|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.
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.
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.
Sources in ODM disclose that Zani stormed into the national political limelight in November last year during the party’s retreat at Capital Hill Hotel in Nakuru.
At that meeting, Zani is said to have articulated the problems facing the party and how it can be rejuvenate to the satisfaction of all leaders and delegates present.
Soon, she began to appear at crucial ODM and CORD press conferences. Eye brows were raised when she addressed her first press conference after the Nakuru retreat and spoke on behalf of the party as Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o and all senior party officials watched.
Madzayo recounted that during the retreat, Zani laid bare the reasons for ODM’s loss at last year’s polls and gave a clear road map on how it can re-activate its networks at the grassroots.
According to the former Industrial Court judge, it may be at that time Raila noticed her.
Thereafter, Zani rose to national politics or at least in the ODM ranks.
“After the Nakuru meeting presided over by our party leader and attended by the 47 branch chairmen across the country, it was clear that she had a strong persona,” said Madzayo.
Her electrifying speech on devolution may also have captured not only the party leadership but also other members.
Close allies told The Standard on Sunday that Zani supports negotiations that can lead to an amicable agreement as long as such arrangements meet constitutional thresholds.
“There are negotiations going on to bring in regional balance but we may not agree and as a region, were will now be more assertive to claim our position in the party,” Zani said yesterday.
Coast leaders have argued that although she is a nominated Senator, she is not lesser than other leaders.
Prof Nyong’o refused to be dragged into the debate when contacted in Mombasa only insisting that there “was no hullabaloos in ODM and those interested in the post have the right to contest.”
Senator Omar said though he is from Wiper party and will not vote in the ODM convention, he supports Zani’s candidature because of her negotiation and persuasion skills. “Any Senator would tell you that she is tough in the Senate especially when it comes to issues that affect Coast region.
“There is no problem in ODM and you can preach that until and after the elections. It is her right to contest,” said Nyongo in Mombasa after Senators’ retreat. Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho has also pledged to campaign for Zani in the spirit of uniting Coast.