Gusii split over Matiang'i, Ongwae political rivalry

Kisii Senator Sam Ongeri, Woman Representative Janet Ongera and Governor James Ongwae cut a ribbon during the official opening of Kisii ODM office at Nyamataro on 23/9/2021 ahead of the 2022 General Elections. [Sammy Omingo,Standard]

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and Kisii Governor James Ongwae are headed for another political clash over the 2022 General Election.

The two leaders who enjoy local and national support have in the past two years separately been laying ground to solidify the more than 1.2 million Gusii votes.

Mr Ongwae has maintained loyalty to ODM leader Raila Odinga, while Dr Matiang’i has several times been quoted as saying he only takes instructions from President Uhuru Kenyatta.

A press conference in Nairobi, addressed by the MPs, and a subsequent meeting presided over by the CS, calling for the formation of a party to represent the interests of the community, could open a political war front for Matiang’i and the governor.

The Sunday meeting in Isinya, Kajiado County, was attended by Jimmy Angwenyi (Kitutu Chache MP), Okong’o Omogeni (Nyamira Senator), Ben Momanyi (Borabu MP), Chris Obure (CAS Roads), Simba Arati (Dagoretti North MP), Samuel Arama (Nakuru Town West MP) and a host of Gusii professionals.

Matiang’i said Uhuru had the community’s interests at heart. “I’ve been in Government for nine years and I have seen how decisions are made. The President has stood with us sons and daughters who have the right academic qualifications,” he said.

The CS warned the community against losing political direction ahead of next year’s elections. “The community cannot afford to lose sight of President Uhuru and Raila. We will not join a political outfit that doesn’t guarantee our community political stability. None of us is a beggar,” he said.

Matiang’i urged the community to remain united. “We need strategy. Several communities have been meeting; I wonder why some people are nervous about us meeting. This time we have to remain firm. Our only weakness is the missing link in our unity bid,” he said.

A few hours after the Isinya meeting, Ongwae tweeted: “The train left the station months back. We have pronounced ourselves in the past, more so in the Sikri declaration with our brothers from Nyanza. ODM and Raila is our subject in which ‘WE’ like other communities, declared and agreed to be partners. No more rhetorics.” Minutes later, the ODM party leader retweeted Ongwae’s tweet.

Kisii Woman Representative Janet Ongera tweeted: “On this I stand with our Sikri resolutions. Azimio La Umoja is a fast speeding train bringing about peace and unity. No room for divisive politics.”

In the August Sikri, Homa bay county meeting Gusii ODM leaders said they will rally the community behind Raila’s presidency.

Like in the past two general elections, the Gusii community could again be facing another political split among its leaders. However, this time round, it is the plans by Gusii MPs to form a political party with Dr Matiang’i proposed as its leader that has elicited mixed reactions. 

MPs argue that the party will boost the community’s negotiating power with national political parties.

The leader’s political differences were exacerbated during the Bonchari Constituency by-election, where the ODM brigade, led by the Kisii governor, blamed Matiang’i for using police to frustrate campaigns.

Matiang’i was supporting Jubilee Party’s Zebedeo Opore, who narrowly lost to ODM’s Pavel Oimeke. Plans to form a party, critics argue, will face significant challenges if the region does not present a strong presidential candidate who could match those from other communities.

“Mzee Simeon Nyachae was the last politician to unite the Kisii nation because he had both political and economic capital to rally the entire Kisii nation, and his candidature attracted national interest,” said Samuel Onsoti, a political scientist.

Dr Onsoti said there was no room for tribal political parties. “The Kisii elections will be a battle between ODM and UDA,” he said, adding: “If you want to support Odinga, join his political party and negotiate as an insider. Don’t put up hurdles for him.”

Onsoti, in the USA, said to form strong alliances, Matiang’i should resign and join the political space. “Matiang’i must join competitive politics immediately. This will allow the Kisii nation to form a view about his candidature. He needs to push his agenda from outside the government,” he said. 

Rachel Otundo, a political activist, said historically, most elected leaders did not retain their seats. “Up to 80 per cent will not retain their seats. It is not unusual to have elected legislators forming parties to guarantee themselves nominations,” she said.

ODM enjoys support in Kisii. It won the Bonchari Constituency and Kiamokama Ward by-elections. 

“ODM would have swept all seats in Kisii and Nyamira had it not been for mistakes made during their party primaries. They must not repeat the same mistakes again if they desire a clean sweep” said Walter Kiyondi, a political activist in Kisii.

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