Deputy President William Ruto snubbed the devolution conference in Makueni County on Friday to express displeasure with the role organisers conferred on ODM leader Raila Odinga on the first day of the meeting.
The DP had been slated to preside over the closing ceremony on Friday but pulled out at the last minute.
It has now emerged that the decision to stay away was deliberate, designed as a silent protest against the Council of Governors’ decision to invite Mr Odinga to preside over the opening ceremony.
Sources in Tangatanga told the Nation that the DP opted to stay away after it became clear that the conference was designed to prop up Mr Odinga’s 2022 presidential bid.
Mr Odinga did not just address the conference on the same day as President Uhuru Kenyatta but he was escorted to Makueni by a large entourage of more than six Cabinet secretaries, which the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) interprets as a bold statement on next year’s poll.
“No one in his right mind should expect the DP to preside over the closing ceremony of an event that was opened by the leader of the opposition,” said a UDA-leaning MP, who did not want to be named.
Kenya’s second in command did not just fail to show up. He sent neither a message nor an apology to the organisers of an event one of his allies described yesterday as a forum to drum up support for Mr Odinga.
When CoG placed a call to the DP on Thursday night to confirm his attendance he casually promised to dispatch the chief of staff in his office, Mr Ken Osinde, to preside over the ceremony on his behalf, which the council rejected.
CoG reached out to Defence CS Eugene Wamalwa, who agreed to step in and take up the role.
Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya said CoG leadership had unanimously rejected the proposal, choosing instead to reach out to Mr Wamalwa for the task.
“The leadership of the council believes that this is an international conference that cannot be closed by an officer at the level of a chief of staff,” Mr Oparanya told the media soon after Mr Wamalwa completed the task.
The programme released just before the conference started indicated that President Kenyatta was to preside over the opening ceremony. Mr Odinga was to deliver a keynote address while the DP was to preside over the closing ceremony, just as the three leaders had done in the previous six conferences.
Last minute change
But this year’s programme was altered at the last minute, with Mr Odinga addressing the conference on the first day as the President.
Chief Justice Martha Koome spoke on the second day, attacking DP Ruto’s allies and telling them that she would not quit her role on a multi-agency team working on preparing for the 2022 elections.
Confusion set in, however, after President Kenyatta travelled to South Africa on the eve of the opening ceremony, setting in motion rumour mills that unsettled the DP’s allies, including Devolution CS Charles Keter, who stormed out of the conference soon after the President’s speech never to return.
The first rumour that emerged on Tuesday night was that the President had delegated the delivery of his speech to Mr Odinga.
Soon after, a senior official in the office of the President made a call to CoG chairman Martin Wambora, informing him that Dr Matiang’i would represent the President at the conference and deliver the official speech on his behalf.
In the midmorning on Wednesday, another report started circulating that both Mr Odinga and Dr Matiang’i would represent the President. That angered CS Keter, who apparently was unaware of the developments.
Other Cabinet secretaries in Mr Odinga’s entourage were Monica Juma (Energy), Mr Wamalwa (Defence), Joe Mucheru (ICT) and Keriako Tobiko (Environment).
It would be a bigger surprise to CS Keter when Dr Matiang’i announced to the audience that the President would deliver his speech via video link from South Africa, which he did.
Angry at the turn of events, Mr Keter stormed out of the event before Mr Odinga and his entourage would walk away from the podium.
Mr Keter’s communication adviser Bernard Namunane said yesterday the CS had rushed back to Nairobi for a meeting with donors who are supporting the ninth Africities summit that will be held in Kisumu.
He denied that his boss had stormed out.
“We had other things to do,” Mr Namunane said, adding that the meeting with the donors had been planned for Thursday, a day after the official opening of the conference.
“We executed our role as the ministry and as far as we are concerned there are no complaints about that. In any case, Devolution PS Julius Korir was there throughout,” he said, adding that the people questioning the presence of the PS were the ones introducing politics into the affair.