The populous Luhya community finds itself in yet another round of bruising succession politics as the Western region remains in an election mode.
Leaders from the community are already taking sides with the main focus on William Ruto and Raila Odinga.
The five Luhya-dominated counties of Kakamega, Vihiga, Bungoma, Busia and Trans Nzoia are awash with campaigns every weekend with each leader drumming up support for their favourite candidates.
Even as the community is still waiting to see if the planned merger between Amani National Congress and Ford-Kenya will become a reality, there are already reports that one leader of the two political formations may not be directly on the presidential ballot in 2022 but is angling towards Ruto. This is reportedly retaliation against Raila’s decision to work with Uhuru Kenyatta without involving them.
Raila still enjoys a sizeable following the region due to his vast networks established over the years.
The Luhyas who support their sons Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula however feel the two are not doing enough to marshal the community as they are seldom on the ground.
“They take our support for granted yet other leaders are busy mobilising their communities. Look at Ruto and Raila for instance; they are ever in their hometurfs interacting with their people and engaging in one activity and the other. But when last did you see Musalia and Wetang’ula in, let us say, Kakamega? The last time we heard about them was in Vihiga when they attended the burial of former AFC Leopards Chairman Francis Chahonyo,” said an MP from Kakamega who asked not to be named because he is a friend to the duo. Top Luhya politician are known to play funeral politics.
A section of the Luhya populace feels Musalia and Wetang’ula are taking them for granted and “expect automatic support just because they come from the community”.
“Take Musalia for instance, he was bestowed as the Luhya spokesman in December 2016 courtesy of Cotu secretary general Francis Atwoli but has he made any initiatives to unite the community since then? What has he ever done so far to show that he is our leader?” said the MP.
Analysts say Atwoli means well for the Luhya community but has been let down by key players in in region politics. Many say,if Atwoli was Mudavadi or even Cyrus Jirongo the former Lugari MP who he lend a cool Sh100m to help him out of economic doldrums only to renegade in payment, the Luhya community will be in good bargaining position. It is this state of affairs that has thrown the community into confusion with focus now shifting to “outsiders” Ruto and Raila and of course the emerging Gideon Moi factor.
Though it is still unclear whether Raila will make another stab at the presidency in 2022, the ODM leader maintains his footsoldiers in the region. These are led by Kakamega governor Wycliffe Oparanya and his Busia and Vihiga counterparts Sospeter Ojaamong and Wilbur Khasilwa Ottichilo, respectively. Also in the team are Kakamega senator Cleophas Malalah, county MP Elsie Muhanda and ANC nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi who has deserted Mudavadi.
Osotsi is planning to run for Luanda parliamentary seat against the current MP Chris Omulele. Sources say, he is angling towards ODM to challenge Omulele after following out with ANC. Osotsi of late is mostly seen in public functions with ODM luminaries including secretary general Edwin Sifuna. He is luring Knut chairman Wycliffe Omucheyi to join ODM to face Kuppet boss Omboko Milemba the current Emuhuya MP. Knut official Daniel Andafu, Osotsi cousin is a key player behind the scenes.
On the other hand, Ruto has been making forays in the region wooing the leaders through mainly fundraisers. Those who have identified with the DP so far are Sports cabinet secretary Rashid Echesa, MPs Benjamin Washiali (Mumias East), Benard Shinali (Ikolomani), Malulu Injendi (Malava) and Ayub Savula (Lugari), for Kakamega; Foreign Affairs chief administrative secretary Ababu Namwamba leads the Busia bandwagon while senate speaker Kenneth Lusaka is incharge of the Luhya counties and parts of Trans Nzoia.Lusaka emerging factor in Luhya politics has seen Wetangula team up with Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa to tame him.
To show how Lusaka is networking for Ruto, he recently hosted MCAs from Vihiga at his official Karen residence and flew the following day to Luanda constituency being hosted by Omulele at a church function.He donated Sh800,000 towards the completion of the church project.
Although he has vaguely come clear over the camp he is supporting, former Kakamega senator Boni Khalwale appears to be on Ruto’s side going by his recent public pronouncements and his association with Wetang’ula who is reportedly behind the DP. Khalwale is Wetang’ula’s close associate and the Bungoma senator’s deputy in Ford-K. Sources say, Wetang’ula and Wamalwa want to establish network in the region and convince Ruto they are more on ground than Lusaka.
It is so far not clear who the DP’s pointman in Vihiga is but sources say, he has briefs on the happenings in the county using a Nairobi based business man close to energy CS Charles Keter.Vihiga senator George Khaniri although close to Raila is in talks with Keter.Keter is a key player in Ruto camp. Reports indicate, Khaniri is eyeing to be Vihiga governor 2022 just like Sabatia MP Alfred Agoi. Former governor Moses Akaranga will go for senatorship.
The ongoing alignments and realignments have jolted the community’s politics amid surprises from some leaders who have jumped ship only a few days after showing hardline positions in the public.
Such is Savula who has surprised many by throwing his weight behind Ruto yet he only a few weeks ago was speaking from the other side of the mouth. Savula who is gunning for the Kakamega governor’s seat is ANC deputy party leader and it is not clear whether his decision is personal or having blessings of his party boss. Suprisingly, his boss Mudavadi has declared will on presidential ballot 2022.
Khalwale too had earlier surprised many of his supporters when he was quoted saying Ruto is the man to beat yet he had been leading opponent and critic of the deputy president.
Those opposed to the alignments, especially to Ruto’s side believe money is the driving factor. “Some of our leaders are ‘tumbocrats’ who always seek financial favours from those in positions of power. It is a disgrace,” says ODM youth leader Benson Musungu.
Butere MP Tindi Mwale says Luhyas should stick with their leaders and groom them the way other communities do so as to have a stake in the next government.
“For instance we have Mudavadi and Wetang’ula at this moment and we should thus rally behind them and accord them the support they deserve to negotiate for power with other communities. We should stop washing our dirty linen in the public,” says Mwale of ANC.
Another issue is the perennial political rivalry between the Maragoli and Bukusu with some leaders doubting the proposed merger between ANC and Ford-K. It remains to be seen if the Bukusu will be ready to cede their Ford-K brand now that New Ford-Kenya is disbanded.
“The Bukusu holds Ford-Kenya in high esteem as the party reminds them of their leaders such as Michael Wamalwa Kijana. To change the name into something else in a merger could create resistance in some, if not all, quarters,” said Cleophas Akumonyo, a youth leader from Kakamega.
On the other hand, ANC is facing its fair share of leadership wrangles with Osotsi and political analyst Barrack Muluka squabbling over the secretary-general’s position. Mudavadi allies accuse Osotsi of being Raila’s hatchet-boy and frustrating their efforts for a merger.
Ruto will not have it easy in the region where many voters still view him with disdain and suspicion.
The huge number of Luhya leaders supporting his bid could also turn into a curse because some of them are seeking the same political positions come 2022 and thus ensuring that they stick together will be a Herculean task.
Kakamega is the best example where nearly all those seeking to be governor are in Ruto’s camp. They include Savula, Khalwale, Shinali, Washiali and Mable Muruli. This leaves Shinyalu MP Justus Kizito and deputy governor Philip Kutima with an advantage as they are in Raila’s camp and have Governor Oparanya’s ear.If Jirongo decides to run for governorship, then things will be complicated.
Another notable figure in Luhya politics is businessman Stanley Livondo whose plans are not yet known although he has his following in the region particularly Kakamega. Many believe Livondo failed to make it as Kakamega senator in 2022 simply because of party affiliation. He will thus make a major contribution in determining who carries the day in 2022.
And if either Mudavadi or Wetang’ula decides to gun for the top seat then it will completely tilt the matrix and force the Ruto and Raila camps back to the drawing board. Thus, the drama continues.
In Busia, Ruto knows Raila influence in the region after Jubilee pointmen were defeated in the last polls. Ababu Namwamba and Paul Otuoma are back in the drawing board.