As more politicians allied to Deputy President William Ruto get on board the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) train, the planning and execution of the rallies led by Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga is beginning to experience problems.
The central role played by Mr Odinga is increasingly causing disquiet and loud murmurs among the backers of DP Ruto, and even some who are allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Those allied to the DP, like Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot, are openly questioning Mr Odinga’s legal mandate in leading the BBI drive.
Mr Cheruiyot claims the former prime minister is misusing this privilege “kindly donated to him by the president” to disrespect President Kenyatta, his deputy and the entire Jubilee administration.
The senator and a number of Jubilee allied politicians are particularly irked by Mr Odinga’s buzzlines in rallies, to the effect that Uhuru is not a legitimate winner of the 2017 polls, following nullification of his win by the Supreme Court and subsequently “running against himself” in the repeat poll, which Odinga boycotted.
“In fact, in Mombasa and Kitui rallies, he said the president ran alone in the 2017 elections like a mad man. This is a major turn off to most of us in Jubilee and it is strange that we continue according Raila, who speaks with a lot of contempt against our president and the Jubilee government, opportunity to undermine the government,” Mr Cheruiyot told the Sunday Nation.
But National Assembly’s Minority Leader John Mbadi says Mr Cheruiyot’s sentiments are those of an “aggrieved party, who at the slightest opportunity wants to wedge a rift between Mr Odinga and the president”.
Mr Mbadi pointed out that Mr Odinga means well in his efforts to forge a united country.
Nonetheless, interviews with MPs allied to Jubilee, including those in the so-called Kieleweke camp who are in support of the Kenyatta-Odinga handshake, reveal simmering rage and disapproval of Mr Odinga’s “constant mockery of our President”.
“This talk of the president not having won the poll legitimately and him entering into a truce with Uhuru as an equal having been sworn at Uhuru Park is now a tired phrase. It is quite discomforting but we cannot react openly,” a vocal Kieleweke MP from Central Kenya said.
But even within his own ODM party, there are some who cringe in shame and disapproval whenever their party leader goes down memory lane on how the truce was conceived.
According to a politician from the Coast region, Mr Odinga’s narrative only serves to hand Dr Ruto and his allies political ammunition to hit back at their party leader and appeal to the president to rethink his working strategy with Mr Odinga.
“I do not think that narrative serves any useful purpose for him or this country. I don’t know why he keeps reverting to it each time. It is simply a divisive narrative, but unfortunately Tinga (Mr Odinga) never listens to us,” said the politician.
However, Mr Mbadi maintains that Mr Odinga’s sentiments are often taken out of context: “His words about one running alone like a mad man, for instance, is a common idiom in his native Dholuo language and is not a personal attack on the president”.
The ODM party chairman attributed Mr Odinga’s repeated use of this narrative to the fact that he is “a good narrator who likes contextualising his message”, in this case by giving the background of the peace deal.
“Our party leader is keen on electoral injustice, and his focus on the 2017 poll is solely for purposes of ensuring the same is not repeated. In any case, he has reminded us that he and the president agreed to talk openly about their past experiences,” said Mr Mbadi.
The ODM chairman’s explanation notwithstanding, ODM’s dominance in the BBI drive raises concern for many.
Senator Cheruiyot observed that despite support from other parties, including those within Jubilee, Mr Odinga’s party allegedly designs the rally timetable and decides who speaks.
National Assembly’s Majority Leader Aden Duale will, for instance, be missing in today’s rally in Garissa Town, his own constituency.
The MP told Sunday Nation on Friday night that he would skip the event, the first in northern Kenya, partly because he does not belong to the same political camp with the rally’s key organisers.
“I can only be comfortable to attend a function graced by my party bosses — President Uhuru and DP Ruto — who I have gathered will not be attending. And while I support the BBI, the timing of the rally is also not good for us, owing to the insecurity and teaching crisis in the region,” he said.
While the rallies in Kisii, Kakamega, Mombasa and Kitui counties, which are largely regarded as Mr Odinga’s political strongholds, went on smoothly, the current phase of rallies in Narok, Garissa, Meru and Nakuru counties has become problematic.
Residents in these regions largely voted for President Kenyatta and Dr Ruto. The notion of inclusivity in the Odinga-led drive is also increasingly proving a hot potato, thanks to clashing political and tribal interests.
Political observers anticipate more roadblocks ahead of Mr Odinga, as the rallies move to regions where Jubilee enjoyed overwhelming support in the 2017 polls.
But ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna offers no apologies for his party’s dominance of the BBI drive.
“You must give ODM the credit for staying the cause, otherwise this baby would have long been cannibalised by Herod-like political leaders,” he said.
Mr Sifuna regards BBI as ODM’s baby, which the party has nurtured firmly even after being allegedly deserted by National Super Alliance co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula during Mr Odinga’s mock swearing-in ceremony in January 2018.
“Hon Raila and ODM are, therefore, rightly in charge of this process because if we would not have stood firm after Kalonzo, Mudavadi and Wetangula fell by the wayside and withstood the Jubilee government’s harassment, we would not be having this national conversation today,” he said.
Mr Duale has called for sobriety in the BBI discourse and countrywide rallies. “As majority leader in Parliament, I do not wish to get sucked into a divisive exercise. Instead, I want to maintain my neutrality on this subject,” he said.
Mr Duale’s position has been gaining currency within the political class as the BBI potato gets hot by the day.
In fact, according to the Garissa Town MP, “many issues and variables are emerging in this exercise and at the end of it, there could be totally fresh re-alignments”.