The Luhya community must secure representation in the next government and the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) is the only way to achieve this, leaders said on Saturday at a grand rally that took place in Kakamega.
The crowd was excited when Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi and his Ford Kenya counterpart Moses Wetang'ula (Bungoma Senator) joined ODM leader Raila Odinga at the meeting at Bukhungu Stadium.
The two had indicated that they would attend a parallel rally at Nabongo Grounds in Mumias, dubbed 'western Kenya's economic meeting’.
The Nabongo meeting, organised by politicians allied to Deputy President William Ruto, aborted after police camped in the area and dispersed gatherings using tear gas.
Among the politicians who had a tough time fulfilling their agenda for the day were former Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa, former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale and MPs including Mumias East's Benjamin Washiali, whose colleagues claimed went missing earlier in the day.
Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang'ula made their grand entrance into Bukhungu about 12.30pm in a sunroof car, shortly after Mr Odinga arrived with Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa.
Mr Francis Atwoli, a key figure in the organisation of the meeting, said he urged Mr Mudavadi to attend.
“Both Musalia and Wetangula are my products,” the Secretary-General of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (Cotu) said, adding he will ensure the community produces a top leader come the 2022 general election.
While stating that Mr Mudavadi was the undisputed Luhya leader, Mr Atwoli said he must be careful with his associations and take bold steps to revive his friendship with President Kenyatta if he is to achieve any political milestones.
He claimed Mr Mudavadi and the President were close friends but that DP Ruto set them apart after realising the impact of this friendship.
“Find a way to go back to your friend,” he told the ANC leader, adding that he had the advantage of an untainted leadership.
The Cotu boss asked Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang'ula to drop their parties and forge an alliance to demonstrate their seriousness about the community's unity.
“These two are not thieves but if you walk with Ruto you will be left behind. The only way to get a seat is through the BBI,” he stated.
“Musalia should ditch his Ruto associations. You are an economist but you will not be able to change this country’s economy with those roadside statements you make. You need to be in government."
NO HIDDEN AGENDA
In his address, Mr Odinga reiterated that the BBI initiative is not aimed at securing top positions for him and the President as their critics have alleged.
The Orange Democratic Movement leader noted that the grand goal is a stable Kenya for posterity and that he and Mr Kenyatta "may not necessarily be there to enjoy the fruits of the initiative when Kenyans get to the mountain top".
Kenya is bedevilled by chaos every election year, he noted, saying they are focused on lasting solutions to this and other challenges that slow prosperity.
Mr Odinga further noted that he and the President's March 9, 2018 handshake has earned respect globally and that they have invited other countries to share an experience centred on transformation.
“Every crisis offers a solution We want a solution for posterity ... that is why we have the BBI,” he said.
While referencing Martin Luther King Jr, however, he said, "What I am doing with Uhuru is for posterity, not for Raila Odinga. All we want is to transform this country ... that is why we are talking about national ethos, inclusivity among other [matters]. We a re serious about finding permanent solutions for this nation."
Mr Mudavadi said he has never been opposed to the BBI process but noted that it must be about the interests of the public, not individuals.
“I have arrived because I am Kenyan and I was born. When important matters are being discussed, I must be there I am your son, I am a Kenyan and I am your son… and I am here to dispel rumours and hearsay that I don’t support the BBI because I have been involved since the launch of this process,” he stated.
“My position has been very clear from the start. It should be about the common man’s interests, not individuals, and Kenyans must read the report and give their views, so who are you to say Musalia is against the report?"
The politician said his biggest wish is for the initiative to aid growth of Kenya's economy to a point where all members of the public will be able to put food on the table.
“We support it. Let us discuss it soberly and hear opinions on it because there is always someone with a better idea,” he said, adding there should be no bloodshed.
The ANC boss claimed some people were out to divide Luhya leaders by spreading rumours.
“I have walked with Raila and sometimes we disagree on matters of opinion but we discuss and agree [sic],” he said.
While noting that he took part in constitutional reforms, Senator Wetang'ula said it is important to trace "where the rains started beating Kenyans".
“We must make Kenyans the centre of the BBI, not individuals. There are nine pillars in this initiative. Let us not run with only one and forget the others,” he said.
Mr Wetang'ula further told Luhya leaders not to allow outsiders to despite them.
“Let it not be that if I don’t agree with you I am your enemy. We have come with Musalia .... you have seen us ... we are not strangers in Kenya. We have the right to be here. We shall remain here to talk, bargain and chart the way forward,” he stated.
“Today I speak for myself and on behalf of Musalia. Nobody will divide us ... no one will arrange seats for us but you our people ... you are the ones who birthed us,” he added.
“The most dangerous thing you can do is stand in the way of an idea whose time has come. I have no problem with Uhuru and Raila. Let’s move forward together because Kenya is for us and for everybody."
While lauding Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang'ula for attending the meeting, CS Wamalwa said it proved critics of Luhya unity wrong.
“Today we have proven wrong the prophets of doom ... those who were counting on Musalia and Wetang'ula not turning up. I am so proud of you, my brothers, because we have proven that the Mulembe family is united," he said.
"Those counting on our division are going to be disappointed because we are going to be more united than ever. The die is cast in the western region."
The CS further said governors have embraced the initiative and are leading campaigns for its implementation.
He said the national government will work closely with counties to ensure the initiative succeeds.
“I believe change is coming to Kenya. Change is coming to the western region through the BBI."
Mr Oparanya noted the BBI is a national project by Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga so the rally was a government initiative.
He said he took charge of organising the meeting following orders from President Kenyatta, who gave the date.
“I carried out the assignment and convened a meeting with western Kenya governors last week, some of whom had reservations. The other day I briefed the President on the progress."
Kakamega was the venue for the second national BBI sensitisation rally, the first having taken place in Kisii County on January 10.
Pro-BBI governors said they will continue pushing for it at the grassroots, with the support of MPs and MCAs, ahead of a possible referendum.