Why Natembeya's 'tawe revolution' is giving western leaders headaches

Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya when he appeared before the County Public Accounts Committee at Simba Hills Hall, KICC, Nairobi on June 20, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Fiery Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya has rattled the system. The first time governor has not only managed to work up the populace with his ‘Tawe revolution’; he has upset the old order and set tongues wagging.

Natembeya has not missed an opportunity to tell leaders from the western region that time is nigh for a rethink. A rethink not only of how the region engages in national politics but who represents it at the table. National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula has been Natembeya’s target and there is no love lost between the two leaders.

Some MPs from Wetang’ula’s camp allege that a “big man” is behind Natembeya’s relentless attacks on the Ford Kenya leader and have threatened to expose him if the governor does not tone down.

“If Natembeya continues his insults, I will be forced to confront the owner of the dog because there is nobody else we can replace Wetang’ula with. Baba anafaa kuitwa baba (a father “Wetang’ula” deserves respect),” says Bungoma Senator Wafula Wakoli.

The governor has dismissed claims that he is a puppet, vowing to continue his fight against the politics of hero worshiping and deprivation, which he claims Wetang’ula and his party have mastered in the region.

Sibling rivalry and disputes among leaders in the region have historically led to power struggles, leaving the electorate deeply divided and allowing outsiders to capitalise on these divisions during elections. These bitter disputes have made it almost impossible for the region to field a single strong leader who can unite the region and rally supporters to vote as a bloc.

Similar chaos to what happened at a funeral in Trans Nzoia last week, where supporters of Wetang’ula and Natembeya clashed resulting in injuries to mourners, were witnessed in January 2000 at the funeral of former Kwanza MP George Kapten in Bokoli, Bungoma county.

A fight broke out between students from the University of Nairobi and Kenya Polytechnic who had allegedly been brought to Bungoma by then Kimilili MP Mukhisa Kituyi and supporters of Ford-K chairman Kijana Wamalwa.

Several students were injured in the fracas as security aides accompanying opposition leaders Mwai Kibaki, Raila Odinga, James Orengo and others shielded the leaders from the surging crowd.

Wamalwa’s supporters forcefully ejected Kituyi by tossing him over the teeming crowd after they accused him and his Webuye counterpart Saulo Busolo of hijacking the funeral to settle political scores.

Before his death, Kapten and Kituyi were alleged to have been working closely with Kibaki and his Democratic Party to undermine Wamalwa despite being members of Ford Kenya.

And as masters of ceremony at the funeral, Kituyi and Busolo had planned for Kibaki to speak last, after Wamalwa, an order that was reversed after rowdy Ford Kenya youth took over the function.

Before Kapten died, the then Kitale Diocese Catholic Bishop Maurice Crowley was in the process of reconciling him and Wamalwa, but the former collapsed and died on Christmas day 1999.

While serving as Vice-President, Wamalwa told an inquest hearing at a Kitale court that he had no personal differences with the late Kwanza MP but acknowledged that they had differed politically.

Disputes have since persisted among leaders from the region, especially over the leadership of Ford Kenya, with the most notable battle being the Musikari Kombo – Kituyi contest, won by the former.

Despite serving as powerful cabinet ministers in the Kibaki government, the bruising battle saw both lose their seats and dim their political ambitions, giving rise to Wetang’ula and Eugene Wamalwa.

Ford Kenya continued to decline at the time, winning a single seat in parliament, down from 21 when Kijana Wamalwa was chairman.

Riot police tear-gassed rival youths of the two Cabinet ministers on a day President Kibaki came face-to-face with the ugly side of local politics of violence and heckling while campaigning as the PNU presidential candidate in 2007.

The bitter rivalry between PNU politicians Kituyi and Kombo created room for ODM to make a strong presence in the region, winning most of the seats.

Kibaki’s frustration and pain were evident when TV footage showed him leaving his seat to calm down the heckling rowdy crowd to save Kituyi from further humiliation and enable him to address a rally in his own turf.

“Vitu gani hivi mnafanya? Hivi ni vitu vya kitoto. Mnapoteza muda wetu kwa kupiga kelele. Hiyo ni kelele tu hakuna kitu mnafanya (what is this you are doing? These are childish games. You are wasting our time making noise. That is just noise. There is nothing you are doing)” the President told the crowd as an embarrassed Moody Awori, Vice-President at the time watched pensively.

Awori had spent the better part of the morning trying to placate the feuding factions before the President’s visit.

In March 2011, Wetang’ula was elected Ford Kenya party leader at the National Delegates Conference held at the Bomas of Kenya.

The younger Wamalwa, the late Soita Shitanda, Bonny Khalwale and Kituyi decamped and formed the New Ford Kenya party which they used to vie for the 2013 elections.

Speaking about the current stand-off, political analyst Martin Andati thinks Natembeya should be taken very seriously because it appears he has seen a gap that is there for the taking, not only in Wetang’ula’s Bukusu territory but across the wider western region.

“He is talking about bigger things after 2027, which shows he has some serious ambitions which can be achieved once he has put Wetang’ula out of the way,” says Andati. Kisii Senator Richard Onyonka, a former Ford Kenya MP, thinks a younger generation of leaders in the western region is gearing up to recalibrate the political matrix.

The messaging coming out and directed to the Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and Wetang’ula is that they are not able to deliver much from the government despite holding senior positions in Kenya Kwanza.

“They are having a rethink of what needs to be done in the entire region because when jobs are being given out by Ruto, you hardly see members of the Luhya community being factored into those selections and nomination despite Mudavadi holding a senior position,” says Onyonka.

He thinks Wetang’ula should worry a lot because the narrative created by Natembeya and other young leaders in the region is gaining traction very fast and could easily percolate into Kakamega, Vihiga and Busia.

The governor has released weekly clips hitting at Wetang’ula, saying he has used the community to reward himself while forgetting those who catapulted him to the high pedestal.

“Pelekwa kwa meza na watu wako. Usijipeleka huko ukisema mimi nilileta watu elfu mia mbili, na kama singeleta hawa Raila angeshinda wewe, halafu wewe unakua rewarded. (Go to the table with your people, don’t go saying I brought 200,000 votes otherwise Raila could have defeated you so that you get rewarded),” says the latest clip.

He cautioned the community that they will not lead the country owing poor leadership coming from their corner despite being the second largest tribe in Kenya after the Kikuyu.

Onyonka, a resident of Trans Nzoia, says western Kenya has very complex issues with a historical, economic and political bearing, which if not addressed by Wetang’ula and Mudavadi will create a lot of complications for them.

“The people are expecting to see certain projects and interventions that are directly influenced by the two kingpins because they are at the centre of power. That is the dividend they are expecting to get,” says Onyonka.

Speaking in a TV interview earlier this week, Saboti MP Caleb Amisi agreed with Natembeya that Western has faced a leadership deficit for a long time and it is the wish and hope gf the mulembe nation that one of their own becomes president at one time.

“There is also the issue of the second largest community in the country not getting the requisite resources and infrastructural development because there is no single functional factory in the western region. There is nothing in the water and health sectors in the entire area,” says Amisi.

And so what he calls “a climate of revolution” is brewing and it is not just from Natembeya, but a number of young leaders who want change are also agitating for kicking out the old guard.