FOUR ANIMALS IN ONE BODY

A secretary general like Sifuna is the backbone of serious political party

If you ask a random Kenyan, he wouldn’t pick out the secretary generals of Wiper, Ford Kenya and ANC from a crowd of five

In Summary

• The only reason Sifuna (and I dare add Raphael Tuju of Jubilee Party) irks so many, is because he is left largely as a lone voice in that jungle of political competition

• Among those who have taken proper hits from Sifuna’s so-called acerbic tongue and pen are the former Nasa parties, two of which are Luhya parties

ODM party leader Raila Odinga (right) chats with secretary general Edwin Sifuna (C) and chairman John Mbadi
ODM party leader Raila Odinga (right) chats with secretary general Edwin Sifuna (C) and chairman John Mbadi

I had intended to write about something entirely different this week, but then I saw an online trend last weekend about this rumour that ODM had fired secretary general Edwin Sifuna.

The coordinated way in which the fake news spread like bushfire pointed to a very organised source. But with Sifuna, the enemies are myriad, ranging from the former NASA partners, the Tangatanga folks, ODM’s own internal divisions, or even forces among their partners in government, so the search for whodunit may go far and wide.

I have always equated a party secretary general to four animals, living in one body. He is the buffalo that charges at enemies on behalf of the party, the pig that gets into the mudfest when enemies choose mud as the medium of engagement, the donkey that carries the burdens of the party in its daily political endeavour and becomes the lamb, sacrificed by everyone within and without, when things go wrong.

In just three years on the post, Sifuna has played all four animal roles with so much ease you would think he shares their genetic makeup.

Many modern watchers of politics wouldn’t remember real hawks holding the SG position such as Burudi Nabwera, Moses Mudavadi, Joseph Kamotho and Martin Shikuku. They were abrasive and uncompromising, often going beyond the call of duty to say what many would consider unpalatable. The most naïve section of our population is obviously the one that believes that the secretary general can or could say all these things without the party leader’s knowledge.

In Kenya’s complicated multiparty democracy, the party leader is the alpha and omega of the party, whose unquestioned wisdom is the fountain of ideological wonder for the rank and file. I have never read a statement from any party secretary general that I ever thought was his own thinking away from the supreme doctrine of the “dear leader”.

Once you understand that, you will easily move away from the tendency to scapegoat the holder of the post whenever things go wrong.

As an attack dog (here is a fifth animal in the matrix) of the party, the secretary general is neither a bishop of whatever diocese his opponents thinks he should run inside the party, nor a diplomat to placate the weak mentalities of opposing formations.

His job is to protect the interests of his party, and possibly politically annihilate opponents in totality. The only reason Sifuna (and I dare add Raphael Tuju of Jubilee Party) irks so many, is because he is left largely as a lone voice in that jungle of political competition.

In the early days following the restoration of multiparty politics, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga had his Young Turks, a stellar cast that included Kiraitu Murungi, Gitobu Imanyara, Paul Muite, Raila Odinga, James Orengo and Anyang’ Nyong’o. The group did all the politics, and gave Moi the sleepless nights, leaving the old man with just the relatively easy task of chairing the party.

Today, both Raila and President Uhuru Kenyatta can be under vicious and sustained political attacks, but until their respective secretary general speaks out, there is largely no pushback from their formations. It is whispered that the modern legislator is not averse to eating from both sides of the divide, so it is difficult for many to take a stand for their leader in broad daylight, lest the water they preach by day compromises the wine they take by night.

There is a silent angle to all this. Among those who have taken proper hits from Sifuna’s so-called acerbic tongue and pen are the former Nasa parties, two of which, for all intents and purposes, are Luhya parties.

In their quest to unite and negotiate under the Luhya umbrella, their dreams are not really helped by the presence of powerful Luhya voices (Sifuna and Kakamega Governor and ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya) in a much bigger platform like ODM, because it presents a difficult proposition that Raila, whose influence in Luhyaland they have to diminish before they can purport to claim supremacy, easily tags along Luhya heavy hitters in his party.

It is in the interest of these small Luhya parties that Sifuna is permanently painted as an unwelcome guest in ODM, so that they create for themselves the image of the saviours of the community.

If you ask a random Kenyan, he wouldn’t pick out the secretary generals of Wiper, Ford Kenya and ANC from a crowd of five. If s/he does, s/he probably wouldn’t be surprised that the secretary general of that party comes from a village next to the party leader’s.

This brings me to a point I belabour all the time. That in building political giants from other tribes such as Governor Hassan Joho, Oparanya, Janet Ong’era, Florence Mutua among others, and having in his party a firebrand secretary general who causes ulcers among his opponents, Raila runs a truly multiparty institution as envisioned by the liberation heroes he served with.

Opponents of ODM wouldn’t understand this because democracy, or a semblance of it, knocked on their doors only after President Daniel Moi retired. But if I was Raila, I would be glad to be scheming and plotting in the serenity of Karen, as my secretary general dispatched my enemies to Siberia.

Give credit where it is due. Away from the public statements for which his political neck is permanently on the line, Sifuna has transformed the ODM secretariat into a modern, coordinated and efficient organization. It is the foundation upon which the other party organs have gained their new vibrancy.

In all ways, the party is now a smoothly operating machine waiting for the 2022 challenge. Besides, Sifuna’s loyalty to Railais absolute, a far cry from many secretary generals in multiparty Kenya, who made the habit of using that position as a bargaining chip for nocturnal sacks of largesse.

Of all the qualities that make the secretary general the backbone of a party, and the party leader’s dependable eye, none in my view ranks as high as loyalty, credibility and a fearless, firebrand ability to take on all enemies of the party, small and big, consequences be damned.

This is why those who keep vigil awaiting the sacking of Sifuna grow in numbers by the day. And this is also why ODM must keep Sifuna firmly on the post, to give Raila the space to work his political magic in the background. Those who want one of Raila’s main cogs gone simply want one more hurdle removed, so that they can engage Raila directly as their equal in this political jungle.

Much to their chagrin, Sifuna doesn’t extend them that luxury.

Edited by EKibii