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Is Ababu’s star shining bright again?

Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba made a spectacular comeback to the limelight last week, just three months after he was ejected from the influential Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC).

The Orange Democratic Movement Secretary General led a group of 25 MPs from Western Kenya to State House Nairobi where they met the President  who then announced a Sh1 billion bailout for the struggling Mumias Sugar Company.

A few days later President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto travelled to Mumias and symbolically presented a dummy cheque to the Mumias company’s board of directors during a public meeting at Mumias Complex Grounds.

The presentation of the cheque was not that which was significant — what stood out was Namwamba’s central role in the event that was packed with symbolism based on protocol. From the Budalang’i MP’s posturing right up to his placement as one the keynote speakers right before the Deputy President.

Uncharacteristically, Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) co-principal Moses Wetang’ula and outspoken Kakamega Senator Bonny Khalwale — who both made a surprise appearance — were left in the periphery.

But  Nambwamba was at pains to explain that he was still the ODM Secretary General.

Contact person

“I’m still in ODM. I have not crossed over,” he said as part of the crowd jeered, asking him to keep off politics. 

Namwamba’s special treatment appeared deliberate, especially  during the President’s stop-overs   on his way to and from Mumias. Namwamba was the only MP given the honour to address the public from the same platform as the Head of State, the Deputy President and Governor Kenneth Lusaka.

It was not lost on observers that it was  Namwamba who had arranged to have Western Kenya MPs visit  the President at State House only   a week after a group of 19 MPs from the region had met former Prime Minister and ODM leader Raila Odinga in Nairobi.

The Budalang’i MP was conspicuously absent from the group that met the CORD leader.

At the Raila meeting, the MPs had asked the former PM to use his influence help salvage the dwindling economic fortunes of the Western Kenya region or push the government to revive Mumias and Pan-Paper companies, which employ thousands of workers from the region.

Asked by The Standard on Sunday why he did not attend the Raila meeting,   Namwamba simply responded: “What about it?”

So did Namwamba unwittingly diminish Raila’s meeting with Western Kenya leaders? Views vary.

 “Western politics is being redesigned. Jubilee seems to have identified Namwamba as their contact person. If he is useful, they will work with him,’’ observed Martin Oloo, a political analyst and lecturer at the Kenya School of Law.

But speaking to The Standard on Sunday, Namwamba downplayed those reading too much politics into the President’s visit to Mumias, and said local residents had asked the he addresses them as a local leader.

Political analyst Munene Macharia says it is no secret that Namwamba and Raila have not been getting on well, and that the ODM secretary general is keen to remain a force to reckon with irrespective of party affiliation.

That Namwamba is building networks is public knowledge as founder of the Western Parliamentary Caucus (WPC).

“The President’s visit was made possible by the collective efforts of WPC members,” Macharia said. However, some Western Kenya MPs have boycotted WPC meetings and dismissed the grouping as irrelevant.

 Besides the WPC, the Budalang’i MP has been leading a drive dubbed ‘Tokelezea ID initiative’ which encourages young people to acquire IDs so that they can vote in the next elections and boost the prospects of the candidate they will support.


Many options

Namwamba has been conspicuously absent from crucial ODM events, including rallies organised by the   Okoa-Kenya team to push for a people’s plebiscite to amend the Constitution.

“Namwamba’s political movements  should be watched in the coming days. But is he going to succeed given  that Raila is firmly in control of ODM and he (Namwamba) is from a region full of senior politicians who are political heavyweights? posed Macharia.

Namwamba is also the chairman of Accountability Kenya (AK), a duly registered non-profit association  mandated to champion accountability in the use of public resources.

The association draws its membership from MPs who champion accountability in Parliament, primary oversight committees in all 47 County Assemblies, and key public oversight agencies that include the Auditor General, the Controller of Budget, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the Public Procurement Oversight Authority (PPOA) and the Judiciary. The Institute of Certified Public Accountants (ICPAK), the media and civil society are also members.

Namwamba’s close allies say he has plenty of options, even as Jubilee courts him to be its point-man in Western Kenya.

Last September, Uhuru launched a charm offensive in Budalang’i where he pledged that  work on the Sigiri Bridge would begin soon.

“I have heard about the propaganda that I cannot survive without ODM in Budalang’i, but the party had failed to win the seat here before my entry in 2007,” noted Namwamba.

In a dig at Jubilee’s  renewed interest in the region, Wetang’ula and Khalwale have warned that development should be separated from politics, and seek support by promising to launch development programmes.

The two senators say they will advise local people which way to vote in the 2017 elections.

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