How politicians turn BBI rallies into theatre of cheap drama

Homa Bay Governor Cyprian Awiti. [File, Standard]

While the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) has been billed by its supporters as an important cause that could stop divisive politics, the rallies have been centres of theatrics and drama.

From governors accused of lacking the right political language, to ODM leader Raila Odinga turning them into Bob Marley and Lucky Dube concerts, the rallies infuriated and amused Kenyans in equal measure.

In last week’s Narok rally, Homa Bay Governor Cyprian Awiti spoke in disjointed Kiswahili that probably made no sense. For those who listened keenly, his message was that he only went to the BBI rally for the Maa community to see him, on the request of Narok Governor Samuel Tunai.

Last month, he addressed the Mombasa rally in Dholuo. After spewing out quite the stuff, he quipped, “Kare koso ok kare? (right or not right?).”

Of course it was not right when his lakeside neighbour, Siaya’s Cornel Rasanga, declared to Baba (Raila) in Narok – probably to score political points – that he was seeing the largest crowd yet in his entire life, and that this crowd deserved to be informed that they had to sing the BBI song even during “twa twa” moment. And the crowd cheered.

Perhaps, these remarks drew the ire of Alego Usonga MP Samuel Atandi who asked Luo Nyanza governors to keep off BBI rallies because they were embarrassing their constituents for their “lack of content on the ongoing national debate”.

“It is shameful to attend all forums, but when allowed to speak, the only thing you get right is greetings. Zero language, zero content,” said Atandi.

“I’m asking all Luo Nyanza governors to go back to work. You have zero content for BBI national conversations. After all, Baba has already read the report.”

Still in Narok, Budalang’i MP Raphael Wanjala said political leadership is not a marriage and male governor aspirants should not be forced to choose female running mates. Well, no one is really forced to choose a female deputy governor, but the BBI report recommends inclusive leadership, including the implementation of the two-thirds gender rule.

But Baba has read the report, Wanjala does not need to, does he?

This remark rubbed women leaders the wrong way. In fact, one of only two women governors, Anne Waiguru of Kirinyaga, was on her feet as she jeered Wanjala for not reading the spirit of BBI.

And in her Kitui backyard, the other woman governor, Charity Ngilu, asked security agents to eject Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria from a rally to drum up support for unity.

Kuria himself is never short of drama. He sat on the ground in the middle of the crowd and declined to move, until he was allowed back to the dais. In Kakamega, a parallel rally organised by Deputy President William Ruto’s allies, seen to be opposed to the BBI, was thwarted by police officers in a dramatic operation that saw former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale dash for his life in front of a police vehicle and Mumias East MP Ben Washiali “hiding in the bush”.

Other Ruto allies, including Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, vehemently supported the Kakamega parallel rally but did not turn up, probably apprehensive of what the security officers had in store for them.

A week later, Murkomen got an applause from unlikely quarters when he referred to Raila as “baba wetu”, only to be pushed to the back of the dais and denied a chance to speak at the next rally in Kitui. That is a brief summary of the BBI rallies meant to discuss crucial issues affecting Kenyans such as ethnic division, corruption, unemployment and ill health.

The drama will not end soon, as the rallies continue around the country. After all, even the BBI report recognises that Kenya has a leadership crisis and Kenyans feel let down by their leaders in all spheres of life. Can anyone stop the reggae?