By Oscar Obonyo
In an eyebrow raising gesture, Justice Minister Eugene Wamalwa recently returned from Geneva where he was on official duty and headed to Kogelo village to meet President Barrack Obama’s grandmother, Sarah.
Contacted by The Standard, the minister declined to confirm or deny whether he was unofficially in contact with US officials at the UN meeting and if indeed he had a message for the Obama kin. But, Wamalwa maintains he is a friend of the Obamas, especially the grandmother.
“My closeness with Mama Sarah began in January 2008, when we were on the same flight to Washington for the swearing-in of Obama, as the 44th President of the US. We shared a lot on the long flight and were together again at the National Mall on the D-Day,” explains Wamalwa.
The minister, a presidential aspirant, regards the US President who has Kenyan roots and the late flamboyant Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Tom Mboya as role models. The two are of Luo descent.
- 1 Obama schools in poor state, lack classrooms and learning material
- 2 Don’t let me down — Eugene Wamalwa pleads with Trans-Nzoia to support BBI
- 3 CS Wamalwa, DPP Haji seek Senior Counsel's title
- 4 Investments in peace paying off
Following what he describes as a cordial encounter with Obama’s grandmother in Kogelo last weekend, the Saboti MP has this weekend toured Rusinga Island, home to his other role model – the late Tom Mboya.
The visit by Wamalwa to the Mboya Mausoleum followed a chain of activities, including meet-the-people tours, closed-door consultations with New Ford-Kenya party officials, local leaders, and a rally in Mbita.
By fronting an Obama-Mboya connection, Wamalwa may be trying to get a foothold in Nyanza politics, otherwise considered a locked zone for Prime Minister and Orange party leader, Raila Odinga.
But Wamalwa’s efforts to endear himself to voters in this region do not stop at mere politicking. The minister, who went to Gendia High School in Homa Bay for his ‘A’ levels, is spearheading a funds drive for a shcool bus.
Either because of these concerted efforts to woe voters from the region or other considerations, the presidential aspirant has considerably won favour among the locals.
Last weekend as he returned from Kogelo, for instance, cheering crowds along the streets of Kisumu stopped his motorcade demanding to be addressed.
An emboldened Wamalwa is now returning to Kisumu this weekend to open a branch office of his party at Kondele area and thereafter address a political rally in the city.
With his latest political manoeuvres revolving around Nyanza region, questions abound as to whether the minister and the PM have a deal in the making.
“Tinga (Raila) and I are not enemies but competitors and it is with spirit that we should all conduct our campaigns. Besides, my overtures in the region are demonstration that the Luo are politically receptive like members of other communities and this therefore disabuses the misplaced notion that they are politically hostile,” reacts Wamalwa.
Noting, however, that the region remains intact behind the PM, Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo observes the warm reception Wamalwa is receiving is a pointer to the people’s political maturity:
“This is particularly the case considering that our preferred candidate has equally been free to campaign elsewhere.” Unlike former Cabinet minister Raphael Tuju, who experienced rough times while campaigning in the area, Gumbo notes that Wamalwa has had it easy.
“He, as well as (William) Ruto and (Martha) Karua, has never uttered anything derogatory of the community, as opposed to our very own Tuju who openly regretted on national television of having been born Luo.”
On the flipside, Wamalwa’s admiration for some of the finest politicians from the community, including Obama and Mboya, is ideological. Wamalwa contends that the two were charismatic politicians, who achieved a lot at a youthful age – Mboya as influential Cabinet minister aged 33 and Obama as President at 46.
By associating with achievements of the two, especially Obama who beat all odds, including racial prejudice and the inexperience tag to become US’ first African-American President, Wamalwa’s message is clear: That he, too, can achieve it early.
And The Standard On Sunday has separately established that the minister is trying to walk in the footsteps of Mboya and Obama. During his recent visit to Kogelo, for instance, Wamalwa’s host guided him to sit on the same kitchen stool, as did Obama Jnr when he first visited Kogelo as a Harvard University student in 1986.
And Mama Sarah reportedly teased the minister about his presidential prospects after sitting on the “miracle” stool. On his presidential ambition, Wamalwa says he got the inspiration, “on one cold winter morning in Washington DC as I watched Obama take oath of office.”
His admiration for Obama and Mboya, whose study airlifts to the US in the early 1960s benefitted the American President’s father Barrack Hussein Obama Snr, notwithstanding, Wamalwa is a slippery politician playing cards close to his chest. Few can actually comprehend what he is up to.
Shinyalu MP Justus Kizito, who is allied to Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, for instance, claims his Saboti counterpart is part of the wider political scheme to promote the DPM’s presidential bid.
“Eugene is a very intelligent leader who is fully aware that this is the time for Luhya leadership. We are negotiating with him and so far so good. The only opposition is from a few politicians hanging on his coat with the hope of reviving their careers,” says Kizito.
Wamalwa also remains linked to the other DPM, Uhuru Kenyatta. The history between the two dates back to 1960s through their fathers, Senator William Wamalwa and founding President Jomo Kenyatta.
Wamalwa Jnr’s elder brother, the late Vice-President Michael Kijana equally married from the Kenyattas – Gathoni Mungai. The ties seem alive to date. Uhuru and Wamalwa have separately served as chief guests to one another’s political party re-launch.
Nonetheless, Ikolomani MP Bonny Khalwale says Wamalwa’s future is hinged on two factors – the chemistry between him and Mudavadi that will ensure the two politicians carry the voting bloc of the Luhya and his ability to read the “signs of the moment” and postpone his presidential bid. Wamalwa flatly rejects the latter.