Why Otuoma could be writing his political orbituary

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David Wanjala

The first business of the National Assembly after a General Election, and pursuant to the President’s proclamation of the list of elected members, is the election of the Speaker. This is followed by the swearing-in of members.

The dynamics of our politics have changed, and with those are the chances that we are unlikely to see many of the familiar faces in Parliament today after the 2017 elections. But unlike in the past when new faces have sprung up following the unpopularity of incumbents on account of non-performance, what is likely to happen in 2017 will be mostly self-inflicted. It will be from the avaricious desire of the MPs to ascend the ladder of power, especially the ambition to control the billions in the counties.

The first Parliamentary term under devolution has proved that real power and authority, especially in terms of accessing and managing finances, lies with the CEOs of county governments. As such, members of both Houses have trained their eyes on unseating sitting governors. The MPs are hoping to capitalise on the governors’ perceived mismanagement of resources in the counties to replace them. But it will not be a walk in the park. Governors have consolidated financial war-chests that MPs will find really difficult to match.

In Busia County, Funyula MP Paul Otuoma has declared he will vie for the position of governor. His declaration is all brave and in good faith, but the legislator needs to know that while it is easy to point out the obvious failures of Sospeter Ojaamong, the governor of Busia County, it will not be easy to unseat him.

Otuoma made history in 2007, during his debut in politics, when he ended Awori’s illustrious political career of 24 years, felling the then sitting Vice President. The only other Kenyan to ever accomplish such a political feat was Moses Akaranga, when he rode the Opposition’s National Rainbow Coalition wave of Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga in 2002 to unseat MP for Sabatia and Vice President, Musalia Mudavadi.

Otuoma was even luckier. Where it took his predecessor three terms in Parliament to get a full ministerial post, which led to his contemporaries to taunt him with the nickname, professional assistant minister, he was appointed minister in his first term thanks to the power sharing deal after the chaotic 2007 General Election. Between 2008, when he first got to Parliament, and 2013 when the new Constitution allowed the President to appoint his Cabinet from without Parliament, Otuoma served as minister in the ministries of Fisheries and Livestock and Youth and Local Government respectively.

The new frontier Otuoma wants to venture into is one that requires a totally different ball-game. Winning a gubernatorial seat involves getting support beyond one’s constituency. In Busia, it is even more complicated. The county has two distinct ethic tribes; the Luhya, who are Bantus, and the Teso, Nilotes.

Contrary to what many have over the years thought of the Teso in terms of their numerical strength, the Teso match the Luhya. It gets trickier for Otuoma given the Luhya are further divided into four sub-tribes, Ababu Namwamba’s Banyala from down Lake Victoria, Otuoma’s Samia, John Bunyasi’s Bakhayo from where the County Senator and former long-serving Attorney-General Amos Wako hails from, and the Marachi. The Teso, on the other hand, are homogeneous.

The county has seven constituencies; Budalangi, Funyula, Matayos, Nambale, Butula, Teso North and Teso South. It would require Otuoma to win over the four Luhya constituencies first, which is not a given, before he venture’s into Ojaamong’s Teso, which would be quite a task. First, his relationship with the neighbour on his West and his party secretary-general, Ababu Namwamba, putting aside recent public camaraderie, is far from cordial.

There is no declared support yet for him from the remaining three Luhya constituencies and one cannot tell which interests will sprout that will bind them as we near 2017. Already, it is rumoured, Ojaamong’s number two, Kizito Wangalwa, who has had a frosty relationship with his boss, is keen on running for the office too. This, if it happens, locks out Otuoma from Butula.

Ojaamong’s flaws may be obvious and numerous but people do not vote entirely on competencies. A lot of intrigues come into play. He may have been elected from ODM’s party boardroom agreement where seats, including senatorial, those of deputy governor and county speaker were balanced between the Luhya and Teso, but it does not make him a pushover, not after five years as county CEO overseeing expenditure of billions of shillings in county budgets and absorption of hundreds of people in county government.

The county has employed many people across the two communities who, with their extended relations, will not want the status quo interrupted. The other lot that will want to cling on the status quo is the very influential clique of members of the county assembly.

For Otuoma, it will boil down to what he achieved, not only for his constituency whose politics have been divided between Samia North and South for many years, but for the former Busia District as minister as well. It may not be enough to sell him to the entire county.^

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