Hours to Bungoma Governor Kenneth Lusaka’s thanksgiving ceremony where President Uhuru Kenyatta was the chief guest last weekend, the matter of one bullfighter’s presence was weighing heavily on his mind.
Mr Lusaka had personally invited Senator Bonny Khalwale to the fete but after “wide consultations”, he called and asked him to stay away to ensure the sharp-tongued senator did not end up disrespecting the President.
“I could not have invited him to embarrass the President. And therefore my request to him was informed by that. The President was honouring me by coming and as the host, I had a duty to ensure nothing nasty happened,” Mr Lusaka told the Sunday Nation.
Dr Khalwale, however, was surprised at the turn of events and he told the Sunday Nation how his conversation with Mr Lusaka went.
“On Friday evening, Governor Lusaka called to say ‘I do not want you to come to my function’. But I asked him, ‘We agreed this morning that I would attend, you even sent me a card, a text message and called me, what has happened? But he told me ‘we think you have hot political blood and, therefore, things might get out of control’.”
It is then that I told him that I was not even planning to attend and that I had chosen to go to Busia instead. He told me “thank you very much my brother”.
Mr Lusaka defended his change of heart, saying the request to the senator was done in good faith.
“My request that he keeps off was a gentleman’s agreement and not done in bad taste. On the material day, I was surprised to see him walk towards the arena.”
Before last Saturday’s event, Mr Khalwale and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula had given President Kenyatta’s functions in western Kenya a wide berth.
The Kakamega senator said it took Mr Wetangula’s intervention to change his mind.
Mr Khalwale says that on Friday he went to Kakamega because he knew he was going to honour the governor’s request.
“I met with my political advisers who told me that because I had not attended the previous visits by the President, those in Mumias, Busia, and Mululu and because I had said I would only attend if the President was coming for development, I should not go to Bungoma because after all it was just a thanksgiving.”
But on Saturday morning, he says he woke up and found that Mr Wetangula had tried to call him.
“Wetangula had tried to call me after mid night so I called him immediately. Against what the two of us had agreed, he told me he had decided to attend the function and because we walk as a team, he asked me to accompany him. I knew the governor would take offence but again what was wrong in attending?” he said.
Mr Khalwale said he had planned to attend the burial ceremony of Chris Okemo’s uncle in Busia.
“I even dispatched my security team to Busia,” he said.
The governor, however denied claims that he was acting on the request of the President’s men who were uneasy with Mr Khalwale’s presence.
“That is not true, what happened was that on a second thought, I concluded that the senator might go overboard in his speech,” he said.
And true to the governor’s fears, when the “bullfighter” as Mr Khalwale is popularly known, took to the stage, he openly criticised the President over some of his decisions.
He questioned the government’s lacksture responsed to security, to his handling of the Anglo Leasing scandal and the empowering of county commissioners.
Mr Khalwale told the President that he should have subjected the proposal to give county commissioners executive powers to the National Assembly and the Senate for debate. On payment of debts to Anglo Leasing companies, the senator said “The assets of those behind Anglo Leasing scandal who are known to the government should be seized and auctioned to pay off the debts,”
Mr Kenyatta defended his move on the commissioners, pointing it will enhance service delivery at the county level. He also told Mr Khalwale to give him space for him to implement his development agenda.
“Even as we do politics, we must respect one another. There is no need of politics of enmity because at the end of the day all these things are directed at improving lives of Kenyans” the President said.
Mt Elgon MP John Serut later criticised Mr Khalwale, vowing to block him from addressing the public in future public rallies in Bungoma.