Malala upbeat he will retain SG position during December UDA elections

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua (centre) UDA Secretary General Cleophas Malala (second right), among other leaders, during the inaugural UDA National Governing Council Meeting at Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi on September 29, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

United Democratic Alliance (UDA) acting secretary-general Cleophas Malala will contest for the seat during the party’s elections in December.

Just two days after UDA held its National Governing Council (NGC) meeting at the Bomas of Kenya on September 29, Mr Malala said he is ready for the elections.

“My position as SG is subject to elections,” he said. “I will face any contestant, be it from the mountain, lake or plateau regions. We shall hold the elections and they will be credible. There are two outcomes from an election; you either win or lose. I am ready for the election because UDA is a democratic party," said the politician.

President William Ruto pointed out that it was better for UDA to conduct elections now than wait and have them coincide with national elections.

Political party elections in Kenya are known for their chaotic nature. In February 2014, for instance, the ODM party elections at Kasarani were aborted after ‘men in black’ turned up and disrupted the exercise. 

Conduct elections

“Some of you say this is not the right time to conduct elections, that we should wait. I say this is the right time so that if matters come to a head, we will know what to do,” Ruto said while emphasising the need to build a strong national party, which he believes is the only way to unify the country.

“Let us build a strong national party. We have been divided by tribal party lines for a long time and that has brought us a lot of problems,” he told the delegates.

Many political parties emerged in Kenya after the repeal of section 2A of the constitution in 1991 which ended the single-party rule of Kanu. There were 82 registered political parties compliant for the 2022 General Election. 

Unlike Kanu who had a few all-powerful individuals calling the shots, Ruto promised that UDA would be democratic and all voices would be heard, irrespective of one's station in life.

Yet, despite his strong desire to turn UDA into a political juggernaut, Ruto is aware of the challenges ahead in convincing UDA constituent parties, ANC and Ford-K to wind up.

Constituent parties

Malala kicked off a debate about Kenya Kwanza constituent parties folding up at a fundraiser in Navakholo, Kakamega. He has since not missed any opportunity to label ANC a village party and asked Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang'ula to fold up their parties and join UDA.

Malala’s call for dissolution has ignited resistance from Bungoma, Ford-K’s stronghold and Vihiga, ANC’s stronghold in western Kenya.

Lately, Malala has stepped up shuttle diplomacy in the Rift Valley and Central Kenya regions, perhaps to shore up support for the scheduled elections.

Political analyst Prof Gitile Naitule says Malala will likely be elected the party’s SG in December. 

“He will become SG because that is what Ruto wants. No one will be elected at the national level whom the boss does not want. Elections are formalities, parties have owners who get what they want. Besides, Malala works well as an SG by talking a lot,” Naitule says.

This view is shared by political analyst Kennedy Echesa who says Malala has the backing of Gachagua and, hence will be elected to the position. 

President William Ruto addresses the inaugural UDA National Governing Council Meeting at Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi on September 29, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

“Malala seems to have the ears of the owners of the UDA party. He is a close associate of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, the presumptive referee in the December elections. I think Malala has all elements a party would want in a secretary-general," says Echesa.

However, Ruto sounded a warning at the Bomas NGC saying; “We all must plan for elections ahead. No one will get a post on a silver platter. Go out there and convince voters to support you. Do not say I am Ruto’s friend, look for friendship with the voters. I will also be going to them because none of the officials in UDA was elected."

Malala’s tenure as SG has been controversial. A visit he paid to State House, Nairobi, in the company of a handful of leaders from the western without the blessings of, among others, Mudavadi, Wetang'ula, and Khalwale, caused an uproar. Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Gladys Shollei called Malala out in June when she blamed him for causing rifts in the party. 

UDA membership drives

"I am disappointed with the performance of Malala, he has been going on the UDA membership drives and many of them have ended in violence. As UDA members, we should begin to ask ourselves if he is trying to destroy our party,” said Shollei.

In June, UDA delegates meeting in Mombasa where Malala was present ended prematurely after supporters of EALA MP Hassan Omar and Nyali MP Mohammed Ali clashed. Similarly, there was violence in Isiolo and Marsabit when Malala visited the region.

Malala’s support among Western leaders appears small if the number of elected leaders in his camp is anything to go by. While in Mt Elgon recently where he stepped up calls for the dissolution of ANC and Ford-K, Malala was in the company of two elected leaders, namely Webuye West MP Dan Wanyama and host MP Fred Kapondi. Also present was former Bumula MP Mwambu Mabonga.

Church function 

On the same day, Mudavadi and Wetang'ula were in Shinyalu constituency at a church function accompanied by more than 30 elected leaders from western Kenya and some from other regions.

The distribution of the 7.2 million UDA registered members is not yet clear, but the support Ruto got from Mt Kenya and Rift Valley during last year’s election campaign points to the regions having the lion’s share. UDA is still trying to establish itself in western Kenya where the opposition has held sway for decades. 

Malala appears to have burnt bridges with ANC, Ford-K, and even ODM. He could find himself in a precarious position if the upcoming UDA elections do not favour him. He is sitting in the Cabinet by virtue of being UDA secretary general, a privilege he will lose if he fails to clinch the seat.

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