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Questions over senators’ open defiance of Uhuru, Raila in county cash vote

By Jacob Ng'etich | July 30th 2020

The vote in the Senate where a majority of senators on Tuesday openly defied President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga to vote against the formula has exposed the duo’s soft political underbellies.

The epic vote has also put in sharp focus the new leadership of Majority Leader Samuel Poghisio and Majority Whip Irungu Kang’ata (pictured above), who lost their first real challenge that was in itself a sort of baptism by fire.

Billed as government business, President Kenyatta wanted the Herculean task of passing the formula done with to pave way for the three years of its implementation. Its failure could now have political implications.

In a vote of 25 against 22 for the formula, Uhuru and Raila came face to face with open defiance that has confounded their political friends and foe and could force them to go to back to the drawing board to rethink their political dalliance.

A senator who sought anonymity told The Standard that the principals, Uhuru, Raila and Kalonzo believed up to late on Tuesday evening that the matter had been done and dusted.

“They never believed the senators had such a resolve. There was intense lobbying and money to boot but the legislators were not ready to budge,” the senator said. A day before the vote, Raila had sent a vague statement asking the senators to pass the formula and at worst revert to the Commission for Revenue Allocation (CRA) report that had been overtaken by events after the Senate Finance Committee took up the matter. But during the voting, his frustrated confidant and Senate Minority Leader James Orengo attempted to save the day with an unpopular motion to adjourn the debate. It fell flat even as he lifted the lid on hitherto unknown secrets in the Handshake house: “I am advising the current president to be accessible to enable us to solve these problems. We would not have been here if he was accessible, I am telling you without being afraid,” Orengo said.

Handshake question

Orengo’s accusation comes hot on the heels of another by Kang’ata, a Kenyatta ally, during the weekend when he pointed a finger at ODM and warned that the Handshake would die if the vote failed to pass.

Tuesday’s debate was characterised by high-level political drama and despite lobbying by Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, the senators defied them to make a huge political statement. Senate Minority Whip Mutula Kilonzo Jnr. said President Kenyatta should be glad that they voted against the formula because it would have divided Kenyans.

“I do not think Kenyatta wants to create a legacy of a divided country. As a Senate, we were standing for a united country and the resolve was firm and unshakable,” Kilonzo said.

He said the Senate was not going to be a rubber-stamp of injustice. “As custodians of devolution, we would not party to the splitting of the country because of an unfair formula.” 

His Homa Bay counterpart Moses Kajwang now thinks the matter was not just a vote but a political statement that could snowball into the 2022 elections. Kajwang said the temper of debate and outcome of the vote in the Senate reveals how little has changed in the political software of this country since Independence.

“Ghosts of Kadu and Kanu still haunt the corridors of Bunge. We still have the same outstanding grievances: land, marginalisation, political exclusion, which will snowball to 2022,” tweeted the Homa Bay senator.

A critical analysis of the ‘No’ vote reveals high octane politics at play with categories of voting influenced by several factors.

The first category comprising the gainers and losers stood with their electorate and to improve their chances of clinching gubernatorial seats in 2022.

There are other senators who stood in solidarity with their neighbours because of ethnic proximity, including Kisii, Nyamira, Kakamega and Vihiga.

The third category belonged to political speculators for some sort of future dividend. These included senators aiming at gubernatorial positions and can switch political allegiances when the time is ripe.

The wing of the deputy president sent mixed signals, with only Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen voting ‘No’ to the amendments introduced by Kang’ata. Other senators allied to the DP backed the committee recommendations, including Aaron Cheruiyot (Kericho), Susan Kihika (Nakuru), Christopher Lang’at (Bomet), Samson Cherargei (Nandi) and John Kinyua (Laikipia).

Murkomen said he was standing with marginalised counties such as Tharaka Nithi which had lost in the formula. “I voted no for the unity of the country,” Murkomen said. 

Scorn and praise

Questions are now being asked on how Odinga was unable to deliver on the ODM votes in the Coast region as Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka failed to deliver Ukambani bloc. Others are asking why Interior CS Fred Matiang’i couldn’t deliver the Abagusii votes despite being an influential figure in the government. Notably, in the vote, quite telling was the open defiance of President Kenyatta and Jubilee leadership led by Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja.

The senator, who was the rebel-in-chief, eloquently and articulately slaughtered the Jubilee motion, dealing a devastating blow to the administration that nursed him.

Sakaja, who plans to unseat Governor Mike Sonko, broke ranks with the party House leadership and charted an unprecedented path that has earned him scorn and praise in equal measure. Despite his county gaining, the Sakaja rooted for a formula that will ensure no region loses any revenue, saying he knew Kenyatta and Odinga were not in support in the spirit of BBI.

Worthy of note is now the Coastal region that has predominantly voted for ODM but failed to heed the memo by Odinga. Senators from the region coalesced to vehemently shoot down the proposals, signalling a shift in the interests.

Minority communities are staking their claim for the national cake with spirited attempts to defeat the contested third-generation formula. Senior counsel Ahmednasir Abdullahi and former Mandera Senator Billow Kerrow have been speaking in one voice across all media platforms condemning the “one man one vote one shilling” formula.

The Northern Kenya opinion leaders were buoyed by the caucus of other coastal minorities in attempts to thwart machinations of the Senate leadership to pass the Finance Committee recommendations.

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