'Tawe' leader George Natembeya defends movement

Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Governor George Natembeya came into the limelight while serving the country as Regional Commissioner (RC) of the largest region in the country by landmass and population - the Rift Valley.

Those who followed him making declarations as RC in a 'no taking prisoners' hard-hitting style were not surprised when he declared interest in the Transzoia governor's seat at the 2022 General Elections. 

They had read hot politics in the diminutive administrator. Extroverted, courageous, quick with the tongue and action, today, Natembeya, less than two years as governor, the trained administrator is running faster than is expected of newbies in politics. What is his endgame?

He spoke to Eric Latiff and The Situation Room team on Standard Group's Spice FM.

We have been seeing you do the Tawe movement every time. What is this Tawe movement?

In my mother tongue, ‘tawe’ means reject or say no to something. It is not even a movement it is just a call to people to reject all the bad things that have affected our community including

bad leadership, poverty, nepotism, tribalism, politics of violence, all those things that are bad. We want to reject them. You look at our community level we have normalised the normal. You go to the villages, people are living the same way; they are affected by jiggers, they can’t take their kids to school, unemployment levels is very high.

And because everyone's going through this, you think is normal. We want them to start rejecting at that level and then now, to whom do we attribute these problems? This problem is there's got to have been an accountable political leadership. you're elected, but somehow you think solving those problems, is not part of your assignment.

So when those unaccountable political leaders, current leaders who were elected disappear for five years, you look for some little money, come back and buy the electorate and the problems persist. So we won't even the way our local people perceive leadership to also change.

So why you?

Why not? Why not? There's a culture out there where we have got these predominant political figures, that if we go into leadership, you must line up behind them. That is exactly what I have been doing.  We are saying this is what we've been doing for the last 30, 40 years. No changes. So you want to force us to follow you to do the same things. Why don’t we chart a different political course? That's what we're doing, and just not me. We want to have many other people. This ‘tawe’ movement is actually getting a lot of support. It resonates well with the local people, and even the political leaders who have been in the game for long, and want to look at politics in a different way. Of course, they're also welcome to join this movement. So that will have a total transformation, especially at the local level.

How far back is this problem? It goes how many years back?

It goes back many many years. I think nothing really has changed since we got independence. The founding fathers of this country talked about poverty and illiteracy. These are the main problems and challenges facing this country.

Sixty years later we are still talking about the same things. Our country has grown for a few. Not everybody was complaining about those things those days. Some people have moved on and are living in a state of self-actualization.

But over 90 per cent of Kenyans are just at the place where they were at independence. So what is the problem? You may ask that. Look at the president he came up with, with the Hustler narrative during the election. And even they made boda boda operators and mama mbogas believe that they were going to go into government, and they're going to become ministers. Because along the way, we forgot all these things and even tax was being affected the most. That time we understood the problems of the hustler. What has changed? It is actually the system that changes people.

You go there and people simply hold the hostage and start doing different things completely and forget the things that you promised people. We want to remain true to what we promised. And that is what the people want. Even now my colleagues who I was with looking for votes are doing completely different things. And when you appear to be going against the grain then now you're the bad one. But now we are saying let us for the first time start addressing the needs of the common mwananchi and not just the needs of the leaders.

Do people change or do people go into these positions as they are?

There's a lot of deceit in politics. What you're saying also can also be true, because there is a lot of hypocrisy. The things that we say on the campaign trail, and the things that we do as we are in office are completely different things.

During campaigns, everybody's humble you will be called to a function and show up basically to beg for votes. The moment you are elected you even take offence when you go to a function that has no carpet for you. You take serious offence.

If old men don't remove hats for you, you look at it as disrespect. You forget the other day you were just asking for votes from them. So some people show their true colours once elected or somehow the system changes people. I don't know. But at the core of all this is selfishness.

You asking people to reject all of these things. Are you also the one who will say yes, say no, but this is what I'm pointing you towards?

Yeah, that's what we're doing. We are rejecting this. But then for what? If you're rejecting dictatorial leadership we also have to empower you to make proper decisions during elections. If you Sh50 can change your political opinion. And then what we do is make sure money doesn't change your political opinion when it comes to election.

We need you to have that Sh50. So that it doesn't matter whether someone is giving anything. It doesn't mean anything because now we are looking at the bigger picture. You are selling the future of your children at the cost of Sh50 because you do not have an alternative. In the politics of poverty. I look at my community and I see is it is orchestrated, and it is by design. There is somebody somewhere behind this. To ensure this people remain in permanent poverty. Ensure that they don't go to school.

They don't expose them to anything. When you are born in the rural, you live there, marry there and the only thing you know about this country is just your area and you think everybody in this country lives like that. It is basically orchestrated. We want to open the eyes of our people because I know you can detect these things. But if you don't have the people then you are doing it for who? They must be with this idea first. That's why I say reject your life as it is. If you think is comfortable, you're gonna check with these people, but let them see that there's an alternative life, that they can get better-dignified life as a local person. And then when you reject your status.

So as you talk about ‘tawe’ movement, it's personified. It's coming down to an individual, the individual being the leader of political parties that's been dominating the region for years. Why are you singling those two out?

Why people are afraid to talk about the problems? You know, they're proposing these problems but want to keep progressing with the problems. So far as we're putting a face to the problems that we have. And it's not just me attributing that they themselves say that I didn't come out in this government. So that in command of what significance to the community, you're saying is a very important position in government. What does it come in terms of the community other than investing you and giving you this privilege of society as a person? The politics of tokenism because we have to build the government. We put someone there who will make a lot of noise. But that doesn't mean anything tangible for the community.

Of course, let me just get that out. The people who have been there are doing exactly what their predecessors used to do. They come to the villages and attend the funerals with a nation of thugs. And basically mesmerize people by telling them ‘I might be the bad one but I'm the only one that you know’. This is creating this kind of desperation now. I am your only option.

I've been talking about the community and I don’t want to be misconstrued that I'm preaching tribalism and nepotism. And the kind of energy that we have. We are the second largest community in this republic, but have suffered severe discrimination. You don't need just basic things. I normally give the example of the forces that sixty years down the line we have not even had a single Luhya commanding even the Navy or the Air Force. But seems like then somebody's manipulating this to ensure that only certain individuals take up the positions.

So what happens when you reach a certain level, you work so hard to become a deputy inspector and inspector general police. But from there, you need not just call the number three that political thing. You have to come and say now I'm demanding this. That's when you're number three means something. I rose to become a Regional Commissioner myself, but nobody held my hand. But to be become a PS or a CS you need that political push. When I declared I wanted to be governor, I discovered these guys are completely against the community because I was fought left right and centre.

Actually, I left my office earlier. What we are saying is everybody negotiates for stuff as a community. first and then you can negotiate with others. It is easier for other communities to be dealing with one entity instead of dealing with a team. For Luhyas we have 18 sub nations and everyone wants to be separate. They are all divided. What we're saying now, is can we come together as a community to talk with other Kenyans so that we are taken seriously? That's why Raila is taken seriously. That's why Ruto is taken seriously. That's why Rigathi is taken seriously. Which Luhya is taken seriously?

Why are the leaders of the Luhya nation not supporting others?

Because as the Luhya community, we've not been able to take part in those leadership positions. Which Luhya made Mudavadi the Prime CS? He would have been taken more seriously if people took part in the process that got him the seat. By even the President himself. He will say I want roads in Vihiga and not be given. If you say I'm walking away and you walk away with 400 MPs he can't. He is there alone. Today the governor for Mudavadi is an ODM governor Ottichilo. The Senate, Osotsi, is ODM. Azimio got more votes than Kenya Kwanza in Vihiga. The position that Mudavadi holds in government is what we call tokenism. You can be quiet there then one you will cry and nothing will happen.

Wetangula says he delivered Bungoma to the president. He said Bungoma voted for Raila but this time around 200,000 people voted for Ruto. So he used the 200, 000 votes to bargain for himself. Today, if Kalonzo coughs, the entire Kamba nation will get cold. The same with Raila but what about the Luhyas? If the president wants to talk to the Luhya nation he will go through Raila because Raila has got 20 MPS in Western. ANC, Ford Kenya, DAP has five MPS each out of over 40. So the dominant political figure there is ODM. We want to change all this, and as a community we are capable. These are just individuals using the name of the community to go there.

Many have tried for decades but they haven't succeeded. Why do you think there is no success in uniting the Luhya nation?

That is why I am not talking about the Luhya unity myself. I am talking about the unity of the leadership. We want to do what's called transformational leadership. Not people getting into positions for the sake of those positions. What are we bringing in those positions to transform the lives of our people? For instance, there is a sub-county in Trans Nzoia called Saboti. It used to be represented in Parliament by Michael Wamalwa. Up to now, Saboti does not have even a tarmac road. The leadership keeps telling the people that the government hates us and there is nowhere we can go. As a leader, what are you trying to say? And these people also pay taxes. We are saying it's no longer about Ntembeya, Mudavadi or Wetanguala.

First of all, let the person also understand that the life they are living, they deserve better. How did they get this life? When we talk too much we are asked to stop politicking. But politics is about the allocation and sharing of resources. It is about how we used our political power and strength as a people to ensure that we empower local communities. I'm saying that let's look at this community in terms of sheer numbers, because politics is about numbers and let these numbers mean something. There was a time when we had about five cabinet secretaries although that tie the cabinet was nit as thin as it is today.

Today, we just have one, the entire Western region so many million people plus the prime Cabinet Secretary because those are two. Is that proper representation in the cabinet? They did vote for this formation and therefore you don't have shares. That is the quiet tone. But we are saying it's not only people who voted for the regime that pay taxes, we want to exist equally. I'm saying that because you look at our people they have lost hope. They kind of push on anything. When you're calling yourself Papa wa Roma. People just call you that. Not because you have saved them. That is why we say we want to change all these things and people get so scared when I say this. They ask whether am going to survive.

This guy has finished Musikari Kombo, Wanunyinyi etc and will Natembeya survive. So don’t be the person who finishes people, be the one who builds them. Be positive about some of these things and you cannot have a monopoly of knowledge. You will go to consult and when we raise some of these can you step back and say these guys are making sense or do we just get a sledgehammer and say let me finish this guy? After finishing me then are you going to change the narrative?

Is your focus as George Natembeya; raising the profile of the people or is your focus to be the one that people will look towards in the future?

If people focus too much on myself, then they completely miss the point, It then becomes selfish. You create unnecessary enemies because then people are obsessed with the leaders and the message is lost. That's why I'm saying. It's about the people. Let us walk with the people. The moment that people realise that is there is strength in numbers and they have their numbers and they need to handle these numbers in the proper way. And they know that these numbers then benefits will go to them. For me, my job will be done. But for now, people just participate in politics as a matter of routine. Political rallies attract thousands and on the day of voting, they don’t vote. We want to change that, and for me, I operate from home from the grassroots. I'm dealing with the people daily.

Do you feel like a lone wolf in this?

I'm not on my own. There are actually so many people, many leaders who are just silent and they're watching this unfold and I'm sure if it go that direction I think is going to go there are very many of them are going to be in the fold. The level of frustration out there even among the leadership is very high. But they can just pick there is this kind of fear. These people can’t talk freely. You go to Western and when you say some of these things you will just be called and be told this guy will finish you. People believe you cannot challenge these leaders. Let us sacrifice for the sake of the community. If somebody gets this message, they understand that we need to change and they change then my mission will be done. So this is not about me. And I don't want it to be about me. I am ready to support anyone who will come out and articulate it better than myself. We are saying once as Luhyas we are able to achieve what I'm talking about and get what's rightfully ours without blackmail of we don't get that if we don't do this. We don't want to get more than what we are entitled to as a nation as so that others also get their share. We want working leaders not like the current Health CS. People are dying, the doctors are on strike and you are busy fighting at a funeral in Western Kenya. Where are your priorities as a leader? You are not working for the people of Bungoma but for the Republic of Kenya and there are serious national issues affecting the country that needs your attention.

But bad politics has been happening in Western Kenya for many years. Is that the kind of politics that you say you want to change?

Yes, like now that they know that the ‘tawe’ movement is catching up on the ground. So whenever they're planning to attend funerals, they're printing t-shirts and cups with the ‘tawe’ movement and sending boys wearing them to go and cause fracas so that people say those are Natembeya’s boys. If an idea is good, why don’t we just embrace it? or even make it better. Developed countries do. For us in western people look at this. They sniff around to see who is upcoming so that they can kill you. Not uplifting. So that they grow alone in the villages.

How different is your brand of politics from what you have described as the bad brand of politics. You are also attending events where a nemesis will be present.

For that funeral, I went there to send a message because the deceased was my staff. She was working in one of my health facilities. Actually, she died in an accident way from work. The husband is related to the speaker. We did a fundraiser for that funeral and we gave our contribution but on the eve of the burial, I was called by a Member of Parliament and he told me there is going to be fracas since there was mobilization being done.

So when that morning my team went and of course they found that the main dias where all the leaders were going to sit had been decorated and the tent was FORD-Kenya colours. So we chose to put my seats in a different tent and those guys broke that chair and I was not yet there So they were causing all this commotion before they had been before I arrived. When I went there, there was of course there was a standoff. These people had clearly come to play politics, and intimidate. They want to kill what we're trying to do. So they intimidate you and you know, you become hopeless. And obviously, there's no option I cannot survive politically unless I join the queue. I'm saying I didn't join politics for the sake of just politics. So let's see what the what is the worst that they can do. And so the people were with me and they used the police. It is the police who began firing teargas canisters. You don't throw tear gas canisters in crowded places where there are women, old men disabled people with different conditions and others. The police fired canisters and of course, we left but the message was sent. Personally, I don't do politics at funerals. These guys can attend even ten funerals. They use helicopters to hop from place to place.

They attend a burial disrupt, leave and go to another one, Fr 390 minutes it’s just total disruption.

But yes, I do meetings. I've called the people who have come on and we talk politics, but don't politic in funerals.

Are they county government meetings? Do you use county resources to organize meetings?

I call meetings in my county but I have not gone to the county to have the county government organise meetings. Governors meet people. I can organise a rally. Like today if I want to meet in a particular place to discuss issues notify the police that we'll be in a particular place. We don't use the county resources to hold these meetings.