The Building Bridges Initiative rally in Nakuru got a shot in the arm after nine Rift Valley governors met President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House on Monday and briefed him on preparations.
The aim was to formally invite the President for the March 21 event. They have also invited Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga.
The meeting brought together two factions that have been fighting for the control of the BBI narrative in the region, signalling an end to the supremacy battles.
Allies of the DP wanted to take over control of the rallies from a team picked by Mr Kenyatta led by governors Alex Tolgos (Elgeyo-Marakwet) and Lee Kinyanjui (Nakuru).
The Eldoret meeting was cancelled due to fears of violence and spread of hate messages in a volatile region still recovering from the 2007 post-election mayhem. Eldoret is the DP’s hometown.
But things have now changed for the better. President Kenyatta is said to have been impressed by the unity displayed by the governors in organising the rally in a town of significant importance to the Jubilee Party.
In 2013, the Jubilee coalition was formed after Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto shook hands in Nakuru ahead of the General Election.
In 2017, the coalition was converted into a party. However, things have not been rosy for the President and his deputy since the handshake on March 9, 2018.
President Kenyatta and Mr Raila Odinga said the move was meant to reduce tension and unite the country after the controversial 2017 elections. But the DP’s allies believe it is a ploy to curtail their man’s 2022 presidential hopes.
Previous rallies in Kisii, Kakamega, Mombasa, Kitui, Garissa and Meru were held without the President’s direct endorsement although his close allies attended.
Mr Tolgos told the Nation yesterday that the President was happy with their plans.
“He appreciated us for taking charge of the rally. He told us to make it an all-inclusive meeting devoid of divisive political issues,” he said.
The other county leaders who attended the meeting were Stanley Kiptis (Baringo), Jackson Mandago (Uasin Gishu), Prof John Lonyangapuo (West Pokot), Prof Paul Chepkwony (Kericho), Josephat Nanok (Turkana), Ndiritu Muriithi (Laikipia) and Hillary Barchok (Bomet).
Stephen Sang (Nandi), Moses Lenolkulal (Samburu) and Patrick Khaemba (Trans Nzoia) did not attend but Mr Tolgos said the trio sent their apologies.
“We are working together. They were aware of the meeting but could not make it as they were held up elsewhere,” he said.
The county leaders want the BBI team to address issues affecting the region, such as cattle rustling, land issues and the maize, tea coffee and milk sectors.
Mr Kiptis said they also focused on unity and development.
“We requested the President to ensure the constitutional review comes from the people; not politicians,” he said.
In a dispatch, State House said the governors expressed their support for the BBI.
“The governors assured the President of their full backing for the BBI process and undertook to ensure unity and inclusion of all stakeholders in the run-up to the Nakuru rally,” the statement read.
The President’s endorsement gave a boost to its proponents who have been facing mounting opposition from some of the region’s leaders.
Mr Tolgos and Mr Kinyanjui had struggled to close ranks with their colleagues, some even questioning their ability to bring together leaders from a vast region stretching from Turkana in the north to Bomet in the south.
The region also covers Kajiado and Narok but a BBI rally bringing together the two counties was held last month.
The State House meeting came after the governors agreed to work on a single memorandum which will be presented to the BBI team in Nakuru.
Earlier on Monday, they met at a Nairobi hotel and agreed to take charge of the town hall meetings in each county before the Afraha rally.
“We agreed that the host (Kinyanjui) will be our chairperson,” said Mr Mandago.
Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen said they had agreed to work together, devoid of “factions or mini-factions”.
“Each of the counties will hold consultations, then we shall converge on Eldoret on March 19 to compile an harmonised document … this process has my full endorsement, participation and support,” the vocal senator said.
Turkana politicians led by Mr Nanok and Petroleum Cabinet Secretary John Munyes last week unanimously agreed to support the BBI if it advocates the formation of regional governments.
Meanwhile, South Rift leaders have been agitating for a review of lease terms for multinational tea companies that have been operating in Kericho and Bomet counties since the 1920s.
Konoin MP Brighton Yegon said they have started collecting views from the public and will come up with a memorandum, which will be presented to either the President or the Senator Yusuf Haji team.
Belgut MP Nelson Koech, however, raised concerns over the “secrecy” in the rally’s planning.
“The planning has remained highly guarded, making us wonder what the real intention is,” Mr Koech said.