Bubbles in the political pot in Mulembe nation are already becoming noisy, with Kakamega governor Wycliffe Oparanya steadily training his gun on the presidency, as unity calls take centre stage.
On Wednesday, ANC’s Musalia Mudavadi, Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula and Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa met in a Nairobi hotel and the Bungoma senator said he was open to discussing political alliances with the two at an appropriate time.
Barely a month after Wamalwa and Wetang’ula reconciled.
Mudavadi and Wetang’ula have been rooting for a merger of their parties since the NASA fallout after the January 30 mock swearing-in of Raila Odinga as People’s President. The co-principals, including Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka boycotted.
Last weekend, during the homecoming party for Emuhaya MP Omboko Milemba, Governor Oparanya took his presidential ambitions to the doorstep of Mudavadi in Emuhaya constituency, Vihiga county.
Mudavadi arrived nearly two hours earlier at Emusire High School grounds and was treated to a warm welcome before the arrival of Oparanya, which caused a stir as Isikuti dancers and several women and youths mobbed him. Sabatia MP Alfred Agoi was prompted to pause, while on the podium, until Oparanya and his team settled.
The ground was already charged after a number of MCAs from Vihiga allied to ANC had thrown their weight behind Mudavadi, declaring him the best bet for President in 2022.
In a counter response, all the 22 MCAs from Kakamega allied to ODM poured cold water on Mudavadi’s bid, saying it was high time a fresh candidate with demonstrated credentials in the name of Oparanya — who is serving his final term — was given the mantle “to take the community’s national interests to the next level”.
Kakamega senator Cleophas Malala’s statement on the political future of the community caused some irritations to a section of the crowd, when he said it is only through Raila that the Luhya community will ascend to power, urging Mudavadi to support his handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Malala, who opened fresh wounds on Luhya unity talk, shocked the gathering when he said Luyhas are their worst enemies, adding that during NASA presidential nomination, each of the four parties that formed NASA, namely ODM, ANC, Ford Kenya and Wiper nominated three delegates. Ford-K and ANC had six Luhya delegates in total out of 12 and as such could easily through numerical strength pick either Mudavadi or Wetang’ula, which was not the case.
Oparanya, who is also the ODM deputy party leader, said he has enough experience and an enviable track record as governor, and this is a clear testimony of his “outstanding ability” to hold the reins after President Kenyatta in 2022. He, however, noted he is ready to face off with Mudavadi and Wetang’ula in a democratic process for the community to pick their preferred candidate.
Mudavadi, who was the chief guest at the function, said his focus is to keep Jubilee in check and was not ready to join government.
“I will remain in the opposition and do my duty as required but equally support the government in every good thing it does, “ Mudavadi said. He vowed to push for institutional reforms, particularly at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, which he accused of bungling the 2017 presidential election, to prevent mismanagement of future polls.
The visibly irritated ANC chief urged the Luhyas to remain steadfast in the opposition as they plan on how to clinch power in 2022.
Central Organisation of Trade Union boss Francis Atwoli, who spoke ahead of Mudavadi, dismissed remarks by some MPs and MCAs who said the community is not united for a political cause, with others drumming up support for Oparanya.
Atwoli insisted the community is united and promised to conduct another political survey in 2021 to decide on the spokesman come 2022 at Bukhungu Stadium.
“Don’t worry about picking of the community flagbearer. I have saved Sh500 million to facilitate Bukhungu II come 2021 to choose who is the most popular,” Atwoli said.
In December 2016, the University of Nairobi conducted a survey showing Mudavadi was the most popular leader across the Luhya, followed by Governor Oparanya and Wetang’ula.
Five things happened during the meeting which political pundits have taken into consideration as indicative factors that will influence the political landscape in Western Kenya: Vihiga governor Wilberforce Ottichilo (ODM) steered clear of the presidential debate and did not say anything for or against Mudavadi.
The audience was attentive when Oparanya spoke, while when Atwoli, who was the second last speaker took the podium, the crowd was not only attentive, patient and motionless, but was in a dead silence mode.
When the time came for Mudavadi to speak, murmuring began as a section of the crowd in front of the podium started walking away nonchalantly and soon the seats in front area were all empty before he finished his speech.
Some political observers say based on the performance of ODM — he ensured the party clinched 54 MCA seats out of 89 — he showed he still retains the political grip and is able to govern smoothly due to a super majority, making him an outright point man for Raila.
Two other key factors that may pull the rug out from under Mudavadi and Wetang’ula are the long standing rivalry between the two dominant tribes out of 18 and the numbers of the smaller subtribes put together. The Luhya population is projected to be 5.6 million.
The Maragolis are projected to be at least 600,000 while Bukusu has a population of 1,000,000. The rest of the 16 Luhya subtribes, who are presumed to have sought alternative leadership from Oparanya, are four million.
The rivalry originated from the Kwaka church, whose headquarters was in Bungoma where it originated. But the likes of pioneer Cabinet minister Joseph Otiende from Maragoli pushed the split of the church when he and others facilitated the establishment of a parallel headquarters in Vihiga against the wishes of Bukusu members of in Bungoma.
The supremacy battles between the two leading subtribes which has permeated Luhya politics for decades is bound to work in favour of the emerging Oparanya, who seems to be representing the interests of the smaller 16 others, whose numerical strength is more than double compared to the two combined. This could make the governor upstage the voters from Mudavadi and Wetang’ula.
The writer is a Kisumu-based communications consultant