The curse of political leadership in the ‘Luhya Nation’

They just don't get it...

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By David Wanjala

Gullible. Cheap. Short sighted.
Whatever you want to call it, the adjective will fit quite nicely in describing the perennial failure of political leadership in the “Luhya Nation” to rise to the occasion when it is most crucial.

Masinde Muliro and Kijana Wamalwa, the doyens of Luhya politics, are the standard. In recent times, those who have stepped into the shoes of the two fallen heroes have utterly failed the people of Mulembe big time, with their antics, almost all of the time, only succeeding in providing comic relief.

There is a former Member of Parliament from the vast Kakamega County who, a year after losing his seat in the 2013 elections, was already living on hand outs from his former colleagues who had made it back to Parliament. Reportedly, they could donate as little as Sh5000 but which, to the former mheshimiwa, was a bonanza.

A colleague in the know relives, comically, of a time he was tasked by a sitting Member of the National Assembly from the said mheshimiwa’s neighbouring Constituency to send him Sh5000 via M-Pesa. “I was a little busy and so I took some time. The guy called me almost 20 times in half an hour asking to be sent the money immediately. When I finally did, rather than appreciate my effort, he chided me for not including the withdrawal fee.” Though the example is a little extreme, it sums up the calibre of a typical Luhya politician.

Winning an elective office is like striking a jackpot whose proceeds are expended on anything from marrying additional wives to at the very extreme, shouldering bills of expensive funeral events of relatives and constituents. Most have got no vision to invest, which is a perfect way of courting paupery when they lose their seats – and income.

This is how former prominent MPs from the region have ended up as errand boys for their successful former colleagues, and destitution, looking for small jobs from the government of the day, like getting appointed to boards of government agencies.

But the greatest manifestation of just how pathetic political leadership in Luhyaland is is exemplified in four men – Ababu Namwamba, Eugene Wamalwa, Kenneth Marende and Musalia Mudavadi.

Ababu Namwamba
Initially the hope of the youth, the self-made 41-year-old former fiery ODM secretary general and chair of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee has now degenerated into a village tiger, only surfacing in the footnotes of prime time news while addressing a handful delegates of his amorphous Labour Party of Kenya in some hotel conference hall.

The stellar rise of the eloquent MP for Budalangi was something the youth looked up to. Flooring former assistant minister Raphael Wanjala in the 2007 polls, Namwamba quickly cut himself a niche in the National Assembly as a fiery and informed debater, qualities that thrust him to the national stage.

He was no longer a mere representative of his Budalangi people, but a national figure championing national grievances, qualities that did not only endear him to the public across the political divide, but also to his party mandarins who saw a future national leader in him. In 2013, he trounced his opponents hands down, and his political star shined even brighter.

The sky, it seemed, was the limit. Alas, how quickly Ababu has fallen, disgracefully so.
His short stint as chair of PAC will be remembered as the worst for of the coveted committee, with claims of bribery and graft being heaped on his person. But the lowest he stooped was his recording of his party leader, Raila Odinga, in a private conversation, which he then released to media outlets to exonerate himself from the integrity challenges he was facing at PAC.

He was to later turn wild against his party, in preparation for his exit. From heading the secretariat of the biggest opposition party in the country and a powerful committee in Parliament, Ababu is now almost forgotten. His “Mulembe Consciousness” madness had a stillbirth. No longer welcome to ODM, he also cannot support Jubilee, for which he betrayed his former party.

Busia governor Sospeter Ojaamong, an ODM loyalist, has alleged that the MP was bribed to destabilise ODM in Western Kenya, an assignment that he bungled miserably, leading to his masters closing the money taps.

“It is very disturbing… I thought Ababu was a visionary leader with a potential of one day taking a stab at the presidency, but money changed my brother… small money. I told my brother, ‘this money you’re being given will not take you anywhere. Now the taps have run dry’. Ababu cannot find his voice any more; he can’t even open his mouth. He’s now captured. I met him aboard a flight the other day, he talks to himself,” Ojaamong recently offered on a radio interview.

A man full of potential, he was nevertheless too cocky and restless to see the future. He ran ahead of himself. He is now grounded in his Budalangi Constituency, far from the national limelight ODM offered him, in a battle of his life. To remain relevant, with a chance to self-redemption, he must get re-elected. It is going to be an uphill task with the brewing wave of NASA in Western Kenya.

Eugene Wamalwa

The fine speaking lawyer has the rare knack of bungling every chance on his path. He has failed at every chance to rise to the national stage and make his case. He has two huge shortcomings; he does not know how to identify what he can achieve and go for it.
More often than not, Eugene dreams of and goes for what is far ahead of him and so he ends up chasing a mirage for eternity. Secondly, he does not know how to claim his rightful stake in a group – mostly of fellow vultures – so that even among his equals, he is easily bypassed.

In the run up to the last election, Eugene wanted to be everything: President, presidential running mate, Member of Parliament and Senator. In the end, he was unable to focus on any, and so ran for none. In the end, the former MP for Saboti was jobless.

It was unbelievable for someone who was instrumental in the formation of Uhuru Kenyatta’s TNA, which, in coalition with William Ruto’s URP, formed government. He was to stay in the cold for three years as UhuRuto ate nyama, slowly getting engulfed in irrelevance. Had the President not come to his rescue with a ministerial appointment, your guess is as good as mine as to what might have become of Eugene.

His drafting into Cabinet should have been his launching pad to political relevance. It should have been his platform to quietly reengineer himself. He should have quietly researched and mobilised to identify what he should go for in the coming elections so that by the time he announced his interest in politics, it would have been something to which he could wholly apply himself. In my opinion, that should have been the Trans Nzoia County Gubernatorial seat where, for the next ten years, he would have grown his financial war chest and ground support for a bigger challenge.

Coming up to arbitrarily announce his bid for the Nairobi Governor was typical of Eugene. Again, he allowed himself to be propped up and used as a guinea pig by the Mount Kenya wheeler-dealers. That it backfired before it took off is no surprise to those who follow Eugene’s politics keenly. And, predictably, he quickly changed focus to Trans Nzoia County. It being an afterthought, he is likely going to be rejected. His heart was not there in the first place. And his uncertain political life continues.

Kenneth Otiato Marende

What a sterling performance he had as Speaker in the August House! But where did it propel the former MP for Emuhaya? Nowhere.

If there ever was a leader the Luhya community had faith in, it was Marende. After all, he is one of the best Speakers Parliament has ever had. But like the others, Marende triggered the blunder that started his fall into oblivion. He believed his sterling performance had endeared him to the political class so much that they would combine efforts, irrespective of party affiliations, and elect him back to head Parliament. It was very gullible of him.

And so Marende did not vie for any political seat in 2013. But it is not just that; he did not even want to associate with his ODM Party and the Cord coalition in the campaigns, in his quest to portray an aura of neutrality. How gullible? When Parliament reopened, he offered his candidature. He lost.

Jobless, Marende had to juggle the political ball, to neither antagonise a government he looked up to for an appointment, nor the opposition that hold sway in his county – in the event he offered himself for a political office in the future. It paid off; he was appointed to some board.

But Marende’s heart is in politics. As such, he has resurfaced on the political scene, where he announced he would run for Nairobi governor. If that excited you, you are gullible too. The seat he wants is far beyond his reach. The current holder of that office is a member of his own party; his bid does not build the party, it antagonises it. His ambition will definitely die before it sees the light of the day. He is, sadly, expended as well.

Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi

Mudavadi, after a series of missteps, has pulled a super self-reinvention move with his NASA phenomenon. He has been re-embraced in the Opposition politics, and is back on the national stage. If he plays his cards well, it will lay strong ground for him for the 2022 General Election when the contest will be open for all.

For the last 15 years, however, since President Moi exited the political scene, Mudavadi has exuded a special air for naïveté. He left KANU in 2002 and joined Odinga’s LDP, only for Moi to convince him back to the disappointment of his Sabatia Constituents. Moi made him Vice President and Uhuru Kenyatta’s running mate a month to the General Election. KANU lost, and so did he – as MP.

In 2013, President Kibaki’s State House operatives hoodwinked him to believe that he was the chosen one, that if he got the ODM ticket, or even formed his own party, State House was his for taking. He bought the idea wholesale. It was disaster.

Even after Jubilee formed government, Mudavadi still pledged to work with them. For a long while, he did not say anything as government plundered the economy. Had the Jubilee Government appointed him to cabinet, I very much doubt he would have “seen the light” and joined other Kenyans to try and “reclaim” the country?

These are false steps that voters do not easily forget. But he now has the perfect opportunity to rebuild himself for 2022 and beyond. Will he rise to the occasion?

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