MY MENTOR

Junet: My bond with Raila transcends politics, he's like a father

Suna East MP credits his rise from his time as a grassroots mobiliser and nominated councillor to ODM leader

In Summary

• MP says Raila has treated him as a son. 

• Adds that when history books will be written after Raila retires from active politics, he will be among those to be acknowledged as his mentees.

National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohammed gestures during an interview on national governance at his office in Nairobi on June 22, 2021.
National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohammed gestures during an interview on national governance at his office in Nairobi on June 22, 2021.
Image: DOUGLAS OKIDDY

Suna East MP and National Assembly Minority Whip’s WhatsApp profile photo—as of Wednesday—was of him and ODM leader Raila Odinga, the former premier holding up his hand.

This was a gesture of political endorsement. And if and when Raila does that, you are as good as elected. Maybe not always but most of the time.

The photo was taken at a rally in Migori just after the Pangani Six arrest in June 2016.

Junet was one of the six politicians dramatically arrested after a panel appearance on NTV during the political heat in the run-up to the 2017 General Election.

In an interview with the Star on Wednesday, Junet said after that rally, his campaign was as good as done and he immediately returned to Nairobi to focus on Raila's presidential election campaign. 

He only went back to Migori to campaign for a week in a constituency he is essentially a foreigner as his family is originally from Mandera.

Raila had already done the major part. He is one of Raila's most trusted lieutenants.

And while the world and the nation were in the dark about the March 9, 2018 handshake—including Nasa principals Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) and Moses Wetang'ula (Ford-K)—Junet was among the few insiders in Raila’s camp who had prior knowledge about it. He accompanied the ODM leader to the Harambee House meeting.

When asked about the behind-the-scenes intrigues, he hesitated, then said: “That’s a story for another day. A story on its own.”

So how did Junet get into Raila’s inner circle?

The lawmaker was born on October 25, 1977, in Migori. His father, Sheikh Nuh Mohamed, had moved from Mandera.

“My father went to Migori in the 1970s to look for business opportunities. He first settled and then brought his family. He actually travelled from Nairobi to Nakuru, to Kisii town and was later told there was another town called Migori where there were business opportunities at the Tanzanian border. He went there for business purposes but finally settled and became part of the community,” Junet said. 

He started his early education in Migori before proceeding to Lenana School and later to college.

Junet has Bachelor degree in International Business Administration.

While in Nairobi, he was friends with politicians, including George Bonyo and Tom Okwanyo, whose father, Henry Okwanyo was Migori MP for close to 30 years. 

By the time he was about 23 years, Junet was already involved in politics, actively taking part in grassroots mobilisation.

During the 2002 polls, he participated in constituency campaigns in Migori—as it was called then (now split into Suna East and Suna West)—and supported Charles Owino Likowa, who finally won the seat.

Junet was the treasurer of Likowa's campaign committee.

“After the election, he (Likowa) came back to me and said he wanted me to be the mayor of Migori. He took my details and documents to Narc and then introduced me to Raila. I became the mayor after being nominated by Narc to the municipal council,” Junet recalled.

He was nominated alongside his friend Okwanyo and held the mayoral position until 2012, having once again been nominated as a councillor by ODM in 2007.

In May 2012, Junet sought to join the East African Community Legislative Assembly. He talked to ODM and party leader Raila and was listed. He, however, fell short of the race. He was number six, while ODM had fives slots.

Soon after, around June, there was delimitation of boundaries and Migori was split into two. “I decided to vie in Suna East,” he said.

He secured the ODM ticket but it was not without drama. In a video clip that went viral on social media, Dr Duncan Ojwang, who taught Junet Business Law at USIU, narrates how the MP nearly lost the ODM ticket despite winning. Junet confirmed that he told Ojwang the story.

“With Junet winning in the nominations, he travelled to Nairobi with the returning officer. He was then told to wait for the nomination certificate. Franklin Bett calls and asks how the nominations were. When he asks who got the Suna East ticket, he is told it's John Pesa, who had lost. Junet had to step out to take a breath,” Dr Ojwang narrates.

It was only after Raila’s intervention that Junet got his ticket, even with ODM filing a case in Migori, alleging he had forged the certificate.

Ojwang was narrating the story to demonstrate how closeness to the party leader is important to survive in Kenyan politics.

Junet went on to win the election with over 22,000 votes, doubling those of the second candidate.

“The reason I won this election is because I used the position of mayor to endear myself to the people through projects, for example, installing streetlights. On the day we installed them, people walked along the road the whole night. They were very happy,” he says.

“In fact, for the second mayorship in 2006, Raila came and campaigned for me by calling area MPs and councillors at a hotel and said this young man must remain being mayor.

"As MP, I became mainstream. In 2014, I became director of elections of ODM. And the person who proposed me for the position at the National Governing Council at Bomas was Raila. I was not given anything in Naivasha when they were sharing positions.”

In 2017, he retained the MP seat and was appointed Minority Whip in 2018. He was later made the co-chair of the Building Bridges Initiative. He is currently part of a team crafting a pre-election deal between ODM and Jubilee.

Political commentator Collins Ajuok says while Junet maybe unpopular with a section of ODM, he is “Raila’s fixer and knows how to position himself quite well”.

Junet credits Raila with his political growth. So when on June 23, 2020, exactly a year before this interview, he said they follow Raila like cows, he knew what he meant—and essentially what he is protecting.

"Since I became mayor, Raila took me like his son. If you look at his 2007 campaigns, I was among the young people who campaigned with him everywhere. From that time, he has been holding my hand.

"And when history books will be written when Raila retires from politics, I will be among those to be included as the people he mentored. It is more than political, it is like a father-and-son relationship,” he says.

Public and policy analyst Ochieng’ Kanyadudi says, “He’s influential but his influence can’t be brought to bear on Raila’s interest. I think he still ranks way below Joho and Oparanya but clearly ahead of Mbadi and Sifuna. He’s an operative but lacks the intellectual gravitas necessary for his assigned leadership position in the party and so he punches beyond his ability.”

But veteran journalist-cum-politician Matiko Bohoko without Raila, Junet is done. "If Raila doesn’t, for instance, run for presidency, Junet is finished. Even with Raila running in 2022, Junet may not win back his seat.”

Matiko, who is popularising Migori Governor Okoth Obado's PDP outfit,  argues that the disgruntlement of Suna East voters over his absence and "lack of tangible development programmes" is growing by the day.

“He is all along with Raila in the national politics, ignoring his constituents,” Matiko says.

But Junet dismissed the claim, saying he knows how to chew gum while climbing the stairs.

“I've done a lot for my constituency: rural electrification; tarmacking of roads, which I benefitted from under the handshake; bursaries; building of classrooms; and buying school buses. My constituents are happy,” he said.

Will he go for Migori governorship? He says that is not his priority and adds that he will seek reelection as he is serving his people well in the National Assembly.