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Agnes Zani: The political newcomer who has rattled ODM’s rank and file

By Benard Sanga
Updated Sun, February 2nd 2014 at 00:00 GMT +3
Dr. Agnes Zani with Raila Odinga
                    Dr. Agnes Zani with Raila Odinga                   PHOTO: COURTESY

By Benard Sanga

To critics, she is a political greenhorn not qualified to contest a top seat in a popular party such as ODM.

Others have argued that Dr Agnes Zani is a late entrant in ODM politics and therefore has no political experience to handle the position of party Secretary General.

In the campaigns, she has been underrated by her opponents, derided and belittled with snide remarks as “an unknown woman from the Coast.”

Until a few months ago, she was unknown among the ODM rank and file apart from the fact that she is nominated Senator from Kwale.

Many ODM MPs from Nyanza do not understand how such a political novice can be entrusted with the position of Secretary General.

They have protested loudly both at rallies and in the media, demanding that party leader Raila Odinga withdraws his support for her. Big names such as MPs Ababu Namwamba (Budalang’i), John Mbadi (Suba), Ken Obura (Kisumu Central) and Elizabeth Ongoro (Nairobi Senator) were all running for Secretary General’s position.

Apart from Namwamba who insists that his name will be on the ballot at the National Delegates Conference (NDC), the rest have gone quiet.

In private, leading politicians in the Coast region acknowledge she is a good leader, capable of rising above sectarian, tribal, class and ideological politics. They claim she has received the support of all groups including the so-called upcountry settlers or residents.

Rural masses

Supporters credit her success to her ability to connect with rural masses, women and the courage to confront rivals as shown by her recent foray into Nyanza to address delegates in an area perceived to be opposed to her candidature.

She has pushed hard to make herself visible in the media and through convening public functions to boost her image and profile.

Last week in Mombasa, together with Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar, she rallied senators across the party divide to support the Senate Finance Committee report recommending the transfer of harbours and ferry services to county governments which will boost the revenue bases of six counties in Kenya that have water bodies. “I have never seen such a strong female debater and its is because of her that we managed to convince the Senate to devolve harbours and ferry services which will boost Mombasa county revenues by up to Sh3billion per year,” said Hassan.

Other counties to benefit are Kwale, Kilifi, Homa Bay, Lamu, Turkana, Busia and Kisumu. Evidently, she appears ready to stamp her authority in national politics beyond her current status of being a nominated Senator.

Political ambitions

When The Standard on Sunday spoke to her, she was reluctant to discuss her political ambitions beyond the party polls only saying: “My focus at the moment is to revitalise the party from the grassroots and to make sure that the party leader Raila Odinga wins in 2017.”

According to some ODM leaders from Coast region, one of the reasons Zani’s candidature has created a sensation is that many contestants had initially underrated her. “They believed she was inexperienced, and could not engage in political wheeler-dealing to force negotiations for a seat or that she would simply burn out and fall out,” said Kilifi Senator Stewart Madzayo.

Leaders also argue that other opponents underestimated her support in CORD across Coast and among the top hierarchy within ODM.

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