Politicians who have been waiting to hop from one rally to another will have to wait a little longer to address their excitable supporters after President Uhuru Kenyatta Monday extended the ban on political gatherings for 30 days.
However, the reopening of places of worship — for not more than 100 people and for one-hour services —gives those who use pulpits to push their political agenda a bit of hope. .
Deputy President William Ruto, who has perfected the art of using pulpits and is often at his best at political rallies he terms as development tours, had last weekend started hosting church leaders for events that allowed him to talk about the situation in the ruling party, where he has been pushed to the periphery.
“Many people are being threatened that they will be taken to court, others to the Kenya Revenue Authority, or the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission. Others are being told that they will be demoted or removed from office, not because they did anything wrong, but because they are friends with the Deputy President of Kenya.
‘‘And today I ask: Am I not a Kenyan too to have friends?” he told church leaders he hosted at his Sugoi home.
Not known to like press conferences or issuing of press statements, Dr Ruto prefers taking his message directly to the people at rallies, by the road, and at religious gatherings.
Also affected by the ban on political gathering is the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which was scheduled to hold its second-last rally at the Afraha Stadium — where, for the first time, Dr Ruto’s allies would have the biggest say over how it was going to be run — the weekend Covid-19 hit Kenya.
The rallies had been held in Kisii, Kakamega, Mombasa, Kitui, Narok and Meru, and at each one, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) declared that the BBI train was unstoppable.
But the coronavirus outbreak put a stop to the campaigns for 2022, a plot to impeach Dr Ruto and the BBI chorus, with infections inching close to the 8,000 mark and 150 deaths.
President Kenyatta said that “this order will bear fruit only if we exercise shared responsibility. My intention is to reopen and to remain open. The ‘claw back’ option is not on my wish list at all.
‘‘But to reopen and remain open, you must become your brother’s keeper. While the government will, no doubt, do its part to achieve the desired wish of remaining open, you, mwananchi, must also do what is expected of you personally to achieve it. This is, therefore a national call to civic responsibility.”
He added: “Civic responsibility is not a demand placed on the self by the state. It is not a demand that can be enforced. It is a duty you pay to your fellow countrymen for co-existing with them.”
And while ODM leader Raila Odinga, whose handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta in March 2018 led to the BBI process, has vowed that “nobody can stop reggae”, the virus has slammed the breaks on the process he sees as Kenya's best bet for solving its historical injustices.
But even with the order to stop political gatherings, President Kenyatta was criticised for recently meeting with over 200 MPs, first at State House, Nairobi, and later at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC). He also hosted over 20 senators at State House—still five more than the threshold of 15 set by the Ministry of Health for any gathering.
At the meetings, President Kenyatta presided over the removal of Dr Ruto loyalists in the House. National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale was replaced with Kipipiri MP Amos Kimunya, while his counterpart in the Senate, Mr Kipchumba Murkomen, was replaced with West Pokot Senator Samuel Poghisio.
Also removed were Senate Majority Whip Susan Kihika and her National Assembly counterpart Benjamin Washiali, as well as House committee chairpersons Samson Cherargei (Nandi Senator), John Kinyua (Laikipia senator), Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu MP), and William Cheptumo (Baringo North MP)..
Recently, politicians have also held large meetings in Nandi County following the murder of a civilian by a police officer.
Led by Nandi Governor Stephen Sang, Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi, and Ms Kihika, among others, the politicians defied social distancing rules at the funeral and before then, a meeting with security officials attended by Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya.
“The money allocated by the government of the Republic of Kenya for BBI rallies and referendum should now be used for a more pressing and people useful enterprise: urgent research on the coronavirus vaccine,” newly-elected Law Society of Kenya President Nelson Havi said when the first case ofCovid-19 was reported.