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Kenneth Marende: I differed with Mudavadi when he backed Ruto

Amani national congress leader, Musalia Mudavadi chats with former National assembly speaker Keneth Marende during church service at Pentecostal Assembly of God at Likoni in Mombasa on June 13, 2021. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

Touted as one of the best Speakers Kenya has ever had, Kenneth Marende cemented his place in the annals of history while serving as Speaker of the 10th Parliament for his ‘Solomonic’ ruling that made him leader of government business when odds were emotively split between the President and Prime Minister. He speaks to BENARD LUSIGI on his experience in the House and current political affairs, including why he is opposed to Kenya Kwanza’s Ruto and Mudavadi

Question: You have been hailed for steady leadership especially during the 10th Parliament where many termed your ruling as ‘Solomonic.’

Answer: The Solomonic reference came from the tough decision I made in the National Assembly, when the government and opposition were tussling over who should run government business in the assembly. The late President Mwai Kibaki proposed the name of Kalonzo Musyoka and the opposition, ODM, proposed Raila Odinga for the job. The expectations were obvious and even the media speculated I would side with my party boss Raila. The pro-government team led by intelligence and security agencies, on the other hand, expected me to side with Kibaki’s proposal. I judged that the tussle  would cripple Parliament’s operations and took over the post on an interim period and directed Kibaki and Raila to resolve the impasse because they were in a coalition pact and had to consult each other based on the National Accord and Reconciliation Act. I told them that I would hold the post of chair of the House Business Committee until the impasse is resolved. Both sides of the House and, indeed, Kenyans congratulated me for the decision which they termed Solomonic.

Many say you took a low profile after serving as Speaker, is that the case?

That’s not it. It’s just that I left the country to serve as chief mediator in international conflicts under the United Nations and as a chairman of a prime public parastatal. They were fulfilling duties I must say but they never made me make news compared to when I was in Parliament. During my tenure as chairman of the Kenya Power board, for example, the national connectivity rose from 35 per cent to 75 per cent but little went to the press on the same. I think it’s the press that took a low profile on me.

Your bromance with Mudavadi is no more. What happened?

A: We are still friends but have since differed ideologically. During the grand coalition government when Raila was given a chance to pick a deputy prime minister, it turned out my Emuhaya constituency contributed the most votes to his basket that made Raila pick him at the expense of William Ruto. When he was vying for the presidency, I sat in the committee that drafted his manifesto. We traveled all over talking of the ills committed by Ruto but he has turned to be a Ruto fan. I could not believe it. At that point, we parted ways politically because he knows very well he is supporting a wrong candidate.

You are going for Vihiga governor seat on DAP-K ticket. Do you think you’re fit the bill?

Sure, I have been ranked the best office holder and best leader among those who are vying for governor in Vihiga. I think it is the reason why constituents prevailed upon me to vie. I am merely listening to their call.  

Your thoughts on Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Coalition?

Of course, I see the better coalition in them. It brings hope and is best placed to address national interests. The coalition’s leader, Raila, has a better track record than Ruto. Ruto cannot change into a progressive leader. He opposed the progressive 2010 Constitution which has been lauded across the globe. He opposed the Building Bridges Initiative and many other well meaning things.

What do you think of the scramble for Western votes and the general political landscape?

We constitute 20 per cent of the national population and yet we have received less in resource allocation, employment in public offices and even in Cabinet hence becoming poorer, vulnerable and desperate. This makes people disrespect us and think they can buy us cheaply. Our troubles begin and end with leaders who have failed to whip their bases to the right political candidates but are forcing us to support Ruto.

What is your relationship with President Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila and Ruto?

Uhuru is my buddy, He appointed me in 2014 to be chief mediator in Central African Republic conflict and appointed me the board chair of Kenya Power. He has built and improved on the legacy that was left by Kibaki and he has done a lot on infrastructure. We can rightfully brag to be the hub of infrastructure in East and Central Africa. He has done a lot especially in the second term after moving away from retrogressive forces within the government even though economically we are stable. Therefore, he is at his best. Raila has been my party leader and he is my closest friend up to now being a leader who has fought for many things: democracy, the 2010 Constitution, the rule of law and fathered devolution. Therefore, I have a lot of respect for him and we share a lot in common. On Ruto, politically he is not my friend, I have been with him in Parliament when I was speaker but I don’t like things he is associated with. I have listened to all these leaders and I have never seen him condemn corruption. I think he is unfit for the top seat and I don’t think he can be president.

How would you rate the late President Kibaki?

Having been privileged to work with Kibaki occasionally when I was a speaker, he was a great thinker, listener and he respected the rule of law and separation of powers and that is why the 10th Parliament was the best ever. Kibaki consulted widely, persuasively and took a strong stand. He laid a foundation of development for us like the Vision 2030 that is guiding us currently. We occasionally met at Muthaiga Country Club for talks. Many Kenyans sent me a thank you letter believing I helped him deliver as president.

When is the last time you spoke to Uhuru, Raila and Ruto?

I talked to Uhuru a month ago when I lost my mother. For Raila, we talked a week ago and I was even with him. As for Ruto, I think it’s two or three years ago.

Why were you initially eyeing the Vihiga governor’s seat and not senator?

Vihiga deserves better. We can give Vihiga good leadership and governance. We have no excuse on why we have not developed like other counties because we get an equitable share of resources. By divine providence, Vihiga has natural resources, good soil, a hard working population and a lot of untapped opportunities. Our current leadership is greedy and selfish. The only legacy our first governor did was building a  house for himself from our money. It is embarrassing that we don’t even have a level five hospital.

Q: Briefly tell us about your professional career, marriage and politics?

A: I went to primary school in Vihiga county, secondary school in Kakamega and Kagumo High School before proceeding to the University of Nairobi to study law. In 2002, I was elected Emuhaya MP and re-elected in 2007. I was elected as Speaker in 2008 and served a full term. I am the only Speaker who served for a full term without a single attempt to impeach me. Currently, I do mediation a lot more than active law though I am a senior law consultant. I am a married man with a number of children. My African culture cannot allow me to count them.