Bomas echoes bittersweet memories

President Uhuru Kenyatta (C) his deputy William Ruto (L) and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga during the launch of the Building Bridges Initiative report at Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi on November 27, 2019. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

To a majority who have followed the treacherous road of political reforms in the country, Bomas of Kenya, or 'Bomas', as it is simply referred, has been a theatre of dreams.

It has over the years been the stage where bitter political duels have been contested, leaving some parties badly bruised and nursing wounds (some literally) that have taken decades to heal.

It is noteworthy that it was at this venue where supporters of retired President Mwai Kibaki and their Narc coalition counterpart under the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) wing, then allied to opposition leader Raila Odinga, were involved in the initial contest of the constitution-making process, in sessions that were as divisive as the country’s politics have been for ages.

The constitution-making process led to the popular Bomas Draft that Raila’s wing of the political divide have always argued was the “Wanjiku” document, but which was mutilated, defeating some changes in the country’s political leadership, notably a shift of the country to a parliamentary system under a prime minister.

It is also at the facility’s amphitheater that President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila’s supporters have faced off twice in national vote-tallying processes that have at times turned confrontational and leading to a sharply divided country.

Ironically, it was at this theatre that both Uhuru and Raila chose to summon the country’s political leaders yesterday in a bid to arrest the political divisions, leading the class in an admission of guilt in failing Kenyans.

Raila, who has often ended the loser at the duels held there, made note of this irony.

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“We are back at the historical Bomas. We were here for many days as we were undertaking constitutional reforms. That time we did not agree and we ended up as bananas and oranges,” he said making reference to the constitution-making process that finally led to the defeat of the final product in the 2005 referendum.

He cheekily also made reference to his 2017 duel with Uhuru that was decided at the same venue, noting that it ended up with “the President and the People’s President”.

The two leaders led their troops at the venue yesterday at the launch of their handshake project – the Building Bridges Initiative task force report – where they pleaded with the political leaders to agree to “mature” politics going forward.

Before a congregation that displayed apparent raw emotions and deep-rooted suspicion, they pleaded that it was time to break the ice as the two did when they met in March, last year, before they announced their truce through the handshake.

“When we met, the suspicion we had for one another was all there to see. Deep down, I was asking what will we discuss with this man. The exchanges were brief; we could ask how is the family?, how is mama (wife)? how are the children? And for 40 minutes we were there, sipping tea and not knowing what more to say. The tension was high,” Uhuru recounted the moment before the two finally got to speak.

Raila said it had taken them 19 hours before they finally agreed on the deal that led to the handshake.

He revealed that a section of his supporters had even suggested on a secession plan, which on consideration he trashed after “counsel of goodwill prevailed”.

But while Uhuru and Raila were speaking from the same script, their supporters could not hide their suspicions.

Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, a key ally of Deputy President William Ruto, and who some have claimed was shielded from the handshake deal, accused some characters in the room of dishonesty, claiming bias in the manner the function was organised.

He claimed that the organisers had only picked members of the Kieleweke side to speak, yet pretending that the forum was meant to bring the two sides together.

Credit to Murkomen’s observations, critics questioned why by then only political figures sympathetic to Uhuru-Raila axis had been picked to speak at the forum.

Suna East MP Junet Mohamed, a close ally of Raila, was, to the surprise of many, the master of ceremonies.

Others called to speak were Woman MPs Sabina Chege (Murang’a) and Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay), both who are key figures in the Embrace team that is pro-handshake.

Another member of this team called to address was Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru.

Meanwhile, none of the supporters of Ruto had been called to address the gathering, placing to question the honesty in the unity bid.

A Senior Director in the Presidential Strategic Communication Unit Dennis Itumbi found himself in unfamiliar waters as he was publicly harassed by the presidential security team when he appeared to move to the VIP dais where Uhuru was seated.

He was manhandled by security men that he in the past freely mingled with good days gone by when he had easy access to the commander-in-chief.

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Bomas of KenyaMwai KibakiRaila OdingaBBI