How BBI changed Raila political fortunes in Central region

Monday, March 2nd, 2020 08:00 | By
Opposition leader Raila Odinga (right) with Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi arrive for the BBI rally at Kinoru Stadium on Saturday. Photo/PD/GERALD ITHANA

Eric Wainaina and Dorcas Mbatia @PeopleDailyKe

Just a few kilometres from Meru town, near Kathita River, a billboard stood, showing the picture of the famous handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, with a caption “Gema speaks.”

The billboard was meant to welcome people attending the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) rally at Kinoru Stadium on Saturday. 

Before the March 2018 handshake, such a billboard was unthinkable in the region, and in its place, perhaps another one showing Uhuru with his deputy William Ruto donning matching shirts and ties.

The Mt Kenya region supported Uhuru, who trounced Raila to retain the presidency  in the 2017 elections, sparking tension. 

The Uhuru-Raila billboard, sponsored by Central Region Economic Bloc, is one of the several indicators of the changing political allegiances against the backdrop of Jubilee Party’s 2022 succession plan.

The welcome that Raila received from governors and other leaders in the region during Saturday’s BBI rally is a statement that Mt Kenya is softening its stance towards the Opposition leader.

The region’s elders dressed Raila in traditional regalia complete with a fly-whisk in what is seen as the former PM’s strategy to use the BBI rallies to reach out to regions that were previously hostile to him.

Leaders who spoke  at Kinoru heaped praise on Raila, while attacking Ruto and his allies. Raila’s Nasa co-principals  Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper Party), Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) and Moses Wetang’ula (Ford Kenya) attended the Meru rally. 

“Things have really changed. Who would have imagined that Baba would address such a big rally like this?,” posed Central Organisation of Trade Unions secretary general Francis Atwoli posed during the rally. 

Hostile crowds

Since 2013, residents and leaders had maintained that the vote-rich region would automatically back Ruto, but the latter’s relations with the President seems to be turning sour. 

Prior to 2017 elections, any leader opposed to UhuRuto ticket faced hostility in the region.

For instance, on July 13, 2017 during a campaign rally in Thika, Raila and his co-principal Mudavadi were forced to abandon a tour after running into hostile crowds who pelted their motorcade with stones.

Agriculture Cabinet secretary Peter Munya, a fierce critic of Ruto, said Raila was welcome to Mt Kenya  and asked him to work with the president to “take the nation forward”.

“Baba you have seen that people of Mount Kenya have no issues with you, it’s just a few people here. You are a hero of this country having fought for it for many years.

The others came just the other day but we know your history, we know the history of your father, we know the history of President Kenyatta and his father, just join hands (with Uhuru) and take this country forward,” he said in a thinly-veiled attack at Ruto.

Raila, Mudavadi,  Kalonzo  have been receiving warm reception in the region following the March 2018 handshake. Baringo senator Gideon Moi who was making his maiden appearance at BBI rallies also received a grand welcome. 

Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi, who hitherto was a critic of Raila’s said the ODM leader was now welcome in the region and that he was its hope.  Raila did not address the Kinoru rally after his voice failed him.  

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