Prepare to go to a referendum by June this year, Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga said in Kisii County on Friday during the rollout of the countrywide Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) meetings.
In what promises to set the 2020 political tempo, Mr Odinga said the country should vote to change the Constitution this year.
He was addressing a rally moments after a meeting with 3,000 delegates. Mr Odinga appeared to echo Siaya Senator James Orengo’s recent sentiments.
“We want the referendum to come before June. We have also instructed ward representatives to take this conversation to the grassroots. This is what is called national conversation,” Mr Odinga said at Gusii stadium.
Two Cabinet secretaries and at least 13 governors held a meeting at Kisii Sports Club, alongside some 3,000 selected delegates from the larger Nyanza region.
But in what signals the beginning of an all-out war with President Uhuru Kenyatta, Mr Odinga and their allies, Deputy President William Ruto said the BBI meetings are a waste of public funds and resources.
“These political mobilisation forums are a new twist. No one is opposed to the BBI. Why this campaign and what is it about? Is it aimed at misusing public funds?” Mr Ruto asked at a rally in Vihiga County, about 130 kilometres away.
The DP said the report should be implemented as it is so as to allow the country implement its development agenda.
“When the report was released, leaders agreed to give enough copies to the people to read by themselves and make a decision,” he said.
Initially, Mr Ruto appeared to embrace the BBI. Analysts said he did so in the hope that any proposed changes to the laws of the land would go to parliament, where he is believed to enjoy the support of the majority.
With matters seeming to be headed the referendum way, pundits say it is not surprising to hear him express reservations as the process may get out of his control.
Should he come out to openly to oppose the BBI in the event of a referendum, it would not be the first time Mr Ruto would be going against the grain.
Mr Ruto and the Church campaigned against the new Constitution in 2010.
Some of the DP’s handlers want him to oppose the vote purposely to test his 2022 campaign machinery and be able to make adjustments.
It was the presence of Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and his Devolution counterpart Eugene Wamalwa in Kisii that left little doubt that the meeting had been sanctioned by the government.
No Ruto-leaning minister, such as Agriculture’s Mwangi Kiunjuri, was at the Kisii rally.
Some analysts believe Dr Matiang’i’s presence was meant to serve two purposes: rally the community behind the BBI and send a clear signal that the BBI meetings are a government project.
There are loud murmurs of the CS being a presidential candidate in 2022.
Other than the host James Ongwae, another 17 governors addressed the gathering.
Kirinyaga County boss Anne Waiguru, Kitui’s Charity Ngilu, Hassan Joho (Mombasa) and Prof Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) are playing a prominent role in the BBI forums.
Kakamega’s Wycliffe Oparanya said he spoke on behalf of the Council of Governors.
Governors Amason Kingi (Kilifi), Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia), Anyang’ Nyong’o (Kisumu), Cornel Rasanga (Siaya), Okoth Obado (Migori), Cyprian Awiti (Homa Bay) and John Nyagarama (Nyamira) gave short speeches.
Some of the meeting organisers hinted at the significance of settling on Kisii as the starting point.
They said it would ring-fence the region, which is prominently within the radar of the DP in his State House bid.
Mr Odinga said the other parts of the country would have similar meetings in the coming weeks.
“We need to stand together as Kenyans. Nyanza is just one part of Kenya. If Nyanza unites, the rest of Kenya will unite. We will move to all parts of Kenya to inform citizens that the donkey is tired. Kenyans want change,” Mr Odinga said, calling Dr Matiang’i his son.
“He is ‘chap chap'. And just as he has said, we are together in this with the President.”
On January 18, governors from former Western province will converge at Bukhungu stadium, Kakamega, for a BBI meeting.
President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga are expected to attend. Going by the draft schedule, Coast will be next.
“I welcome you all for a similar event in Kakamega on January 18. We are ready to host you. Western people support BBI because devolution is entrenched in the report. And 35 per cent of the national budget going to counties is not enough. We want 45 per cent,” Mr Oparanya said.
“BBI also talks of inclusivity. Many people feel marginalised.”
Dr Matiang’i said it is the first time Nyanza residents are coming together, “thanks to the handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga”.
“One way to move forward is by Members of the County Assembly holding ward conventions. BBI proposes that resources move to the wards. Before the handshake, we never thought we would be in a meeting without teargas,” the minister said.
“I’m one of the beneficiaries of the counsel and guidance from my brother Otiende (Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo) and Senator Orengo. They tell me I’m young and guide me how to go about some of these things.”
He said poverty is rampant in Nyanza because the region is not united.
“Never again should we see things differently. We have in the past missed out on the strength of coming together. The document should be taken to the grassroots,” he said.
Some leaders and residents of the wider Gusii have never fully embraced Mr Odinga for refusing to back one-time regional supremo Simeon Nyachae during the 2002 presidential election.
Mr Odinga campaigned for Mr Mwai Kibaki, who emerged victorious.
Mr Wamalwa said counties in western Kenya would follow in the footsteps of Nyanza to unite.
“I have been invited here as an observer. Nyanza is the first to hold the BBI consultative meeting. Congratulations. We are taking the example of Nyanza to all other regions in the country,” the minister said.
Mr Joho said BBI would guarantee equity and fairness. “Some people believe that when you talk about the presidency, it is a favour to some regions. We must create a country where everyone is equal,” the Mombasa County boss said.
“We cannot have a country where blood is shed every election year.”
The governor also said the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission team that oversaw the last poll should not be in office in 2022.
Prof Kibwana called on the government to make some of the proposals in the BBI report part of the Constitution.
He said proposals like enhancing the healthcare system and job creation should be captured in law for posterity.
The Makueni governor said appointments to public service should favour young Kenyans.
“Youth employment is critical. For proper inclusion, we should be brave enough to do these things. We should not fear, for since BBI is for inclusivity,” he said.
Prof Kibwana added that no single political party that can form the government alone and appealed for coalition-making.
“There must be ways to make workable coalitions. It is happening the world over,” he said.
He rooted for a parliamentary system of government with a powerful prime minister and called for the strengthening of devolved governance and regional economic blocs.
Additional reporting by Justus Ochieng, Brian Ojamaa and Derick Luvega