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Clash of coalitions as UDA 'locked out' of Nyayo venue for final rally

A view of the Nyayo National Stadium.

A showdown looms after Deputy President William Ruto was locked out of the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi where he had planned to hold his final rally on August 6. Yesterday, Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) vowed to continue with its planned last rally at the venue despite the decision of the stadium’s management.

The 45,000-capacity stadium, the second biggest in Kenya and the venue of choice for many political, social, and religious events, has been at the centre of storm between Kenya Kwanza and Azimio coalitions, with each claiming to have secured it for their last dash rally three days to the polls.

Sports Kenya, the agency mandated to manage stadia, had on Wednesday issued a statement which in effect barred UDA from suing the venue citing peace concerts to be held at Nyayo and Kasarani stadiums from August 5 to 7 by unnamed entities.

“We refer to your letter Ref No UDA/ADM/08/2022 requesting to use the Nyayo National Stadium on August 6. We regret to inform you that due to peace concerts scheduled to take place at Moi International Sports Centre - Kasarani and Nyayo National Stadium between 5th and 7th August, the facility will not be available for your use. Kindly be informed,” read a letter by Sports Kenya CEO Pius Metto.

“… we highly regret inconveniences caused,” added the letter addressed to UDA Secretary General Veronica Maina. It was copied to Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed and Sports Kenya board chairman Charles Waithaka.

When The Standard sought comment from Mr Metto on whether a similar letter had been dispatched to Azimio coalition’s top brass communicating the venue’s unavailability, he did not give a substantive answer. “…the letter to UDA is authentic. That is all I can say for now. I cannot comment on the Azimio issue,” he said.

Yesterday, UDA Director General of presidential campaigns Josphat Nanok said the party would continue with the planned rally at Nyayo, dismissing the letter by Sports Kenya as being influenced by Azimio.

“We (UDA) booked Nyayo Stadium for August 6. That the venue has been booked for peace meetings is a lie. It is a big lie by Azimio. Let us not fight over a venue. You let those that got there first use it. You (Azimio) should focus elsewhere, Kenya is big,” said Nanok. “We are ready to proceed with the arrangements,” he said. The party further threatened court action against Sports Kenya.

“We are ready to challenge the Ministry of Sports legally because we have a signed contract which has not been cancelled. We want Azimio to show proof that they booked the venue. We have documents of payments,” added Nanok.

Nanok produced documents he claimed showed UDA had booked and paid Sh1.5 million for use of Nyayo Stadium. The party further said the venue was also part of the schedule provided to IEBC as part of its campaign timetable for the remaining days.

The documents seen by The Standard included what UDA says are a signed contract of hire, a pro-forma invoice from Sports Kenya and a cheque of Sh1 million from UDA.

But Azimio coalition Secretary General Junet Mohammed maintained they had booked Nyayo stadium on July 5. He however did not provide any documentation.

“We booked Nyayo Stadium on July 5 and we intend to hold our last rally there. UDA are sympathy seekers and have no voters in Nairobi,” claimed Junet. The Kenya Kwanza and Azimio factions are alive to the fact that packing the stadium with a sea of humanity donned in their party colours is a show of might and a powerful tool, with potential to sway voters.

In an earlier telephone interview, Metto had refrained from divulging details on who between Azimio and Kenya Kwanza coalitions had the right to hold their rally at the historical grounds citing political wars.

Despite confessing to knowing which between the two political outfits had the green light to hold the rally, he had held back from making the same public.

“We (Sports Kenya) know and both camps know who has been cleared to use Nyayo Stadium as the venue for their last rally on August 6,” said Metto.

“I am not willing to comment on the matter because I do not want to be drawn into their politics. I am still consulting on how to go about the matter and in due time all the details about the venue will be made public.”

The tussle for the control of Nyayo Stadium on August 6 began on Monday this week following an announcement by Kenya Kwanza that they would hold their last rally at the grounds.

Kenya Kwanza blogger Dennis Itumbi produced documents he claimed showed the Ruto camp had been cleared to use Nyayo Stadium.

On Tuesday, however, Junet sent a statement to newsrooms stating that Raila and his running mate Martha Karua would hold their last rally at the same venue.

“The Azimio campaign team, led by Baba na Martha (Raila and Karua), will hold its last official campaign meeting in Nairobi on August 6, 2022, at Nyayo Stadium,” said Junet.

But UDA Secretary General Maina maintained her party had secured Nyayo Stadium.

So why the fight for Nyayo Stadium? The venue is significant to Raila and Ruto given its strategic location. For Raila, his is a fight to have his final pre-election rally in the stadium located in Langata - a constituency he served for 20 years and where he enjoys overwhelming support.

The venue has also been a favourite in his political activities. In 2002, the National Alliance Rainbow Coalition (NARC) which he was a part of and which had fielded Mwai Kibaki as its presidential candidate, held its last rally at Nyayo Stadium.

When he was a front runner under ODM ticket during the 2007 polls, Raila held his final pre-election rally at Nyayo Stadium. He also made his “final campaign submissions” at the grounds in 2013 when he went up against Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta who had then secured Uhuru Park.

And when he sought a venue to launch the Azimio manifesto a month ago, he settled on Nyayo Stadium.

On the other hand, Ruto has had his fair share of interactions with Nyayo Stadium politically. Most recently, he attended a prayer rally organised by the Pentecostal and Evangelical Clergy of Kenya at the venue. Before Ruto fell out with President Uhuru, they jointly held national functions at Nyayo Stadium.