It’s hard to tell when Junet Noor Mohammed is happy or annoyed. His face lights up with a smile whenever he talks.
One woman voter once told this writer that she first voted for Junet as the MP for Suna East just because of his smile. His charming face could have helped him worm his way into Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s heart.
Recently, when President Uhuru Kenyatta met with Raila for close to three hours, the only people who were present were his daughter Winnie Odinga and Junet, a once little known shopkeeper in Migori town.
His presence at the talks that led to the rivals’ handshake, has also cemented his position as ‘Raila’s Somali son’. He is arguably the closest confidante the former prime minister has today.
“He is without doubt Raila’s most trusted ally. In the recent Raila’s highs and lows, Junet has never stood far,” says political risk analyst Dismas Mokua.
Immediately after announcing that he would boycott last year’s repeat presidential polls, Raila went on a private trip. Just before the five days trip ended, photos of Raila and the MP in Zanzibar emerged.
The two events, clearly show a cordial relationship Raila and his political son enjoy. This political relationship dates back to 2003.
“I first met and spoke with Raila in 2003, previously he would visit Migori town and I would attend his meetings, and when I met him, my young political life took a turn for the better,” says Junet.
Former Migori MP Owino Likowa, in appreciation of the work Junet had for him as the treasurer of his campaign team, requested Raila to nominate him as a councilor.
Son of Suna
The request came to pass, and with the nomination, a political relationship was born.
For Junet -- whose father Sheikh Nuh Mohamed settled in Migori town where he set up a wholesale shop in the 1970s -- what was just a nomination culminated in him serving as Migori town Mayor for two terms.
Popularly known by the locals as ‘wuod Suna’ (son of Suna), Junet recalled that a year after his nomination, Raila toured Migori town two days before the election of the Mayor.
In a surprise move, just before the Opposition leader ended his meeting with the councilors at Awendo Sugarland Hotel at night, he asked them to vote for Junet as the Mayor. “I believe he can bring the much-needed change in Migori town,” Raila is said to have told the councilors. Junet was elected unopposed.
“When my name was proposed and seconded, no other was proposed as we waited for five minutes before they ruled I was the mayor. I was 26 years old,” Junet says.
In 2006 as another election for the Mayor came up, Raila flew to Migori one evening after addressing an ODM rally in Eldoret town, with one single intention. “Make sure you vote for Junet as Mayor.”
For the second time Junet was elected mayor unopposed.
But, his political journey has not been a bed of roses. In January 2013, Junet won ODM nominations for Suna East constituency but he was denied the certificate because of unknown reasons.
“I found out a day later that my name had been removed and replaced with that of my rival, the former MP. This was painful,” says Junet.
In the nominations, the MP had beat strong candidates who included former area MPs John Pesa and Likowa, but those in the party thought the seat was too important to be given to an outsider.
And with that, Junet’s political career hang in the balance. It took the intervention of Raila for him to get the nomination certificate.
Today, the father of five, is a political giant. He even whips Members of the National Assembly from the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition. He confided that when he first told Raila that he wanted to run for the parliamentary seat in 2013, he laughed. “He asked me if that is what I really wanted, then he told me that he will gauge my political strength and advise accordingly,” Junet says.
Four days after their conversation in the Prime Minister’s office in Nairobi, Raila was in Migori accompanied by his wife Ida, to officiate a project. They later proceeded for a rally in the town where Raila held Junet’s hand and asked the crowd if they knew the young man. The crowd roared back: “Mayor.”
“That night at 10pm, Raila called me and asked me to go ahead and campaign for the seat,” Junet says.
As the National Assembly whip, Junet is at the heart of the Legislature and will most likely be an asset to Raila as he pushes for reforms.
Though seen as a Raila ally, some have claimed that Junet enjoys a cordial relationship with Jubilee, a claim he dismissed as baseless. The allegations came after Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wah claimed in 2016 that the ODM Director of Elections was involved in the National Youth Service saga.
Mokua describes Junet as a shrewd grassroots operator who understands his voters’ expectations.
“He’s a close Raila associate and his biggest constituency is Raila Odinga,” Mokua says.