Ruto heads to Nakuru for prayers as Azimio sustains its challenge

Front, President William Ruto, his deputy Rigathi Gachagua, and Governors Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga) and Susan Kihika (Nakuru) during a past retreat. [PCS]

President William Ruto will retreat to his Rift Valley political backyard for a mega prayer service at a time his administration is facing its biggest challenge yet from the opposition.

Since his election in August last year, President Ruto, his deputy Rigathi Gachagua and their allies have been holding thanksgiving ceremonies in one county after every other Sunday.

This Sunday will, however, be different as the president will move to Nakuru, the former regional headquarters, for a thanksgiving prayer service as a way of expressing his gratitude after defeating many odds to emerge the winner of the hotly contested presidential race and for the peace that has prevailed since then.

Governor Susan Kihika, MPs and the President's aides have been on the ground supervising preparations.

"Nakuru is lucky to host the national thanksgiving prayers this Sunday. The purpose is to thank God for the peace we have had in the region and the entire country since August," said Kihika.

She explained that Nakuru will be co-hosting the event with other 13 counties from the region.

"Leaders and Kenyans from the 14 Rift Valley counties will be here. We are expecting at least 30,000 people to attend this special event for our nation," said Kihika.

The event will also double as a thanksgiving ceremony for Cabinet Secretary (CS) Zack Njeru, Housing and Urban Development Principal Secretary Charles Hinga and his Environment counterpart Festus Ng'eno, who all hail from the county.

The Jubilee administration led by former President Uhuru Kenyatta had promised to hold a similar service if it won the 2013 elections but this did not come to fruition.

"A promise was made 10 years ago by the previous government but it didn't happen. It is happening now. Rift Valley is the home of Kenya Kwanza," said Gilgil MP Martha Wangari.

On April 3, 2011, Uhuru, then a deputy prime minister, and Ruto, Eldoret North MP, were prayed for at the stadium, as part of a series of services that her held for them at a time they were facing the now collapsed crimes against humanity at the ICC, thus the genesis of his promise.

However, the Nakuru prayers will be taking place at a time Azimio coalition-led ODM leader Raila Odinga has waged war against the Kenya Kwanza administration on various fronts and has organised a series of rallies across the country, including in Machakos today.

On his part, the President has rattled Azimio by continuing to poach its MPs, mainly Jubilee, led by Uhuru, who is also the Azimio chairman, and ODM.

Observers say that the move by the President to organise a national event in his backyard is not purely about thanksgiving but also to counter Azimio.

"Azimio will be in Machakos. Nakuru meeting is national. Though dubbed a church service, it will be a rally as usual once politicians take the podium," said Andrew Nyabuto, a political analyst.

"It is not a coincidence that the opposition has shifted to other counties and the President has retreated to his fort. This could be a launching pad to counter the opposition," added Nyabuto.

But Molo MP Kuria Kimani said the move by Ruto to welcome those in the opposition was not meant to weaken their political rivals but to ensure there is a harmonious and objective working relation.

"The President has sent a clear message that he is open to work with anyone and getting positive criticism. Politics should not set us apart when we are supposed to work for the same people," said Kimani.

Nakuru Woman Representative Liza Chelule, on her part, noted that the prayers were needed to continue pacifying the country.

"We are for cohesion. We are for peace in the country. It is our hope that those seeking to cause disturbance find it in their heart to focus on their mandate and not selfish interests," said Chelule.

Nakuru Town East MP David Gikaria said with MPs elected on Jubilee and ODM tickets backing the government, the event will be unique.

"With the trend of people showing support for Ruto and his government, this event will be open to all. We are extending our invitations to the opposition, including Raila," said Gikaria.

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