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Internal divisions hinder bid to unite Western Kenya leaders

By Oscar Obonyo | June 7th 2015
Western Region County Governors from left, Ken Lusaka (Bungoma), Wycli­ffe Oparanya (Kakamega), Moses Akaranga (Vihiga) and a member of the Luhya Council of elders at Kakamega Golf Hotel after a meeting to discuss matters a­ffecting the sugar industry in the region. [PHOTO: BENJAMIN SAKWA/STANDARD]

During the recent Council of Governors’ elections, Bungoma County Governor Kenneth Lusaka reportedly told colleagues that it is members of his Bukusu sub-tribe and those of Maragoli who decide political destiny of the larger Luhya community.

Although Lusaka denies making such an observation, his Kakamega counterpart Wycliffe Oparanya maintains the Bungoma Governor made the disparaging remarks.

“Even if he insists he did not utter anything to that effect at the governors’ meeting, it is an open secret that my brother (Lusaka) has several times made similar remarks at other forums. It is such careless and divisive statements that forever make the quest for Luhya unity a dream,” says Oparanya, who vied for the position of CoG’s chairman but lost to Meru Governor Peter Munya.

During the exercise, the three candidates for the top slot, Munya, Oparanya and Kwale County Governor Salim Mvurya, were asked to step out of the room to allow for lobbying and consensus building.

It is at this point that Lusaka is said to have shot up and remarked: “In our community, it is the Bukusu and Maragoli who make decisions on the political destiny of our people, and in this instance we have decided not to back Oparanya.”

According to our source, who was in attendance, Vihiga Governor Moses Akaranga, a Maragoli, was more civil, explaining instead that Western Kenya leaders had not deliberated adequately on Oparanya’s candidature.

Besides Akaranga, Lusaka and Oparanya, the other governors from the region are Sospeter Ojamoong’ (Busia) and Patrick Khaemba (Trans- Nzoia).

However, Lusaka denied making such remarks. He, however, remembers warning Oparanya that his quest for the chairman’s seat would flop because of the latter’s close association with Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) leader Raila Odinga.

“I only advised him to lobby for support directly with governors, instead of invoking the former PM’s name with the view to whipping up the support of CORD-allied governors,” explains Lusaka.

Although Lusaka and Oparanya maintain there is no hostility between them, the “little drama” at the CoG’s elections best illustrates the underlying political fissures within the Luhya nation. And behind the spirited efforts of realising the (ever elusive) Luhya unity, lie bitter personal and sub-tribal rivalries.

In their endless quest for Luhya unity, leaders have rolled out outfits and programmes, in quick succession.

This year alone, they have toyed around with the idea of setting up a community bank, “Mulembe”, and have formed two outfits, the Luhya, Teso and Sabaot (Lutesa) regional bloc and the Western Parliamentary Caucus.

And there is also the latest political baby associated with former National Assembly Speaker, Kenneth Marende, Vihiga senator, George Khaniri and former Lugari MP Cyrus Jirongo.

The move has, however, attracted the ire of Deputy President Musalia Mudavdi supporters who consider it divisive and as his spokesman puts it, “aimed at taming the ascendancy of Mudavadi to the presidency”.

In yet another parallel effort, Lugari MP Ayub Savula is running a voter registration campaign, which targets to register six million people in the region 2017, when the next General Elections are staged.

While many appreciate Savula’s efforts, they disapprove his way of handling the same.

The first-term legislator has been playing his game publicly in rallies, bragging to opponents of a powerful Luhya voting bloc in the making.

“Strategic information like this one is supposed to be treated as our campaign secret. It is imprudent to share such information publicly because once our electoral plans fall onto the ears of rivals we are left totally exposed,” reacts Funyula MP, Dr Paul Otuoma.

On the banking idea, the former Cabinet minister questions the sincerity of fellow colleagues: “If over six million Luhya adults cannot even raise Sh100 million to start a bank, then what does this say about the seriousness, or lack of it, among us leaders?”

According to Otuoma, the biggest reason why unity efforts remain evasive is because there is no sense of purpose or direction.

United Democratic Forum’s (UDF) Secretary General, Justus Kizito says the unity campaigns hardly make sense to the locals, “who are yet to taste power and who therefore do not appreciate the value of the presidency.”

Nonetheless, such efforts are threatened by internal battles that have over the decades ensured the two larger Luhya sub-tribes of Bukusu and Maragoli vote separately.

While the other 14 Luhya sub-tribes have gone either side depending on persuasions of the moment, the Bukusu and Maragoli have remained like water and oil, never mixing in the same political vessel.

This has been the case since 1992, including in 2007 when Mudavadi backed Raila Odinga’s presidential bid, while the Musikari Kombo-led Bukusu supported Mwai Kibaki.

In 2013 Mudavadi broke ranks with Raila, thereby allowing room for Wetang’ula to team up with the former Prime Minister. In a way, Lusaka is right about the Bukusu and Maragoli dominance of Luhya politics.

But this, as Kakamega Senator Dr Bonny Khalwale observes, has been in the negative sense. Khalwale claims that when a member of a community aspires to run for top leadership, he or she tries to justify the move by claiming ‘we are most influential’. “If the Bukusu and Maragoli convince us that they deserve to lead because they have the largest vote and they have identified better leaders, then we shall support. Otherwise their selfish chest-thumping will only divide us the more,” he says.

Separately, Kizito sees the hand of external forces in igniting disunity in western Kenya region. The former Shinyalu MP claims both President Kenyatta-led Jubilee and Raila-led Coalition for Reforms and Democracy are tearing the community apart.

“They do not want to see us united because that spells electoral doom for them,” claims the Mudavadi party spokesman.

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