By: PATRICK LANGAT
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s vote-hunting mission in Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) leader Raila Odinga’s strongholds in Nyanza and Western regions has turned into a double-edged sword.
The three-day tour that also extended to the North Rift turf of Deputy President William Ruto had heavy political undertones.
The Jubilee coalition is upbeat that the visit was a huge success, but it left some key politicians, especially senators from the region sore.
Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetang’ula and Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale were not allowed to speak at three stop-overs in Bungoma County.
At the same time, governors have said that the promises Mr Kenyatta made during the tour could be the coalition’s make-or-break in 2017.
The government is banking on Bungoma Governor Ken Lusaka, who is seen as the Jubilee point-man in the region, and Water CS Eugene Wamalwa from neighbouring Trans Nzoia, in the foray into Senator Wetang’ula’s home.
President Kenyatta on Sunday morning met governors Lusaka, Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), Moses Akaranga (Vihiga), Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia), Patrick Khaemba (Trans Nzoia) and later Kisumu’s Jack Ranguma.
Senator Wetang’ula is a senior member of the Cord coalition.
Bungoma hosts the populous Bukusus seen to provide the swing vote in the presidential elections.
And during the visit, Governor Lusaka declared that the majority of Bungoma residents were ready to back President Kenyatta in the next election.
“Now that you have come here, we will support your second presidential bid and your administration,” said Mr Lusaka at Kibabii University.
The President’s visit also comes at a time when Mr Wetang’ula is facing political uncertainty after Senate Speaker Ekwe Ethuro published a Supreme Court ruling saying the senator had bribed voters.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission is expected to remove the name of Mr Wetang’ula from the voters’ list, automatically locking him out of the 2017 race.
Mr Lusaka said: “In Bungoma, we have known that any time we work with our brothers from the Central region, we are working very well. In 2002, we backed (former President Mwai) Kibaki together with Mr Kijana Wamalwa, while in 2007, most of us preferred Mr Kibaki to Mr Raila Odinga. Now we realise we made a mistake for not supporting Mr Kenyatta,” said Mr Lusaka.
Ford Kenya secretary-general Eseli Simiyu and political commentator Barrack Muluka were of a different view.
Dr Simiyu accused Mr Lusaka of lying and said: “Mr Lusaka doesn’t own any votes. Only voters can decide who to vote in as the President.”
Mr Muluka said: “Governor Lusaka was carried away by the goodies offered; he lied to the President that he had secured votes. At no time have Western Kenya people been so anti-government as they are now.”
Throughout the visit, the President packaged his message around co-operation for development and political tolerance.
“When we waste time insulting each other, our people end up suffering since they expect their leaders to work together for the benefit of all Kenyans,” he told leaders at Kakamega State Lodge.
The meeting with governors was particularly significant.
They argued that projects falling under the national government had been neglected, with the public blaming counties for the failure.
These include Pan Paper Mills, sugar and dairy sector, title deeds in Trans Nzoia, tarmacking of roads, and expansion of the Kakamega Airstrip.
The President also opened the Lwakhakha border post in Bungoma, which will boost trade with neighbouring Uganda, and promised a charter to Kaimosi University in Vihiga and upgrading of Alupe in Busia to university status.
In 2013, Western and Nyanza regions overwhelmingly voted for Mr Odinga and Amani leader Musalia Mudavadi — who has become uncharacteristically loud in his criticism of the government recently.
“Whether the Western Kenya visit will lead to votes will largely depend on fulfilment of the promises made,” said Mr Oparanya.
Mr Wetang’ula and Dr Khalwale have claimed that they were denied an opportunity to speak at three stop-overs.
The two senators dutifully followed the presidential motorcade up to Kibabii University where Dr Khalwale left, leaving only Mr Wetang’ula to address the crowd.
“Jubilee are still stuck in the past where they thought they had everybody singing hymns for them. Western is different and they will regret what they did,” said Dr Khalwale.
Mr Wetang’ula said: “It saddens me that the President will come to my area and does not let elected leaders speak to the people. It was only after the public demanded that I speak at Kibabii that they let me do so.”
But Mr Lusaka termed the visit a “huge success”, and said that Dr Khalwale had left on his own.
“He is paying for the fact that he had insulted the President when he came to my homecoming party in 2013 and the crowd was angry with him. The senators could not speak at the other stop-overs because we were late,” said Mr Lusaka.
In Kisumu, the President attended a church service with Governor Jack Ranguma and Senator Anyang’ Nyong’o, sharing light moments with the two.
It was the President’s fifth visit to the lakeside town in his three-year-presidency, where he has been received well.
In the North Rift, the President used his tour of Eldoret, Kapenguria, and West Pokot County to state that he was not protecting any of his Cabinet secretaries.
SOURCE: DAILY NATION