The confirmation of a coronavirus case in Kenya is likely to jolt the political scene as a compulsory lull halts high voltage rallies that had charged the country.
Kenya reported its first case on Friday and the Ministry of Health was yesterday still doing tests with fears that several other cases could be recorded in a number of days.
Ordinarily this weekend, politicians would be in different events as the rallies for and against the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) that had entered fever pitch levels.
Before the virus invaded, there were consultation meetings planned for the 11 counties in Rift Valley ahead of the BBI second last rally at Afraha Stadium in Nakuru.
Yesterday, Deputy President William Ruto, according to an MP close to him, was supposed to be back in Meru for a series of events before Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe banned public gatherings.
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Kagwe said a number of measures, including avoiding mass gatherings, churches and mosques, were necessary to stop the spread of the virus.
“Prison visits have been suspended for 30 days. Church services can go on if they provide sanitisers, but the suspension is for all public gatherings, no exceptions,” he said.
The Nakuru rally would precede the final one in Nairobi where residents of the capital city would present their proposals to the BBI steering committee.
The BBI rally in Nakuru had billed itself as a possible showdown for allies of President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga on one side against Deputy President William Ruto’s supporters on the other.
Ruto’s allies had vowed that only leaders from the region would be allowed to address the gathering.
The build up to the rally had promised to be messy and noisy and viola, the coronavirus entry neutered the poisoned chalice.
The BBI steering committee on Tuesday retreated to take stock of the proposals that had been made during the validation process since early February.
The committee will however continue receiving written submissions until the end of the month when they will retreat to deliberate on how to work on the report.
Committee’s joint secretary Paul Mwangi told the Sunday Standard that they were only waiting for the Rift Valley and Nairobi regional presentations by the end of the month before they wind up their validation process.
“We will be receiving written submissions from Wednesday. On March 21 we will collect the Rift Valley presentation and the Nairobi one on 28th. We will then proceed to work on the report,” said Mwangi.
While cancelling the Nakuru rally, county Governor Lee Kinyanjui said the decision was made in consultation with governors from the Rift Valley region and the national BBI secretariat. “On behalf of the Nakuru BBI organising committee, we take this opportunity to inform members of the public that the planned BBI sensitisation meeting scheduled for 21st March, 2020 has been rescheduled to a later date to be announced as appropriate,” Kinyanjui said in a statement.
Ruto allies had initially wanted to have the rally halted and the recent development is welcome to them.
Pokot South MP David Pkosing had said the rallies were not adding any value to the BBI process. “The rallies have become counterproductive and a podium to spew hate instead of building bridges, their stopping is welcomed,” said Pkosing.
Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri said once the Senator Yusuf Haji team retreats to write the report, there will be no reason to have the rallies and instead Kenyans should concentrate on building the nation.
But beyond the BBI rallies, political gatherings across the country are likely to scale down or shut in the coming days and depending on the possible spread of the virus, it may take months before the meetings resume.
In the wake of the virus, messages from political rivals have scaled down to unity talks. Speaking in Kapsabet on Friday during the groundbreaking for the construction of Kapsabet Girls High School dormitory, Ruto said the government was in control of the pandemic and would ensure it does not spread.
On the same day, Raila lauded the government for its able performance in handling coronavirus.
These statements replaced what would have been tough name calling by the two political friends-turned-foes.
In the coming days, according to political analyst Javas Bigambo, things will change and after the lull different formations may even emerge.