As the launch of the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS), dubbed Huduma Namba, got under way on Tuesday, the question was not which leaders were playing a leading role, but which one was not.
The schedule of leaders overseeing the activity — which included the main opposition chiefs — had been released at the weekend.
President Uhuru Kenyatta would be in Machakos, while Deputy President William Ruto was scheduled to oversee the launch in Kakamega.
But Mr Ruto did not show up in Kakamega. Instead, he hosted a delegation from Cuba in Nairobi.
Key opposition figures, including ODM leader Raila Odinga, former vice president Kalonzo Musyoka, Amani National Congress chief Musalia Mudavadi and Ford-K leader Moses Wetang’ula gave the Sh6 billion project a boost by unveiling it in Mombasa, Murang’a and Kajiado counties.
President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, who termed the launch a milestone for the country, said the unity between the government officials and the opposition signalled an end of tribalism in the country.
“Today, Raila Odinga is in Mombasa, Musalia Mudavadi in Kajiado, and Kalonzo Musyoka in Murang’a leading the NIIMS registration. Today marks the end of tribalism in Kenya. Let us celebrate our nationhood as a people,” Mr Kenyatta said at the Masii public grounds.
President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga have been facing a backlash from Mr Ruto’s allies for working together and on Tuesday roped in other opposition leaders, including Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula, who have been fashioning themselves as the true opposition.
Thanks to the launch, Kenya joins other nations such as the US, the United Arabs Emirates, India and Australia, which have successfully used integrated data systems to manage their citizens’ information.
The launch came ahead of Thursday’s State of the Nation address by the President.
The address has been preceded by a war of words between supporters of President Kenyatta and those of Mr Ruto over the ongoing war on graft and the Head of State’s handshake with Mr Odinga that has threatened to split the Jubilee Party.
In Kakamega, a last-minute communication of Mr Ruto’s absence to the public who had turned up for the exercise dampened the mood at the high-profile function at Kambi ya Mwanza in Malava Constituency.
Conspicuously, however, the statement from the President’s Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU) indicated that “Deputy President William Ruto simultaneously kicked off the exercise in Kakamega County”.
The PSCU further noted that it was a “historic demonstration of national unity and common purpose”.
The statement was later edited to remove information about the deputy president.
Mr Ruto had been expected to arrive at Kambi ya Mwanza market at 9am.
Instead, he was represented by Sports and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed, who was accompanied by her counterparts Eugene Wamalwa (Devolution) and Mwangi Kiunjuri (Agriculture).
A last-minute change in the programme sparked confusion at the event. Kakamega County Commissioner Abdirizak Jaldesa had earlier confirmed that Mr Ruto would officially launch the exercise.
“The DP would have been here to launch the Huduma Namba registration but because of exigencies of duty he could not make it. He is meeting the Cuban deputy president who is in the country on an official visit,” Ms Mohamed said.
Also present at the event was the host, Mr Wycliffe Oparanya, the governor for Kakamega.
The Cuban vice president flew into the country on Sunday for a series of events.
Malava MP Malulu Injendi, a close ally of the DP, and his Ikolomani counterpart Bernard Shinali were at the function, signalling the possibility of Mr Ruto attending.
In Mombasa, Mr Odinga, who launched the identification system in Likoni, said Mr Ruto was to spearhead the exercise in Kakamega, but President Kenyatta did not mention the DP in Machakos when he acknowledged Mr Musyoka’s attendance in Murang’a and Mr Mudavadi’s in Kajiado.
Political analysts believe Mr Ruto could have been irked by the involvement of his Opposition rivals in the launch of a government project, a thing that could put him on a political collision path with his boss, President Kenyatta.
Reported by Lucas Barasa, Kennedy Kimanthi, Kitavi Mutua, Mohamed Ahmed, Benson Amadala Stanley Ngotho and Ndungu Gachane