What we have are rumours of war; the real fight for the Luo begins after 2017

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By Kenyatta Otieno

They know about it but no one is brave enough to come out and declare their intent, because the king (Raila Odinga) still has one more arrow in his quiver. Coupled with a silent belief that the 2017 poll has either been bagged or bungled, depending on how you look at it, there are many under currents in ODM as a party, and Luo-Nyanza as a region.

The recent drama in the Homa Bay Senate by-election, won by younger brother to the late Otieno Kajwang’, Moses, was the beginning of a battle that is bound to go full throttle immediately after the 2017 general election. This is the main reason why, from outside, it looks like Raila is losing the grip on ODM, which may not be the case. What is certain is that he is doing his best to balance his charges’ ambitions going to 2017 and beyond. At the moment he still has the powers, but come 2018, all hell will break loose as happened in 1994 after the death of the doyen of Kenya’s opposition politics and Raila’s father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

Going down memory lane, history has it that before his death, Jaramogi had started bequeathing his wealth to members of his family behind Raila’s back. When Raila got wind of it, he asked his father for his share of the inheritance; Jaramogi told him he was leaving the Luo to him. On the official front, Jaramogi seemed to have passed the political baton in Ford-Kenya to Kijana Wamalwa, his deputy. James Orengo was the second vice chairman, who was bound to inherit Jaramogi’s Luo constituency. No sooner had grass grown on his grave than war broke out in Ford-Kenya, which led to a fall out.

Several attempts to bring a truce between Raila and Kijana Wamalwa were futile. Raila defected from Ford-Kenya, resigned from Parliament and acquired NDP from one Omondi Oludhe, in which contested the Lang’ata by-election and won. The General Election of 1997 saw NDP win all but two seats in Luo Nyanza, which went to Ford-Kenya – James Orengo in Ugenya and Joe Donde of Gem. Raila had inherited the Luo from his father.

It looked straight forward but many forces were present that attempted to block Raila’s take-over of the Luo block. One such man was then Kisumu Mayor Lawrence Okinyi Oile who, by hook or crook, made sure that Raila did not hold a public meeting in Kisumu. The problem was that he was bidding for the Moi regime. He never succeeded in cracking the Luo political code; neither have Kibaki and Kenyatta after him.

Fast forward and several Luo leaders who did not go along with Raila were pushed out by NDP wave. Achieng’ Oneko in Rarieda who remained in Ford-Kenya until his death, and Shem Ochudho come to mind. The rest like James Orengo and Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o rejoined Raila in ODM going into the 2007 general elections after a stint in SDP, on which James Orengo vied for the presidency in 2002.

The situation has come full cycle, but the general consensus is that Raila is still the king. With the latest happenings, where he has lost a close confidant and his first born son, going forward, the Luo may still back him even if it is more out of sympathy than loyalty. His appointment of Suba MP John Mbadi as ODM Chairman has complicated matters, especially in Homa Bay, where Mbadi would like to consolidate his power, in the party and his home county. Legally, Mbadi is now the highest ranked Luo political leader after Raila, but in reality it is not a guarantee that he will inherit the throne, even if Raila anoints him.

 

Shifts and realignments

There has been discontent in Homa Bay after Mbadi called for branch elections. ODM director of elections, Junet Mohammed, who comes out to as more Luo than most Luo MPs despite being an ethnic Somali, rubbished it. According to Junet, Mbadi has no powers to call branch elections. On the other hand, two camps emerged, one headed by Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma and the other by County MP, Gladys Wanga.

One common denominator in these two factions is that both lists of branch officials omitted the perceived rebel MPs in the county. For example, James Rege, who was a branch official, has been nominally kicked out. It points to a picture of shifts and realignments, the point being that loyalty to Raila and the party is a must, as two factors that will count in the final run for post Raila political space. 

Mbadi’s call for rebel MPs to be disciplined is seen as a way of discrediting most of the current MPs so as to get his men into parliament in 2017. This is bound to give him clout in the party after 2017. If you take away Ndhiwa’s Augustino Neto, Mbita’s Millie Mabona, Karachuonyo’s James Rege and Rangwe’s George Oner, there are still MPs from Kasipul, Kabondo, Homa Bay Town and Mbadi from Suba, who have proved to be loyal to the party. The divide is even, and so if Mbadi can get his people to win the seats occupied by the rebel MPs and bag Homa Bay, he can begin to make forays into other Luo Nyanza counties.

This also accounts for his silent war against his Secretary-General Ababu Namwamba. It was reported that Mbadi was backing the group that wanted to push Ababu out of the powerful watchdog PAC until he got a call from his party leader. Immediately Ababu shook off the challenge, Mbadi came out with claims that they will push for his removal through other means. We clearly see a man out to spread his tentacles even within the party hierarchy. By clipping Ababu’s wings, he will end up as the big man after Raila in ODM, which will give him a say in who gets what in the party.

 

Power plays

Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo has gathered enough courage to differ with Raila on several issues. He was initially against Raila’s choice of Dr Agnes Zani for Secretary-General. Then he was against the party consensus list that was hammered between the Zani and Ababu camps. Recently Raila had to reign in on an MP out to disorient Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga, a jibe understood to be aimed at Midiwo who has been at logger heads with the Siaya Governor.

There is also the conflict between Raila’s sister and Kisumu Deputy Governor Ruth Odinga and his boss Jack Ranguma. Raila delved into the matter and set up a team to investigate the alleged corruption in the county government. All these are simple power plays that are simmering under a major post 2017 showdown.

The Odinga family is also not yet decided on who will take over from Raila after the death of his son Fidel whose death some people blame the same power struggles for. Fidel was warming up to take Kisumu Central parliamentary seat from his protégé Ken Obura. When Luo Nyanza erupts, the epicentre of this huge battle will be Kisumu town and county.

 

The Luo Way

 

Homa Bay County MP Gladys Wanga caught the spirit of Luo leadership in a recorded telephone conversation she had with a friend which was posted online. According to her, someone can be poor, but if the spirits of the Luo nation are upon him, he will be the leader. This should guide the state machinery that seems to be obsessed with pushing Dr Evans Kidero from Nairobi into Nyanza politics. Money is important but in most cases, it is never a factor when it comes to who wins a political battle in Luo Nyanza. When you see some war and hear rumours of wars in Luo Nyanza, do not be afraid; the real battle is yet to come. In the end, the spirit of the Luo nation will decide. 

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