Party rebels tread fine line between ambition and ruin
By Rawlings Otieno and Moses Nyamori
| January 27th 2020
Leaders of major parties are battling internal rebellion after members refuse to toe the line as campaigns intensify in the lead up to the 2022 General Election.
The path of rebellion, however, can be a mine field. There are politicians who defied political kingpins in the past and paid the ultimate price of being rejected by the electorate, who dismissed them as community traitors.
Siaya Senator James Orengo, Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o, Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu, former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto, former Justice Minister Martha Karua, former Roads Minister Franklin Bett and former Industrialisation Minister Henry Kosgei have at one point or another faced the wrath of regional kingpins.
Party leaders President Uhuru Kenyatta (Jubilee), Raila Odinga (ODM), Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper) and Musalia Mudavadi (Amani) are confronted by rebels who have openly gone against party positions and, in some instances, attempts to punish the dissenters have been unsuccessful.
Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa and her Msambweni counterpart Suleiman Dori faced expulsion after they were found guilty of violating ODM party rules.
Mr Dori apologised to the party and survived the ouster bid while Ms Jumwa moved to the Political Parties Dispute Tribunal, which quashed her ouster from the party.
The two legislators were accused of associating with Tangatanga – a hodge-podge of MPs rooting for Deputy President William Ruto to clinch the presidency in 2022.
ANC is having problems with Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala and nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi who are being punished for openly criticising Mudavadi.
Former West Pokot Governor Simon Kachapin dared his Kanu counterparts to expel him before losing in the 2017 elections to John Lonyangapuo.
In the run-up to the 2017 polls, Masoud Mwahima (Likoni), Gideon Mung’aro (Kilifi North), Peter Shehe (Ganze) and Mustapha Iddi (Kilifi South) were floored for going against the ODM wave in Kilifi County.
There are rebels who have somehow survived censure.
Khatib Mwashetani (Lunga Lunga) retained his seat on a Jubilee ticket in the ODM-dominated Kwale County while David Ochieng’ (Ugenya, MDG) lodged a successful court petition to dislodge ODM’s Chris Karan.
Others include Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua, Alfred Keter (Nandi), Joshua Kuttuny (Cherangany), Victor Munyaka (Machakos Town), Johana Ngeno (Emurua Dikirr), Vincent Musyoka (Mwala) and Charles Kilonzo (Yatta).
In Mt Kenya region, Ruto allies include Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wah, Kandara MP Alice Wahome, Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro and Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri.
Political analysts warn that unless an MP is a rebel with a cause, they will lose credibility in the eyes of the voters.
University of Nairobi don Herman Manyora and High Court advocate Martin Oloo both agree that it is nearly impossible to defy an ethnic supremo and survive.
“You can’t survive going against some of them. Supposing the BBI becomes the in-thing, anyone who goes against it will be floored. The truth is Kikuyu will always go in one direction. They will come up with all sorts of excuses to abandon Ruto; say we wanted to support Ruto but he started attacking our president,” said Prof Manyora.
But Oloo cautions rebels to tread with caution since they may have ridden on the wave of the regional kingpin to power.
“This country has its owners and some rebels don’t know that. Political decisions are not made through chest-thumping especially when you know you are not a self-made politician. Be a rebel with a cause, not for the sake of it,” said Oloo.
Former powerful Cabinet Minister Franklin Bett said the politics of regional kingpinship is real and any politician going against the grain will be crushed.
“Loyalty is a critical asset in the management of public affairs. It is a commodity that must be seen to be in place and it didn’t begin yesterday. The politics of kingpinship is real,” he said.
Bett predicted that it would be rough sailing for Ms Wahome, Moses Kuria (Gatundu South), Mr Ichung’wah, Mr Nyoro, Mr Ngunjiri and Wangui Ngirici (Kirinyaga Woman Rep) after they defied Uhuru.
“Wataona moto (they will see fire). In this country there are three communities that if you go against their kingpin, it’s not easy to be elected even if you vie as an independent candidate; the Kikuyu, Kalenjin and the Luo. It’s not easy,” he said.
Jubilee Secretary General Raphael Tuju, a victim of the rebel tag, said that regional kingpins “tend to be what you can describe as ethnic warrior profile, and anybody who is giving a different narrative is seen as a betrayer of the community.”
“If it is viewed that the rebel is acting against the interests of a community which is being persecuted by the government of the day, it becomes an emotional issue as it happened to me when I backed Kibaki,” said Mr Tuju.
Tuju argues that the scenario could be different in central Kenya because there is no compelling issue to rally the community together like happened in the years after the post-election violence.
“The International Criminal Court was an emotive issue and people who were not with Ruto were seen as siding with the enemy,” he said.
Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr opines that the influence of tribal chieftains cannot be underestimated.
“Our politics are largely ethnic-based and are controlled or managed through influence-peddling and loyalty to the perceived overall leaders. Rebelling against them appears trendy but it will not bear any fruits other than the look of being brave,” said Mr Kilonzo.
Nyeri Town MP Wambugu Ngunjiri argued that the influence of any political kingpin is based on their ability to tap into the needs of their bases and provide solutions now or in the future.
“A kingpin in tune with his region cannot be challenged by leaders from within. The only way to challenge him is to show him as out of sync with the region. This is what the Mt Kenya rebels have been trying to do. The idea behind this effort is to reduce Uhuru’s influence in the region,” said Mr Ngunjiri.
He explained that Uhuru has countered by providing solutions to the region’s coffee, tea, milk and SME issues that the rebels were capitalising on to roil the region.
“The rebels are now in a catch-22. They would like to continue the fight but they have nothing to use against Uhuru. They know they cannot beat him directly so they will try and seek a way back, capitulate, and seek his forgiveness. Or they will get thrown under the bus politically - as has happened to people like Martha Karua in the past,” he said.
But Senator Isaac Mwaura (nominated) and MP Didmus Barasa (Kimilili) argue that the jury is still out on whether the rebels will bounce back or be swept away.
“The era of regional kingpins directing voting patterns is long gone and no longer holds any water. In Nyanza, we have Ford Kenya, Wiper and independent party MPs. In Western Jubilee MPs are the majority. This means voting patterns are directed by vision, manifestos and track records. Political kingpins have become egocentric business people,” said Mr Barasa.
Mr Mwaura said that Ruto was popular in central Kenya and leaders were aligning themselves with the positive groundswell.
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