Details of a closed-door meeting President Uhuru Kenyatta had with Luo Nyanza leaders at the Kisumu State Lodge on Thursday night show a people who are out to forge a common political path with their central Kenya counterparts.
While the agenda was said to include development projects the leaders want the national government to implement in the region, the meeting was full of political undertones and overtures in what may shape the country’s politics going forward.
Multiple interviews with those present show that Siaya Senator James Orengo set the tone when he urged President Kenyatta to consider backing Mr Odinga in 2022 in "the spirit of the March 9 handshake", almost veering off the agenda.
"We would be happy if your excellency considers offering your support for Mr Odinga to continue with your March 9 peace deal of uniting the country and enhancing good governance," Mr Orengo reportedly told the President.
He said the Head of State should demonstrate political goodwill by passing the baton to the ODM leader. Others weighed in.
Besides the compensation to victims of the post-election violence of 2007/08 from the region, other priority areas the leaders asked President Kenyatta to address include reviving the ailing sugar industry, the revamping of the lake economy and the eradication of the hyacinth weed, which is choking Lake Victoria as well as the improvement of the road network in the region.
Speakers at the meeting argued that victims of the poll violence from the region were left out when their counterparts from other parts of the country were compensated by the government.
The leaders also impressed upon the Mr Kenyatta to have the Standard Gauge Railway run from Naivasha to Kisumu to open up the region to economic opportunities.
There had been reports that some Rift Valley politicians are keen to have the railway line diverted to Eldoret town onwards to Malava border post, bypassing Kisumu.
Mr Orengo’s request that Mr Kenyatta backs Mr Odinga in 2022, were it to be granted, puts the President in a Catch-22 situation: There is the question of legacy on which he needs Mr Odinga’s support.
There is also the question of the demand to honour a pre-election deal with his Deputy William Ruto to back him. When the Jubilee formed in 2012, months before 2013 elections; President Kenyatta’s then National Alliance joined forces with Mr Ruto’s United Republican Party and a number of other allied parties. They later merged in 2016 to form the Jubilee Party.
The leaders regretted that their long stay in the opposition had seen the region lag behind and needed Mr Kenyatta’s help to ensure it catches up with other parts of the country.
The memorandum presented by Seme MP James Nyikal, who is the chairman of the Luo caucus of MPs (Duol), on behalf of the group saw the meeting go slightly past midnight, having started at around 7pm.
Mr Kenyatta is said to have been pleased by the warm reception he got in a region he could hardly campaign in during last year’s election.
Governors, their deputies, senators and MPs from the region attended and while the President and Mr Odinga did not directly respond to the leaders’ 2022 succession politics, one of those in attendance said they were keenly following the subject.
The President is reported to have at some point said he did not have any problem with the suggestion to pass the baton to Mr Odinga but was quick to add that "only God knows who will take the mantle".
Speaking in Kiswahili, President Kenyatta reportedly told the leaders that as long as they agreed to work with him, they shall cross the bridge when they got to it.
"Ndugu zangu na dada zangu mimi sina shida na mtu yeyote bora tu mkubali tufanye kazi pamoja basi tugange yajayo (My brothers and sisters, I have no issues will your suggestion but let work together and see what the future has)," the President said.
Earlier, a delegation from Gusiiland had been asked to leave the presidential tent at the request of the State as the President wanted to first have word with their Luo Nyanza counterparts.
“You are kindly requested to excuse yourselves as the President wishes to meet elected leaders from Luo Nyanza excluding the MCAs,” Mr Orengo said.
Kisii Governor James Ongwae, his Nyamira counterpart John Nyagarama, Kisii Senator Sam Ongeri and Kitutu Chache North MP Jimmy Angwenyi were among those who walked out.
Mr Ongwae corrected the impression that Gusii leaders were ejected from the President's meeting in Kisumu. Instead, he said they had come out of it as the President had a separate agenda for the leaders from the Luo community, which did not invite their presence.
“As usual it was an in-house matter and as leaders from Kisii we later had ours with him. The agenda with the President usually remains ever the same; development," said governor Ongwae.
DP William Ruto, who had earlier on accompanied the Head of State and Mr Odinga in their visits, did not attend, so did his ally, the Migori Governor Okoth Obado.
President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga had earlier on presided over the launch of the pilot phase of the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) programme at the Mamboleo showground.
President Kenyatta also presided over the ground breaking of the Ahero interchange and inspected the Sh7.6 billion Kakamega-Kisumu Road works at Mamboleo junction.
Meanwhile, the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology (JOOUST) on Friday honoured the President and Mr Odinga with honorary doctorates due to their peace initiatives following their March 9 deal.
The two leaders were conferred on honorary doctorates at the institution’s main campus in Siaya County when it held its 6th graduation ceremony.