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Bukhungu II will define Atwoli’s legacy in Western

Cotu Secretary-General, Francis Atwoli. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

On December 31, 2021, many Kenyans thronged Kakamega to attend the Bukhungu II rally hosted by Cotu Secretary-General, Francis Atwoli. The meeting was considered definitive since it was convened to give the Luhya community a new political trajectory. 

In my view, this meeting was organised in light of an early revelation that some key players in western Kenya politics, namely Musalia Mudavadi, Cleophas Malala, Moses Wetang’ula and Boni Khalwale had indicated unwillingness to join other leaders in forming a common political front that would support a Raila Odinga presidency.

From the beginning, Mudavadi had shown some signs of mutiny even after several arbitration and negotiation efforts. In other words, the meeting in Kakamega was, inter alia, intended to compel Mudavadi and fellow ‘rebels’ to make a decision. 

If Bukhungu I worked to some extent as it did, then the obvious assumption was that the second one, too, will automatically work.

A measure of early successes have been achieved through mass defection of key ANC MPs and the formation of DAP-K party, a new outfit leaning towards Raila. What is awaited now is to see how these changes will be cascaded to the common people at the grassroots. But most importantly, it will be a test of Atwoli’s place in Luhya politics.

The Luhya, like their Kisii counterparts, display a greater diversity in political orientation than most Kenyan communities. In these two communities, there are many kingpins who are independent of each other. Unlike Kikuyu or Luo politics, Luhya politics is basically informed from below and rarely is the direction informed by the political class in high politics. In other words, Luhya politics is low politics. 

Atwoli seems to oscillate well between ‘low’, ‘high’, and the ‘deep’ politics. He dines with both the high and the low at the same table. He can therefore successfully bridge the gap between ‘low’ politics (christened by Ruto as ‘hustler politics’) and the ‘high’ politics practiced in big cities and high places. 

Mudavadi has since decamped. Assuming that Atwoli is a Luhya kingmaker, and that he made Mudavadi a Luhya spokesperson, would he be able to manage the new Mudavadi-Ruto wave in Western Kenya?

In my view, how Atwoli handles this would be his defining moment. Will the application of Ruto’s hustler narrative take advantage of the Luhya low politics and sweep over votes from the region? Efforts that Atwoli will put forth to counter this impending political force will certainly shape his legacy upon retirement. 

Atwoli considers himself a diehard Raila supporter so, should Raila become president, the Luhya nation will eternally be indebted to Atwoli. Democracy is not only about unity, it is also about differing and dissenting. How to reconcile political unity and diversity is key in both democratic practice and theory.

Despite Atwoli’s egotism overflowing his personality, he has the privilege of age and moral favour, and some considerable aptitude for Western Kenya politics. How his time and energy spent on Luhya unity will eventually affect Kenyan politics and ultimately history, only time will tell.

Dr Chacha teaches at Laikipia University