Wetangula and Natembeya fight for supremacy in western region

Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya and National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetangula. [File, Standard]

If the unfolding political events in western Kenya are anything to go by, National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetangula is a man under siege.

From pressure to fold his Ford Kenya party and join the ruling United Democratic Alliance, the emergence of Tawe movement which is being pushed by Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya, and squelching public calls to have his ally Susan Nakhumicha resign as Health Cabinet secretary over the doctors’ strike, Wetangula is not sitting pretty.

Prior to her appointment as Health CS, Nakhumicha vied for the Trans Nzoia Woman Representative seat on a Ford Kenya ticket in the 2022 General Election. She garnered 32,497 votes, behind Democratic Action Party-Kenya candidate Phanice Khatundi (65,641) and UDA’s Lilian Chebet Siyoi who won with 102,488 votes.

With Embakasi East MP Babu Owino threatening to file an impeachment motion against the CS before the National Assembly, Wetangula could find himself between a rock and a hard place if he has to decide Nakhumicha’s fate.

Mr Owino claims that his motion, which has already received the support of 111 MPs, is based on two grounds-gross violations of the Constitution and incompetence. He insists the doctors’ strike, which began on March 15, has crippled the healthcare system and denied thousands of citizens a basic right.

And while Nakhumicha is a national figure thanks to her position, she is also embroiled in Trans Nzoia local politics and has on occasion butted heads with Natembeya, a move analysts believe is setting the ground for making a run for governor.

Last month, Nakhumicha hit out at the governor over the state of the health sector in the county.

“The hospitals I have are Level 6 and it is the governor’s responsibility to improve these hospitals. Tell the governor to ensure they have enough medicine. If he will not, I will come here myself and do something for these people. It is important that leaders become responsible. The government has given the governors county funds on time. The president announced that the government has released Sh32 billion to counties and that is to allow them to deliver services to Kenyans,” she said in Matisi Ward.

In his rebuttal, Natembeya criticised Nakhumicha for overstepping her mandate and told her to steer clear of politicking and instead work on solving problems in the health sector.

“We have a serious problem in the Ministry of Health because there are many problems which ought to have been solved and they are still stuck,” the governor said in Kitale town on Saturday.

He continued: “She said that she is able to build a hospital in Matisi because she represents the health sector. So why Matisi, or is Matisi the entire nation? She would have gone to Turkana or West Pokot, but she should know that the law does not allow a CS to come directly and install a facility in counties. Even if she builds a facility here, she must speak to me. The moment you become a State officer, you put politics aside.”

Independent party

While President William Ruto wants Kenya Kwanza affiliate parties to dissolve and join UDA, Ford Kenya has maintained that it will not heed to the calls but instead remain as an independent party.

Last month, Bungoma Senator David Wafula said the Ford-Kenya leadership would not allow Ford Kenya to fold, as proposed by UDA Secretary General Cleopas Malala.

Mr Wafula argued that there was no agreement in Kenya Kwanza for dissolution of affiliate parties.

“It (Ford Kenya) was the first party to defend devolution in the country and to us, it is a political inheritance. We cannot toss, dump and destroy our inheritance because of our stomachs. We would like to assure Kenyans that our party was there, it is there and it will remain,” he said.

Political pundits believe Wetangula’s woes may stem from his hard stance against dissolving the party, with others claiming UDA may be scheming to ‘checkmate’ him to control Western Kenya politics.

According to Barrack Muluka, party leaders Musalia Mudavaidi (Amani National Congress) and Wetangula will be committing political suicide if they agree to fold their parties.

“I have worked with Musalia and he is a good man and gentleman of Kenya’s politics in the style of Mwai Kibaki. But the Western region has not been with him, but has largely been with Raila Odinga. When he (Musalia) was appointed Prime Cabinet Secretary, there has been a possibility that he will be his own man and stand for president in 2027,” Muluka said.

He opined that the Western region viewed the government as an interregnum-an interval or pause between two periods of office-and there was a feeling by locals that there ought to be a new government in 2027.

“If you will be in the shadows of the president, even if he makes you his running-mate, you will be doomed. The death of ANC comes with the exit of Mudavadi and the same case is with Wetangula,” he said.

Natembeya, on the other hand, has intensified his charm offensive mission in Western in a bid to upstage Wetangula and weaken his party’s grip on the region.

On Tuesday, during an interview on Spice FM, Natembeya said his movement was focused on pushing for the rejection of ‘bad things’, which he claimed to have been orchestrated by ‘bad leaders from Western region’.

“There is a culture of predominant leaders who believe when you join leadership you must get behind them. We have remained backwards for over 30 years, and this is what we are seeking to correct because poverty has been orchestrated by somebody so as to control them,” he said.

He blasted the Speaker for using the community as a bargaining chip.

“Wetangula came up with a funny explanation that he delivered Bungoma with the 200,000 that voted for Ruto and bargained for himself his post. We want leaders to come together and bargain on behalf of the community. If the President wants the Luhya vote, he can go to Raila who has over 20 MPs while Ford Kenya, DAP Kenya and ANC have five out of over 40 MPs. So the dominant political figure is ODM. We want to change this so we can bargain for ourselves as a community and not as individuals,” he said.

Muluka said speculation was rife that the Tawe movement was being bankrolled by the President, but if Wetangula stays put, he will not lose his influence. But Malala has refuted the claim, saying the tiff between Wetangula and Natembeya is a local affair and UDA does not want to upset the Speaker.

“We would not seek to create disharmony in any of our party affiliates. But since I come from Western, and being an elder brother of the two by dint of governing the ruling party, I have invited the two leaders for a truce later this month,” Malala told The Standard on phone.