Ruto allies flex their muscle after Naivasha BBI retreat

Jubilee MPs and senators allied to Deputy President William Ruto at a press conference at the end of their retreat in Naivasha. The leaders announced plans to hold separate BBI rallies, starting with Nakuru next month. [Antony Gitonga, Standard]
A two-day retreat by over 170 MPs allied to Deputy President William Ruto has signalled a race for supremacy in Parliament ahead of anticipated legislative changes under the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

The MPs are plotting to control the initiative’s narrative by convening parallel rallies to counter ongoing meetings led by ODM leader Raila Odinga. 

They have scheduled the first meeting at the Afraha Stadium in Nakuru on February 8- a fortnight before the one planned by Raila’s faction in the same county, drawing protests that the Tangatanga group was now taking on President Uhuru Kenyatta who had given his blessing for the February 23 meeting.

By marshaling 173 MPs to the meeting, including rebel ODM and Ford Kenya members, the Tangatanga wing was seen to be sending the message that they have the numbers in Parliament, where some of the Bills on BBI are expected to be considered and that their role in the process cannot be downplayed.

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Sent apologies

Given Jubilee has 204 MPs - 172 in the National Assembly and 32 in the Senate - the attendance in the Naivasha retreat demonstrated the DP had rallied a significant number of ruling party MPs. The non-Jubilee MPs present included Aisha Jumwa (ODM), Mohammed Ali (Independent) and Ford Kenya’s Catherine Wambilianga and Charles Gimose. Their parties criticised the MPs for joining the Tangatanga meeting.

Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen said 173 MPs were present and 37 had sent apologies in an apparent demonstration of the numbers within their camp.

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Prior to the meeting, Kimilili MP Didimus Barasa told The Standard that the meeting would “most importantly evaluate our numbers in the Senate and National Assembly of those behind William Ruto.”

Jubilee Secretary General Raphael Tuju had earlier dismissed the two-day meeting as the private initiative of some MPs.

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“However, for the avoidance of doubt, this is to clarify that such a meeting cannot and will never qualify to be referred to as a Parliamentary Group meeting of the party,” Mr Tuju added in a statement yesterday.

Yesterday, The Standard established that the Ruto-allied team would propose additional rallies in Kirinyaga, Bungoma, Kericho, Nyeri, Murang’a, Eldoret, Kitale, Kwale, Vihiga, Isiolo, Nyahururu, Nyamira, Meru, Turkana, Mandera, Kisumu and Kiambu.

“We will mobilise, participate and encourage all Kenyans to attend rallies already announced. We will ensure the mainstreaming of other stakeholders, including business people, farmers, professionals, youth, religious groups and civil society in this process and not just politicians,” said Mr Murkomen.

He added that the president, his deputy, Raila and other like-minded leaders were invited to the meeting.

However, Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos, who was appointed by President Kenyatta to organise the BBI meetings in the Rift Valley, said the group was being disrespectful by convening meetings parallel to those approved by the president and Raila.

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“We were surprised when we saw the Tangatanga team announcing that their rally will take place in Nakuru on February 8 when we had scheduled the BBI meeting in the same county after consulting the president and former PM. We will be there (Nakuru) on February 23 and we are warning the Tangatanga wing not to interfere with our meetings. We will also not interfere with theirs,” Mr Tolgos told The Standard.

“The Tangatanga team had initially rubbished the BBI process, claiming it was meant to create positions. They have now realised that Kenyans are fully behind the process and they want to join. We now want them to respect us and respect our meetings.”

Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui, who has also been tasked by the president to organise BBI meetings in Nakuru, said their meeting will proceed.

“I have only heard through the media that they will hold a rally at Afraha Stadium. They are welcome and as a county government we shall facilitate their being at the facility. For us, our meetings shall go on as earlier scheduled,” said Mr Kinyanjui.

Political ground

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According to a source at the Naivasha retreat, the leaders decided to hold the rallies to counter the Raila-led group which was gaining political ground using the BBI report.

“We know that the move to hold these rallies will not augur well with the other group and the country’s top leadership, but we are ready for the consequences,” said the MP.

He claimed the Raila group had the backing of the Government through funding.

But the Ruto team insisted that their meetings were not meant to counter the ones being held by Raila, but to strengthen the initiative.

Sources also said a plot to impeach Cabinet secretaries who the group accuses of dabbling in politics was discussed. Cabinet Secretaries Fred Matiang’i (Interior) and Eugene Wamalwa (Devolution) have attended BBI meetings in Kisii and Kakamega, respectively.

The MPs also resolved to push for a number of economic interventions for the youth and farmers, and to lobby for more funds for the Judiciary.

These include setting aside 3.5 per cent of national revenue for the Judiciary Fund to promote its independence.

Another proposal was the setting aside of five per cent of national revenue to support farmers, an equal amount to help jobless youths and a similar allocation for small businesses.

The populist measures are seen as a strategy to court broad-based public support.

Interestingly, they seem to be in competition with measures Uhuru announced recently to bail out disgruntled groups like farmers and small traders particularly in the Mt Kenya region.

The Ruto team also worked on a strategy to counter ODM’s push for regional governments, including by “pushing for additional counties for marginalised communities, such as the Kuria and Sabaot in Mt Elgon” said an MP who attended the retreat.

They further agreed to focus on proportional representation in central Kenya and the Rift Valley.

Following the two-day meeting at Lake Naivasha Resort, the group said the MPs would fundraise for the rallies “to sell the original BBI report to Kenyans”.

Murkomen said Kenyans from all walks of life would be given a chance to air their proposals at the Nakuru February 8 meeting.

“We are asking the BBI taskforce to use funds given by the State to print the original BBI report so that Kenyans can go through it before airing their views,” he said.

[Additional reporting by Stephen Rutto]

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