Western leaders seek Marende intervention

By Stephen Makabila and Joel Okwayo

Political suspicion emanating from raw power ambition and disunity among Western Province MPs has now compelled them to seek the intervention-cum-wisdom of National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende.

Viewed as being currently politically neutral, Mr Marende, a highly respected personality, is now looked upon to help leaders from the region unite and speak with one voice amid a disintegrating regional economy.

The new shift by leaders to embrace Marende instead of Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Minister for Local Government Musalia Mudavadi is likely to be a wake-up call to the Sabatia MP, who despite his seniority in government, has failed to whip the region solidly behind him.

There are those who feel Mudavadi’s partisan interests are his undoing, with points of references being the row sparked by his recent revocation of several nominated civic leaders and the move to curve out the ‘Vihiga county’ covering four constituencies and leave the larger Kakamega with ten constituencies under one county.

The move has seen Mudavadi meet opposition from unlikely quarters, including Planning Minister and Butere MP Wycliffe Oparanya, who has been his close associate.

Experienced politician

However, his allies such as Shinyalu MP Kizito Mugali and Assistant Minister Manyala Keya maintain Mudavadi should remain the undisputed political point man in the region, given his status in government.

"Mudavadi should remain the only spokesman of this region because he is the senior most and more experienced politician," said Mr Kizito in Budalang’i constituency recently.

Investigation by The Standard has revealed Marende, who represented Emuhaya constituency before his election as Speaker in 2008, had planned for a meeting of all Western MPs last weekend, only to push it ahead for unknown reasons.

Housing Minister Soita Shitanda had a week earlier been quoted indicating the Marende meeting was to address some issues affecting the region.

Shitanda had indicated the expected meeting was to address issues emerging on electoral areas.

However, there are multiple problems facing the region, ranging from political rivalry among those with presidential ambition, mistrust, the row over counties in the Harmonised Draft Constitution, and an economy in shambles, whose face is the collapsed Webuye based Pan-Paper Mills and a struggling sugarcane sector.

Oparanya, when contacted, admitted there were plans for such a meeting, but declined to discuss its finer details.

Mumias MP Ben Washiali and his Matungu counterpart David Were also confirmed plans for the meeting, but indicated it remains the discretion of the Speaker who is the convenor to decide when it may be finally held.

"We are yet to be furnished with the real date of the meeting, but we know there is such a plan," added Washiali.

Kimilili Ford Kenya MP Eseli Simiyu indicated he was yet to be contacted, but added such plans were welcome.

"It would be a good opportunity if we can have such a meeting because as leaders we are pulling in different directions and that does not auger well for our people," said Eseli. Sources told The Standard that a section of MPs from the province had approached Marende to convene the meeting, since he was perceived to be neutral.

"No one else can call a meeting to be attended by all MPs due to party rivalry and suspicion. They can attend a Marende meeting because given his position, he is above party politics," noted an MP from the region.

Partisan interests

Many think it should be Mudavadi to play the pacification role, but there are those who feel he has been part of the problem due to partisan interests.

Yesterday, the ODM national youth leader Ben Ombima, who is privy to the goings on, told The Standard the agenda of the meeting bordered on unity and economic issues.

"All MPs from the region had been expected to meet at Marende’s Nairobi residence last weekend, but due to some reasons, it was pushed ahead," said Mr Ombima.

Despite the region having 18 out of the 24 elected MPs from ODM, two from New Ford-Kenya, two from PNU, and one each from Kaddu and Ford Kenya, it is highly divided along party and sub-tribe lines, with six current MPs having already indicated their interest to run for the presidency.

They are Mudavadi, Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetang’ula, Lugari MP and Kaddu chairman Cyrus Jirongo, Ikolomani MP Dr Bonny Khalwale and Assistant Lands Minister Wakoli Bifwoli.

Others are Nambale MP Chris Okemo and Saboti’s Eugene Wamalwa, who despite representing a constituency in neighbouring Trans Nzoia, has his roots in the region.

Wamalwa recently tore into Mudavadi, accusing him of having schemed alongside the ODM leadership to call off the first Simama Kenya rally that could have been held in Bungoma on January 31.

Electoral issues

It is partly due to such attacks on Mudavadi that his efforts to strike unity among elected leaders have not borne fruits.

The proposed number of counties to be created in the province if the Harmonised Draft Constitution is adopted has also raised some storm, which forms part of the electoral issues referred to by Shitanda.

Oparanya, for example, wants Butere-Mumias to be a county of its own, while Okemo feels the larger Kakamega was too expansive to be under one county.

"Western needs at least eight counties instead of the proposed four for fair distribution of resources," said Oparanya.

Washiali and Were also share Oparanya’s view, saying it was unacceptable for Butere–Mumias to be under Kakamega county.

There has also been a raging row over the revocation of several nominated civic leaders, with Jirongo, whose Lugari constituency was affected, leading the onslaught against Mudavadi.

Revive pan-paper

Jirongo has vowed not to relent while Mudavadi has been dismissive, maintaining the revocation was an ODM affair.

However, Malava ODM branch chairman Musavini Nambwa says he disagreed with Mudavadi on the way the revocation of two ODM councillors in his branch were effected.

Musavini noted an ODM councillor’s nomination was revoked in Malava and a non-party member nominated in his place.

"It is strange for a Deputy party leader to revoke the nomination of his party member and instead nominate a non-party member. Mudavadi should have consulted the branch leadership," said Musavini.

On the economic front, the collapse of Pan-Paper Mills is a thorny issue, given that one year down the line, the Government is yet to revive it.

Both President Kibaki and Raila have on separate occasions visited Webuye and pledged the Government’s commitment to revive the company, but the promises have failed to be honoured.

The Western Province Investment Conference held last October, and which had Pan-Paper as one of its agendas, has not helped things either.