The March 9 historic handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his political rival Raila Odinga faces a test this week when the two leaders finally visit Kisumu which bore the brunt of their differences.
After nine months of anticipation and anxiety that almost put the future of their reconciliation in doubt, President Kenyatta lands in Kisumu this coming Thursday for an action-packed visit that has been the talk of Nyanza for weeks.
Raila, who was recently appointed the African Union’s High representative for Infrastructural Development has been waiting for the Uhuru visit to confirm to his supporters that their reconciliation was real. Although the main purpose of the visit is to launch the Universal Health Care programme being rolled out by Kisumu County government, the tour has a weighty political message to Kenya and those who have been opposed to the handshake and its ramifications in the post-Uhuru presidency.
President Kenyatta and Raila have dismissed claims that their friendship could be having a 2022 agenda, with both saying they were only keen to unite the country through the Building Bridges Initiative.
Their aides are, however, sending mixed signals, with those close to Raila speculating that the former Prime Minister would get a backing from President Kenyatta to make yet another stab – his fifth – at the top seat.
Just last week, senior ODM leaders who included Siaya Senator James Orengo, party chairman John Mbadi and several MPs insisted that Raila was still their best bet for the 2022 presidential elections.
They said that the proposed constitutional changes meant to replace the current presidential system with a parliamentary system, was inevitable, and hope that the changes would make it easier for the Uhuru-Raila cooperation to bear better fruits in 2022.
With the visit drawing closer, an excited Raila has been a busy man. Last Thursday and Friday, he pitched tent in Kisumu, monitoring the preparations and lobbying his supporters to give President Kenyatta a rousing welcome.
“As I had promised you, the President is finally coming. Please come out in large numbers and give him a massive welcome befitting his status,” Raila told his supporters on Friday.
But the President, whose re-election in a hotly disputed polls last year sparked bloodshed in Kisumu, fly into lakeside town amid high expectations on development matters and calls for compensations by families whose loved ones were either maimed or killed by the police in the political riots.
Days after the handshake in Nairobi, families of the victims demanded compensation from the State, saying it is only after this that the reconciliation would be meaningful.
At the height of political violence in Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay and Migori counties, businesses were destroyed and several people were gunned down by police officers who were accused of using excessive force on demonstrators.
Among the casualties was the six-month-old baby Samantha Pendo who died in hospital after being clubbed by anti-riot police officers.
“We will give the president a rousing welcome on Thursday. But we will be eager to hear what he and Raila will say about those who lost their lives or were injured during the fracas caused by their political differences,” said James Omondi, a youth leader in Kondele.
The president is expected to launch the Universal Health Care programme, address roadside rallies in Kisumu before going to Bondo where unconfirmed reports indicate he will visit Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s mausoleum.
Preparations were also in top gear at Raila’s Opoda home, amid reports the Head of State could be hosted there for lunch.
Sources close to State House yesterday indicated that the president could spend a night in Kisumu and join Raila at the graduation ceremony at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology where the former PM will be conferred a honorary doctorate degree on Friday, December 14. The heavy security and activities at the Kisumu State Lodge was an indication Uhuru could spend some time there.
Meanwhile, Nyanza leaders say they were excited over the President Uhuru’s visit and have prepared a long wish-list for him. Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga, senators Orengo (Siaya), Moses Kajwang’ (Homa Bay) and Fred Outa (Kisumu) confirmed that the president was coming to Siaya and Kisumu to launch several road projects and other programmes.
The president is expected to launch a water project serving the residents of Alego, Ugenya, Ugunja and Bondo sub-counties and funded by the African Development Bank.