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Moses Wetangula: Kenya's ultimate political gambler

Speaker Moses Masika Wetangula. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Moses Masika Wetangula’s knack for finding the sweet spot in the inner sanctum of power struck once again on Friday, affirming his place as Kenya’s ultimate political gambler.

Just four months ago, the former Ford Kenya leader was the butt of all jokes from detractors who had written him off as a fringe benefit to the package Musalia Mudavadi was bringing to Kenya Kwanza.

He was derisively tagged “Weta the 5th” as he ran for Bungoma seat while his fellow Kenya Kwanza principals kept off the small races to focus on the presidential vote. Many doubted whether he and Mudavadi would garner 30 per cent of the votes cast in Western, the target set by UDA. 

But when the results were declared, and William Ruto crowned the 5th President, all the doubts evaporated in the thin air. Wetang’ula cut himself a sweet deal as the Speaker of the National Assembly, and quit his position as Bungoma Senator-elect.

In the ensuing by-election held on Thursday, the Kenya Kwanza leadership had probably thought they gave him too much and fielded a UDA candidate against his own candidate, his personal assistant Wafula Wakoli.

Yesterday, Wakoli floored all his competitors, including Wafula Wamumyinyi, the man who unsuccessfully tried to wrestle the Ford Kenya mantle from Wetang’ula last year, and later formed the Democratic Action Party – Kenya (DAP-K).

The Bachelor of Arts (Education) graduate from Egerton university won the seat by 64,009 votes against Mwambu Mabonga of UDA’s 45,682 while Wamunyinyi (Azimio la Umoja) came third with 22,296 ballots in his favour. 

Bungoma Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) boss Grace Rono presented the certificate of victory at 12.35pm to the 39-year-old who is said to have honed his leadership skills at Musingu High School as a perfect. Wakoli attributed his victory to Wetang’ula’s support. 

“I owe it to Ford-Kenya and Wetang’ula for giving me this chance to lead. It is a great show of trust for young leaders and a rare feat in a world of politics where the youth are maligned under party heavyweights,” he said, extending an olive branch to the 10 competitors he floored. 

UDA bigwigs led by chairman Johnston Muthama had descended on Bungoma, pitching for Mabonga as Wetang’ula and Mudavadi pushed back. They claimed Kenya Kwanza had given Wetang’ula the Speakers job and he should leave the seat alone so that the President’s party could boost their numbers in the Senate.

Elected speaker

But Wetang’ula and Mudavadi would hear none of this. They couldn’t understand why UDA would field a candidate against them in their political bedroom.  The seat had fallen vacant after Wetang’ula, who had just clinched it in August after getting 286,146 votes, resigned on September 7 to contest the seat of Speaker of the National Assembly. Wakoli served as Wetang’ula PA for 10 years. Upon being declared the winner, he promised to walk “with the fire of Wetang’ula in my belly”, underscoring his first port of loyalty.

Ford Kenya’s Martin Wanyonyi (Webuye East, MP), John Makali (Kanduyi) and Ferdinand Wanyonyi interpreted the victory by the Lion Party as a stamp of authority in its Bungoma and Trans Nzoia domain and further. 

“This is not a win for the party in the region but nationally also, a win for the youth as our candidate Wakoli is below 40 and very vibrant,” said Wanyonyi, the Ford Kenya deputy boss. 

Wanyonyi played down the notion that their Wakoli’s win would hurt their relationship with Kenya Kwanza saying the alliance was “democratically mature” to reason differently on the matter of fielding candidates. 

“Besides, the president was not concerned with the candidate who was riding on his name to seek votes,” he said. “Again the president has so many MPs in Parliament that I think the Bungoma Senate seat should not bother him so much.” 

During the campaigns, Mudavadi and Wetang’ula insisted that Ford Kenya was a legacy party in the region which could not give in to UDA which was formed just about two years ago. They invoked the name of Masinde Muliro, Elijah Masinde and George Kapten saying the renowned Luhya political heroes would be “sad in their graves” if they learnt the Lion party candidate (Wakoli) was floored in its backyard. 

Musalia was in fact,categorical that ANC and Ford-Kenya had not fielded candidates in the upcoming Garissa Town MP contest out of respect of UDA and that code should be replicated in Bungoma by UDA letting Ford-Kenya be.  

On the campaigns grounds, Azimio sent its troops led by immediate former Kakamega governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Defence CS Eugene Wamalwa to do their bidding.

Their general line was that voting for a Kenya Kwanza candidate as Senator would turn Bungoma into a looting ground as the governor was from the same alliance. The two managed to convince slightly more than 20,000 to vote for Wamunyinyi, the immediate former Kanduyi MP. 

The campaigns were generally peaceful, according to security sources. Bungoma Police Boss Francis Kooli said there were isolated cases of fighting among supporters of candidates clashing but “no major incidences.”

According to political analyst Gitile Naituli, the win has affirmed Wetangula’s place in regional politics.

“It has cemented his (Wetang’ula) legacy, especially in Bukusu land. The race was his for the taking. President Ruto will as well respect him for the decisive win,” he said. 

“He will definitely go to history as a man who mastered his backyard and could influence the political doings to his favour.” 

Wetang’ula started off as a magistrate in 1982 but plunged into the murky field that is politics eight years later. At a time the country was clamouring for multiparty system and Kanu’s popularity had dwindled, Wetang’ula again gambled by joining the ruling party and was eventually nominated as an MP to make his debut in parliament. He was later elected as Sirisia MP in 2007 and would retain this seat until 2013 when he switched to contest the Bungoma senatorial seat when the new constitution came into effect.

After 2013 while his CORD comrades Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka were cooling their heels outside government and Parliament, Wetang’ula was enjoying the state largese as the Senate Minority leader. He attempted to stretch it beyond the 2017 electoral loss for Raila but was stopped by the handshake politics.

A “messy and noisy” divorce ensued between him and his Nasa comrades, culminating in his Kenya Kwanza deal in the run up to this year’s general election. In the ensuing period, Wetangula fought many tough battles to retain the chairmanship of Ford Kenya, remaining the principal leader of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s party. 

The Standard
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