The stage last evening appeared set for an ugly face-off at today’s Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) meeting in Mombasa as security concerns forced a last-minute change of venue.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga announced the change from Tononoka Grounds to Mama Ngina Drive “because of the overwhelming number of people who are planning to attend the event”.
Security sources confided to the Saturday Nation that the decision was reached at following anticipated chaos, which could be hard to control at Tononoka, an open ground.
“I have talked to President Uhuru Kenyatta and Balala (Tourism CS), who agreed that we use Mama Ngina Drive for the meeting. We have seen that Tononoka ground will not be enough for the people who are willing to come to the event,” Mr Odinga announced during a closed-door meeting with hundreds of delegates at Wild Waters Centre.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, an ally of Deputy President William Ruto, claimed that some people were planning to humiliate leaders allied to the DP during the event.
“I have been threatened that if I attend the Mombasa BBI meeting, I shall be humiliated by being denied a seat, not being allowed to talk or even if I am allowed to talk I shall be heckled. If that’s what it takes to unite this country so be it, and I am ready to absorb. Lets meet in Mombasa,” he said.
The decision by allies of the DP to attend the meeting having skipped the first two, in Kisii and in Kakamega last weekend, have raised tensions with the National Police Service deploying more officers on the ground.
CURB HATE SPEECH
At the same time, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) waded into the conflict, warning that they will take action against politicians who make inflammatory remarks or incite people to violence in the Mombasa rally.
Commission chairman Samuel Kobia on Friday said that no politician has a right to take advantage of the BBI to promote their political or party agenda.
“While we welcome politicians from across the divide at the rally in Tononoka and others in Meru, Embu, Garissa, Suswa and Nairobi, the commission strongly warns participants against incitement and hate speech,” said Dr Kobia.
“NCIC will monitor closely what the participants are saying and any utterances that would lead to violence, discrimination against others whether through political persuasion or otherwise, will not be tolerated,” he added.
The commission is working closely with the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, Director of Public Prosecutions and the police in monitoring the situation with a view to arresting those spreading hate.
Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho added they changed the venue because they feared a stampede may occur.
“We were worried that there could be a stampede or something at Tononoka and that is why we have moved the rally to a spacious place, which is Mama Ngina Drive,” he told the Nation.
A security source said chaos is anticipated at the forum and surveillance has been heightened.
A survey of the two grounds indicated that it is easy to control crowd at the recently refurbished Mama Ngina Waterfront, a venue that was also used by President Kenyatta to host last year’s Mashujaa Day.
The venue can only be accessed through two ways, which if police are to guard them, they can block those that they do not want to attend the meeting.
On Friday, a press conference by four Coast MPs allied to the DP at Lotus Hotel in Mombasa Town was disrupted by irate youth armed with stones and crude weapons.
The MPs - Aisha Jumwa (Malindi), Mohammed Ali (Nyali), Athman Shariff (Lamu East) and nominated senator Christine Zawadi - were chased away shortly after they planned to address the media.
Tens of youth armed with stones and clubs blocked the legislators from accessing the hotel, forcing them to retract.
The MPs later addressed the media outside the hotel and condemned the incident, vowing to attend the BBI meeting.
"If BBI is for inclusivity, then we Coast leaders should be given time to give our views since it is happening in our region. We shall attend the Tononoka meeting," said Ms Jumwa.
She added: "What we have seen here today depicts the kind of leaders we have in Mombasa, and we know this is just part of the plan to frustrate those who have different opinions on BBI. And we expect more of such sideshows tomorrow."
"It is a pity that there is an ongoing meeting at Wild Waters for delegates which is in my constituency but I am not involved. Is this what we are calling building bridges?" asked Mr Ali.
After the incident, the MPs headed to Wild Waters where a delegates meeting to plan for the Tononoka event was being held and were allowed to attend.
Governor Joho and his Kilifi counterpart Amason Kingi warned the Tangatanga leaders against politicising the process, saying the event is a Coast affair and outsiders must come with that in mind.
Asked about the disruption of the press briefing in Mombasa, Mr Joho said condemned the incident.
“We have to be tolerant. We do not want any disruption. We want everybody to be heard in a peaceful manner,” said Mr Joho.
Tana River Governor Dhadho Godhana called on police to be vigilant and arrest anyone who plans to cause chaos.
HOLD LEADERS TO ACCOUNT
He also slammed the leaders who had planned the press briefing, saying: “Why did they call for a briefing yet they knew that the main meeting was here at Wild Waters. We do not want confusion.”
On Friday, a section of ODM MPs said that allies of the DP who will be attending the BBI meeting would be held responsible in case of any chaos.
MPs Anthony Oluoch (Mathare), Caleb Amisi (Saboti), Mark Nyamita (Uriri) and nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi said they have received intelligence reports that the Tangatanga faction is planning to cause violence in a bid to get an excuse to organise parallel meetings.
Speaking at Parliament buildings in Nairobi, the lawmakers said that the last two BBI meetings in Kisii and Kakamega have been peaceful without the DP allies.
“Their intention is to create terror, incite the masses then blame the BBI. Their body language, the words that they are using, and all the name calling point to people planning to create chaos,” Mr Oluoch said.