'Tawe' movement jolts Western as 2027 poll clouds begin to gather

Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya. [Elvis Ogina]

The clouds of the 2027 electoral season are gathering in Western Kenya. The rumbling has begun in the North West, with Governor George Natembeya’s clarion call of the Tawe Movement. Tawe among the Luhya people is to say No. The movement is, accordingly, to say No to the established political order.

The Trans Nzoia Governor has chosen National Assembly Speaker Moses Masika Wetang’ula, as his entry point. His incessant bluster against Wetang’ula is, however, only the early calls of the trumpet ahead of 2027. They have potential for far-reaching significance for the region, and even farther beyond. At the very minimum, they are an early wake-up call for the legacy political kingpins and for others in faraway places.

On the surface, Natembeya is engaged in a regional political supremacy tussle with Wetang’ula. The scuffle spills over to suck into the mix Prime Cabinet Secretary and CS for Foreign Affairs, Wycliffe Mudavadi.

Seen through sharper political competition lenses, the gathering storm has been sparked off by the propping up of Health CS for 2027. As part of a larger political scheme, Wetang’ula is positioning the rambunctious Susan Nakhumicha for the Trans Nzoia governor’s seat in the next General Election.

The Natembeya-Nakhumicha sparks steadily morph into a political conflagration that promises to go out of hand. It has the makings of an inferno that could scorch regional political giants, to cinders. They could easily fall into ashy embers together with their protegees and hangers-on, who have so far enjoyed the benefits of sponsored political mobility. But all that is if Natembeya’s Tawe Movement will not turn out to be another storm in a teacup.

Is the Tawe spectre that haunts Western Kenya a storm in a teacup? Will it fizzle away like lard in a hot political crucible? Has Natembeya bitten off more than he can chew? It probably is, and he probably lacks the sinews to masticate the political bone he has deigned to pick with the regional civic maestros.

Natembeya came to prominence in the wider South Rift as the regional commissioner, during the second tenure of the Uhuru Kenyatta presidency. He distinguished himself as a fire-eating no-nonsense administrator who took no prisoners.

But while he was busy calling the administrative shots in the South Rift, he was also quietly making below-the-radar political inroads in Trans Nzoia, where Governor Patrick Khaemba was on his last lap. This man easily shook off the challenge from Ford Kenya’s Prof Chris Wamalwa, the better-known politician, to become the governor.

The new kid

Wamalwa had served for two terms as the MP for Kiminini. He was conspicuously visible and voluble on both local and national issues. Besides, he was on the stumps for five years, in the search for the Trans Nzoia crown. Riding on the comparatively doubtful Democratic Alliance Party (DAP), however, Natembeya outdistanced Wamalwa to take home the prize, with 158,919 votes against 79,020.

The 50.2 per cent victory margin defines the man who now leads what he has christened the Tawe Movement. The focus is “to give the people of Western Kenya their day in the sunshine, and a befitting place on the national dining table.” 

In a sense, Natembeya has elected not to address the political dog that is Nakhumicha, but instead deal with Wetang’ula, the owner of the dog. He has elected to frame the fight around local grievances as the most astute launching pad. That way, he can sort out both Trans Nzoia issues while damaging whomever else the searchlight will fall upon through the wide appeal of regional grief.

Accordingly, Natembeya is blaming Wetang’ula and Mudavadi for being complacent after gaining high office, at the expense of the people. He is reminding them that they were promised a share of 30 per cent of the Kenya Kwanza Government. Yet, in reality, they have not got even five per cent.

Natembeya points at appointments that the Ruto government has made across the board to make his point. Besides, he is looking at the distribution of development, in the context of what the President has launched in other parts of Rift Valley and in the Mt Kenya region. He is telling the people of Western that they have been taken for a massive ride.

Natembeya is saying the only way they are going to overcome their dislocation is to take the highest office in the land, the presidency. He aggregates the years that Presidents Jomo Kenyatta, his son Uhuru and President Mwai Kibaki were in power, and wonders aloud how one community could lord it over the rest for 35 years. He then reflects on what two terms for President Ruto would mean for Kenyans, outside the two communities that have produced the country’s presidents so far. Put together with President Moi’s 24 years in power, a two-term tenure for Ruto would mean that his community has exercised power for 34 years. The larger import of this, according to Natembeya, will be that Kenya has been ruled by two communities for 69 years, with all the attendant benefits.


This message is finding fertile ground. Accordingly, Natembeya is taking the fight to the Western kingpins, Wetang’ula and Mudavadi. They are being cast as self-focused individuals, who ride the region like horsemen. That they think that the entire election competition effort that has brought them where they are was only so that they should end up in big offices. It is against this that Natembeya is telling the people to say a loud Tawe.

So, again, will this movement hold, or is it a storm in a tea cup? In politics, there are no storms in tea cups. Even the smallest shift from the last order of things has the potential of rocking the boat. And both the Wetang’ula-Mudavadi boats and that of President Ruto could easily be rocked by the iceberg that is the incipient Tawe Movement. For, Western preponderates with grievances against the State and Natembeya is playing them up.

There is unemployment among youth, and perceptions of exclusion from plum spaces. There are failed promises to revive collapsed factories, agriculture, and commerce. Natembeya’s clarion call is music to the people’s ears. They are turning up in their thousands, on their own energies, to listen to the diminutive man, who begins assuming a messianic image of sorts.

So significant is the Tawe effort that it is causing jitters in high places. Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua has recently made a public invitation to Natembeya to vacate the Opposition space and, instead, work with the government. “You do not belong to the Opposition. The government flows in your bloodstream,” Gachagua said at a recent public gathering. “Natembeya, we worked with you in the Provincial Administration. I know you very well. You belong to the government; come and work with us.”

While it is not clear who will run against President Ruto in 2027, one thing that is not contestable is that his 2022 victory was as slim as they come. He beat his closest competitor, Azimio’s Raila Odinga, with a margin of 228,000 votes. Even a slight shake-up of this figure could upset the Ruto applecart. Such shake-ups could come from anywhere, including from things like the Tawe Movement. This is to say nothing of the fact that swathes of the country’s hustlers feel cheated about the wheelbarrow movement of 2022. The soaring cost of living has taken the wind out of their sails.

The significant number for Ruto to ponder about is, in fact, 114,000 votes. That was the magic figure that Odinga needed to flip over and add on one more vote, and victory would have been his. If everything were to remain constant, this figure of 114,000 would be President Ruto’s nightmare.

But things are not constant. Odinga is probably going to be occupying the topmost office in the African Union Commission when Kenya goes to the 2027 election. New formations and new loyalties may therefore, be necessary for Ruto to significantly feel any heat.

Perhaps the 114,000 factor is the one reason Odinga should vacate Kenya’s political space? For, with the unceasing adversity and discontent over taxation, the cost of living and other austere measures, the Ruto regime risks being a one term affair, and nothing endangers it more than Odinga's name on the presidential ballot paper in 2027.

If Odinga will not run, President Ruto will have his best fighting chance, despite all the emerging grievances against his government. But the exit of Odinga could also breathe freshness into the political space. New youthful leaders could emerge to cast Kenya Kwanza into tempestuous dire straits.

Could George Natembeya be one such youthful leader? To say that he is would perhaps be to fetch it rather far. Indeed, even the framing of the problem is itself problematic. Natembeya is saying that it is time for his community to lead the country. That alone puts the rest of Kenya on the alert. Why should his community lead? Is that the only consideration? If it is, then it makes for a fairly weak argument, outside not just Western, but even among the non-indigenes in the region.

The flipside

But there is a flip side to the scenario. And that is that the grievances expressed by the Tawe Movement cut across the country. If other parts should galvanize themselves in Tawe formations of their own kind, Kenya Kwanza will be in trouble. They only need to gain collective unity of purpose and formation, and a common presidential candidate to send Kenya Kwanza home. At that point, it will not matter so much who the candidate will be. The die might very well be cast.

Separately, all other rising stars in Western will be watching the unfolding events with a keen eye. The Odinga succession casts former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya into unprecedented limelight. How is he situating himself in the emerging arena, as one of ODM’s deputy party leaders? Others to watch are DAP party leader Eugene Wamalwa and the young Turks Edwin Sifuna, George Aladwa, Caleb Amisi, and Godfrey Osotsi. Where they stand in the emerging scenario will make or unmake them. 
Muluka is a communications adviser