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Bukusu factor hangs above new found Opposition unity

By Barrack Muluka | January 14th 2017 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Opposition leaders Musalia Mudavadi(left) Kalonzo Musyoka(center)Raila Odinga,Moses wetangula and Nick Salat during the launch of NASA at Bomas of Kenya. (Photo:Beverlyne Musuli/Standard)

The Opposition cookie is crumbling even before it is baked. On Wednesday, a joint Opposition displayed rare unity and might at the Bomas of Kenya. Yet even before the day ended Kanu sent out disturbing signals. Several party officials disowned the Bomas meeting and unity.

Even more alarming was a hurried press conference by Ford Kenya the next day. An ill-tempered party leader, Moses Wetang’ula, and his top brass disowned the National Supper Alliance (NASA) that was sort of unfurled at Bomas. They threw snide remarks at Amani National Congress (ANC) leader, Musalia Mudavadi.

Wetang’ula allusively talked of wolves in sheepskin. He all but said Mudavadi must not be part of the Opposition unity. The only coalition his party recognises, he said, is the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD). Further, he only recognises leaders of the three parties. His lieutenants, led by Kiminini MP Chris Wamalwa, have meanwhile been outright in rejecting Mudavadi.

Clearly, Ford Kenya is rattled by the closing of ranks between ANC and a section of CORD. Especially disturbing is the renewed amity between Raila and Mudavadi. On the home front, two weeks ago when Mudavadi was crowned the Luhya political kingpin in Kakamega, they quickly called press conferences to disown him. Ford Kenya’s restlessness about the return of Mudavadi is the weak link in the Opposition.

It can be stoked to scuttle Opposition solidarity and their dreams about State House. It is instructive that when, at the end of last week, they announced the Bomas meeting, CORD leaders were at pains to stress that it would be a CORD meeting. It would bring together Raila, Kalonzo and Wetang’ula and their parties. They ignored ANC and Kanu. Equally instructive was that Raila was out of the country.

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If Wetang’ula and Kalonzo don’t want Mudavadi, they want his supporters nonetheless. If only they could win over his supporters without the man! Alone, Raila and ODM seem keen on working with Mudavadi. Raila understands something that Wetang’ula and Kalonzo don’t. The citizens have embraced NASA. They are ahead of the leaders. Raila knows NASA is likely to be the game changer this year.

If Ford Kenya and Wiper overcome their visible negative energy against Mudavadi, the Opposition could have a fighting chance against Jubilee. If they don’t, then the election is as good as over. Jubilee will be laughing all the way back to State House. For, between Mudavadi and Wetang’ula, the person with the votes in Western is Mudavadi.

In the last election, Mudavadi garnered from the region almost four times what Wetang’ula brought to CORD. Indeed, Wetang’ula’s party failed to capture his home constituency of Sirisia. It went, instead, to ODM. The Governor’s seat went to Ken Lusaka of the defunct New Ford Kenya. Ford Kenya is at the CORD negotiating table with empty hands.

The Western vote is with Amani, ODM and Jubilee. Wetang’ula’s fortunes in his Bung’oma home county look dim. Governor Ken Lusaka has already fled into Jubilee with a significant slice of MPs and votes. It is understandable that Wetang’ula wants to be recognised as the Luhya kingpin. Yet the angel of mischief is frustrating him. He may first have to win over his Bukusu community before he could realistically seek to lead the Luhya.

Yet the Bukusu factor in the Luhya fortunes is rarely told. There are 18 Luhya houses, related by ancestry and united by a common language. The language’s 18 dialects enjoy mutual intelligibility. The Bukusu and Maragoli are the farthest removed. Because of this - and depending on the degree of cultural arrogance, too - when a Bukusu and a Maragoli person meet, they are unlikely to understand each other.

Some people have argued that the Bukusu are not exactly Luhya. We have the Luhya and we have the Bukusu. Politically, however, whenever a Bukusu leader has emerged as the “Luhya” kingpin, the entire community has rallied around him. Conversely, whenever a kingpin has emerged from any other sub clan, the Bukusu have rejected him. Hence the Luhya have rallied around Masinde Muliro, Elijah Mwangale and Michael Wamalwa, although they were not exactly Luhya.

For their part, the Bukusu have rejected leaders from (other) Luhya clans. Among these have been the late Martin Shikuku and the late Moses Mudavadi. It is within this context that Wetang’ula’s discomfort with Musalia is beginning to be seen in Western. When JM Kariuki was assassinated in 1975 Muliro was the acknowledged leader of the “Luhya.”

Working behind the scenes, he fronted Mwangale to lead a parliamentary select committee to probe into the assassination. All Luhya MPs rallied around the Mwangale Report. As a result, Peter Kibisu (a Maragoli) was jailed on spurious charges. Martin Shikuku (a Marama) was detained without trial. Muliro himself was dismissed from the Kenyatta Cabinet.

Shift to 2002. When Wamalwa Kijana fronted the Narc campaign in Western, the entire community rallied around him. The Maragoli even rejected their Mudavadi in that election. This was despite President Moi having made Mudavadi Vice President to entice them. In the 2005 referendum and the General Election of 2007 the Bukusu voted contrary to the Luhya, who were led by Shikuku and Mudavadi. Equally true, in 1992 they had also gone their own way. They rejected Shikuku that year and in 1997.

The patterns are not coincidental, however. Traditional Luhya oral history says the Bukusu are a distinct people. The Luhya have found it convenient to support Bukusu leaders out of a desperate craving for political tribal identity. For their part, the Bukusu find the idea good if the effort rallies around one of them. Otherwise they will stand alone, or go with some other community. The Bukusu factor now hangs uncertainly above this year’s opposition unity. If Jubilee takes advantage of it to keep the Bukusu from the Luhya, they are likely to upset the Opposition and retain power.


national super alliance (nasa) mosses wetangula Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD)
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