report, saying it is meant to give two families a lifeline in politics after the 2022 elections.
“If Uhuru wants to become a respected statesman, he must retire honourably,” he said, adding that a majority of the politicians do not appear bothered by the tribulations of the masses.
Reporting by Samwel Owino, Ruth Mbula, Shaban Makokha, Brian Ojamaa, Lilian Mutavi Winnie Atieno, Eric Matara and George Sayagie