President Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga will share a podium for the first time since they were cleared by the elections agency to vie for the top job during Madaraka Day celebrations in Nyeri today.
The leaders will join more than 20,000 people expected to attend the ceremony – the first to be held in Mt Kenya region since independence – at Kabiru-ini stadium.
Both leaders were earlier this week cleared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to run for the presidency in the August elections and have not shared a platform ever since.
Mr Odinga told journalists yesterday that he will be among Kenyans who will attend the national celebrations marking the 54th year since Kenya attained self-rule.
“Madaraka day is a very important day in our political calendar and we celebrate it whenever and wherever we are. Tomorrow we are going to celebrate it in Nyeri with all Kenyans. We wish everybody else a very happy Madaraka Day,” he said in Nairobi.
In his message ahead of the celebrations, President Kenyatta asked politicians to shun violence before and after elections.
“There are forces who wish to return us to the more unsavoury chapters of our nation’s past. Our independence is incomplete if our disagreements are settled not in court or in the voting booths but on our streets with the threats of violence and intimidation,” wrote the President in a message sent to newsrooms. He also asked Kenyans to shun tribalism and embrace the spirit of democracy.
“Elections should be a great celebration of hard won democracy and liberty a time when the nation speaks and elects a leader who will serve the people and their interests,” added the President.
CALL FOR UNITY
The meeting with opposition leaders today also comes two days after an opinion poll showed that President Kenyatta is still the favourite among voters with 47 per cent indicating they would vote for him compared to Mr Odinga’s 42 per cent.
Today’s event will also be the first time the President will be visiting the central region since the chaotic Jubilee nominations last month where some of his key allies were kicked out by voters. Most sitting legislators, most who lost in the nominations, have vowed to attend the fete, joining their rivals who won the primaries. The theme for this year’s celebrations is “Our unity is our shield.”
This is the third time the celebrations are being held outside Nairobi after Nakuru and Machakos counties hosted the 53rd Madaraka and Mashujaa Day last year respectively. But the choice of Nyeri is significant since most Mau Mau fighters who fought for independence came from there and used the nearby Aberdare forests as their hideout. From Dedan Kimathi University named after the liberation hero to Mau Mau squatters and veterans, the region is a repository of the country’s history.
Central Regional Commissioner Anne Ng’etich said traffic flow is expected to be interrupted to ease congestion as some roads will be temporarily closed when the President arrives.
“Police have been put on high alert and deployed appropriately to ensure patriotic citizens and our visitors enjoy the day undisturbed. There will be security patrols within Nyeri and all other towns in the entire region,” Mrs Ng’etich said, adding that the gates of the stadium will be opened by 5.30 am and all guests should be seated by 9 am.
The Head of State will arrive at the venue at 11 am.
“We will also sample the beauty of our unity as we watch a football match between Gor Mahia and the Nyeri Combined team. I would like to call upon all Kenyans to show their patriotism by showing up to celebrate this day in our country’s calendar,” said Mrs Ng’etich.
As part of the celebrations, a Sh418m stadium in Nyeri will be commissioned today and will be ready in eight months.