Pressure on Malala to quit as leadership wrangles rock UDA in western Kenya

Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale (centre) with kakamega County UDA members. They welcomed the call for party polls in December. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Wrangles have rocked the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) in Western, with some leaders demanding the removal of the party's acting secretary general Cleophas Malala over alleged gross misconduct.

Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa and Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale have come out guns blazing, accusing Malala of rocking the ruling party from within. Both claim Malala is on a mission to cause confusion and scuttle UDA's chances of taking control of the vote-rich western region in 2027.

In a bare-knuckle attack on Malala, who appears busy planning for UDA’s elections in December, Barasa accused the former Kakamega senator of being an ODM mole in President William Ruto's party and urged him to quit his current position.

Dr Khalwale and Malala are currently running parallel UDA offices in Kakamega County. Matters appear to be getting out of hand after the senator opted to lodge a petition before the Party Disputes and Resolutions Committee seeking Malala’s ejection over alleged gross misconduct.

He wants Malala removed as the party secretary general over claims he took advantage of his position to ‘exploit situations that would be beneficial to him (Malala) to the detriment of other party members’.

Khalwale lodged the petition jointly with Walter Mkinginyi Trenk, another UDA party member aggrieved by Malala’s conduct. The duo had earlier dismissed a list shared on social media platforms of regional and county managers purported to have been picked by Malala single-handedly to jeopardise transparency and fairness during the UDA election process.

They were categorical that the functions of appointing election officials are solely vested in the National Elections Board, and the obligations cannot be directed by anyone else, including Mr Malala. Khalwale rubbished the list and urged party members to disregard it days before he decided to lodge a petition.

UDA acting Secretary General Cleophas Malala addressing the party’s delegates at Bungoma Members Club on October 9, 2023. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

"I urge the committee to intervene since we the petitioners and other parties of UDA will suffer irreparable personal loss and prejudice," read the petition in part.

Khalwale and Malala's differences date back to the last General Election when the former was asked to shelve his governorship ambition and back the latter who vied on ANC ticket but lost to ODM’s Fernandes Barasa

Barasa garnered 192,929 votes against Malala’s 159,508 in an election marred by poor turnout.  At one point, during the campaigns, Khalwale openly told residents to choose who to lead them between Barasa and Malala. Many expected Khalwale would campaign for Malala since they were in the same coalition.

Khalwale argues that Malala should first resign as an ANC member before seeking a leadership position in UDA.

According to Didmus Barasa, Malala is working for UDA competitors. He threatened to mobilise UDA members to storm the party headquarters and forcibly eject Malala if need be.

Barasa said he wondered why the UDA acting SG has intensified attacks on Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and Speaker of the National Assembly Moses Wetang’ula who are President William Ruto’s close allies in the Kenya Kwanza administration.

“He (Malala) was expected to engage ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna and not hurl insults at Mudavadi and Wetang'ula. By attacking Mudavadi and attempting to cause divisions in Kenya Kwanza, Malala could be laying the ground for ODM to triumph in Western in 2027 elections,” said Barasa.

Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa addressing the media at parliament on October 9, 2023, where he is accusing acting UDA Secretary General Cleophas Malala to being an ODM mole in the party of the President. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Lugari MP Nabii Nabwera of ODM also took issue with Malala, accusing him of disrespecting elected leaders in Western Kenya.

Speaking at a UDA event in Bungoma recently, Malala dismissed the Western Parliamentary Caucus push for Luhya unity through weekly fundraising events across the region. Malala wondered how much the leaders expect to raise to be able to create an impact on the economic development of the region. 

“Can such fundraising events generate enough money to finance development projects in our region? Let them stop what they are doing and join the government that has the capacity to implement projects,” said Malala.

The former senator welcomed the elevation of Mudavadi in the recent Cabinet reshuffle and Wetangula’s position as the Speaker but maintained his position that the duo should fold their parties and join UDA.

Mr Nabwera said funds realised in the fundraising events go into improving schools and churches in the region contrary to Malala’s assertion.

A section of political analysts believe Malala could be literally communicating the thoughts of President William Ruto. During the recent UDA National Governing Council meeting at Bomas of Kenya, Ruto said no party will be forced to join UDA, but added: “We shall talk to them and find ways of working together."

As proof Malala is Ruto’s emissary, Political analyst Prof Gitile Naitule, says the combative politician is UDA acting SG “because that is what Ruto wants. No one will be elected at the national level who the boss does not want. Malala works well as an SG by talking a lot".

“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,” Political analyst Kennedy Echesa says.

Most pundits agree, however, that Malala could be chewing more than he can swallow by opening too many battle fronts.