Why President Uhuru Kenyatta changed mind about cancelling Ukambani tour

Political intrigues and intense lobbying culminated in a decision by President Uhuru Kenyatta to rescind an earlier cancellation of his planned tour of Ukambani region.

Hours after the office of the President announced that his planned two-day tour of the three counties had been called off indefinitely, Mr Kenyatta hosted Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka and governors from Ukambani at State House on Tuesday in a last minute bid to revive the trip.

Mr Musyoka, governors Charity Ngilu (Kitui) and Alfred Mutua (Machakos) were accompanied by senators from the region at the meeting with the Head of State. Makueni governor Kivutha Kibwana was represented by his deputy Adelina Mwau.

Ukambani leaders
Leaders from the Ukambani region are pictured during a meeting at Sarova Panafric Hotel in Nairobi on June 14, 2021./Courtesy


The meeting, which was hurriedly convened at State House, Nairobi discussed ways of reviving the tour under strict adherence to Covid-19 protocols, as well as patching up political bickering that had triggered the last minute cancellation of the president’s trip on Monday.

Even though the president’s handlers had cited fears of a possible upsurge of coronavirus cases like it happened in Kisumu last month, political disagreements between the former Vice President and governors from his backyard are seen as the true reason for the cancellation.

The sticky issues revolved around the President’s two-day itinerary with Mr Musyoka’s team opposing proposals by governors to have him visit projects by counties.

The three governors wanted the President to launch new projects as he inspects ongoing ones and had prepared a wish list on the same, while the Wiper team was keen on controlling his itinerary.

Another contentious issue was a proposal by Mr Musyoka that he hosts the president for lunch at his Tseikuru home, just as ODM leader Raila Odinga had done at his Riat home in Kisumu when he visited Nyanza region.

According to a source conversant with the deliberations and who requested not to be named, the meetings last week degenerated into name calling with Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua telling the leaders that they should have met and agreed before trooping to his office.

Intense lobbying

It has emerged that intense lobbying in the hours following the President’s cancellation led to the leaders moving to right the mistakes occasioned by their political differences, with Mr Musyoka reaching out to the governors.

Mr Musyoka called the three governors and invited them for early morning consultations set for Tuesday at Panafric Hotel in Nairobi, in order to agree on a common position before proceeding to State House.

However, the meeting aborted after the county chiefs did not show up.

The governors who were in their respective counties said they were constrained by time, and wouldn’t manage a side meeting and still to travel to State House on time.

It is not clear what happened in between, but eventually, the Ukambani leaders showed up to a meeting with the President at State House the same afternoon.

Now, a fresh date has been fixed for when Mr Kenyatta will inspect progress of the Konza Technopolis in Machakos County on Friday July 9, before proceeding to visit Thwake Dam in Makueni County the same day.

However, the date for the second leg of the trip intended to visit projects in Kitui County wasn’t agreed on at the meeting, but Head of State assured the leaders that he’ll fix a date next week.

Super-spreader events

According to a dispatch from State House issued today, the resulting meeting between Mr Kenyatta and Ukambani leaders discussed a revised presidential itinerary for a tour of the region.

“It is noted that Covid-19 continues to propagate within our borders and further that the disease situation in East Africa was on upward trend. It’s acknowledged that a surge of infections had compelled several African countries to impose full lockdowns to stem spread of the virus. Therefore, the president remains keen to assess the impact of his government’s transformative projects and programmes across the country, but he will make a scaled down inspection of identified projects, in full fidelity with Covid-19 containment strategy,” read the press release.

Mr Kenyatta told the leaders that he would be violating his own directives under Public Order number 4 of 2021 that barred super-spreader events if he proceeded with the tour.

Sources at the meeting told Nation.Africa that Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe was present at the beginning and made a presentation on the new coronavirus variants, which are deadlier and more communicable. The CS said a number of Kenya’s regional neighbours had imposed stricter containment measures and that with Ukambani being less affected compared to other regions, it was important to avoid congregating people in public rallies during the trip.

Scaled-down trip

With the new itinerary being planned, there will be no public engagement or addressing of crowds.

Additionally, only elected leaders will be allowed to accompany the President.

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