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Is Mukhisa Kituyi eyeing political comeback?

Monday June 29 2020
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Dr Mukhisa Kituyi is the secretary-general of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Photo/FILE

By JOHN KAMAU

Dr Mukhisa Kituyi sounds like a man on a mission. Of all the Ford-Kenya veterans, Dr Kituyi has maintained his mien, and he hardly comments on local politics.

So it was rather surprising when he was said to have a sent a text message supporting the recent changes within Ford-Kenya, a party that he helped mould in 1990s.

As the seventh secretary-general of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Dr Kituyi still has 14 more months to go before his second-term ends on August 31, 2021, and is removed from both the national and party politics.

At best, he is still Kenya’s highest ranking diplomat within the UN system,  a lofty role that allows him to hobnob with heads of states and governments. At worst, he is removed from succession turmoil that has seen political parties start regrouping ahead of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s exit.

Whether Dr Kituyi will return soon — before the end of his tenure — has been the talk of the town, and whether he will take up any position in the national government is being watched closely by political pundits since he remains the most senior politician from western Kenya holding an international position.

The last time he appeared on national television talk-show, he paid tribute to President Kenyatta for kick-starting the war on corruption and challenged Kenyans to draw a line that “from this moment, no thief should be elected into public office. We must expunge thieves from public office,” he said.

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It was with the support of President Kenyatta that Dr Kituyi was picked for the UN seat in September 2013. It was then no surprise that in 2016 UNCTAD’s 14th Session was held in Nairobi at a time when President Kenyatta was seeking to position himself at the international arena after the collapse of his case at the ICC.

Had he not been seeking the UN position to replace Thailand’s Supachai Panitchpakdi, the former Trade minister could have easily fitted in President Kenyatta’s Cabinet more as a technocrat than a politician.

At first, and in his projection, he had hoped to become Bungoma senator in 2013, but had badly lost to Cord’s Moses Wetang’ula, who got 158,408 votes against 22,041. It was a mighty fall and Dr Kituyi had been forced to seek the Senate seat on a UDF ticket.

Whether the time for political payback has arrived will be known soon, and it seems that Dr Kituyi would hardly lose sleep over Mr Wetang’ula’s fall from Ford-Kenya.

The initial fall of Dr Kituyi is blamed on the personal rivalry that he and former Minister Musikari Kombo had during the 2007 elections, and which saw Raila Odinga’s ODM penetrate Bungoma. “Bungoma and some parts of Kakamega is Western had a good PNU presence. However, we in PNU bungled our act, particularly in Bungoma, where personal rivalry between our strongest pointmen, Kombo and Kituyi, came to the fore; allowing ODM to take advantage of it,” says veteran politician Moody Awori in his autobiography, Riding on a Tiger.

The problem with Dr Kituyi, then, was that he had sided with Mwai Kibaki’s PNU, and that is how he was trounced by little-known ODM candidate Eseli Simiyu, who received 24,321 votes against Kituyi’s 11,917. From then, the former Trade minister’s political rise was stymied and his attempt to run for the Bungoma Senate seat in 2013 saw him trounced once again. His meteoric rise had also been brought to a halt.

Nationally, Dr Kituyi was one of the young activists who had emerged to lead Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford) to oppose Kanu’s stranglehold on politics, and whose flagbearers were Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Kenneth Matiba. Others in that team included Martin Shikuku, Odinga, Kijana Wamalwa, Paul Muite, Gitobu Imanyara, Kiraitu Murungi and George Anyona.

By then, and for a long time, the post-Jomo Kenyatta Bungoma politics had revolved around Minister Elijah Mwangale, who had schemed at one point to replace Kibaki as vice president.

Ford in Western Kenya, had resuscitated the fortunes of veteran independence-era politician Masinde Muliro, the man who had brought most of Bungoma into the opposition. The split between Odinga and Matiba saw the emergence of Ford Asili and Ford-Kenya. Dr Kituyi joined Odinga’s Ford Kenya together with his cousin Kijana Wamalwa. But Muliro’s demise months to the General Election threw open the politics in Bungoma and the leadership mantle fell on Wamalwa, Ford-Kenya’s second vice-chairman, and who was deemed Muliro’s heir apparent.

In national politics, both Wamalwa and Dr Kituyi had two things in common — they were rookies and cousins. But at 36, Dr Kituyi surprised everybody by beating Kanu’s Mwangale after garnering 27,235 votes (86.2 per cent of votes cast) against Mwangale's 4,351 (13.78 per cent). For that, he had brought down one of the biggest political giants in Bungoma by capitalising on the mismanagement of the sugar sector – and especially Nzoia Sugar Company which was not paying farmers.

Historians David Throup and Charles Hornsby allege that Dr Kituyi was “secretly backed by George Saitoti as a result of Mwangale’s earlier demands for the vice-presidency.”

It was after Kanu lost the Bungoma seats to the opposition that President Daniel Moi brought in a Nairobi lawyer — Wetang’ula — and nominated him to Parliament. That is how Mr Wetang’ula entered the Bungoma politics. For Mwangale, his dreams of one day becoming the undisputed leader of the Luhya community ended there.

Inside Parliament, Dr Kituyi emerged as a zealous debater, and one of the most knowledgeable on various issues. He earned several accolades as a result and refused to play survival politics to win the seat. As Ford-Kenya goes through the leadership wrangles after a faction managed to kick out Mr Wetang’ula from the leadership, it will be interesting to watch how Dr Kituyi reacts to those changes. But his entry into politics, if it comes to that, will mean that ANC’s Musalia Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula will have a new headache at their doorstep.

At the moment, the Ford-Kenya faction led by Wafula Wamunyinyi, and which has the support of Ford-Kenya historicals, appear to be lobbying for dalliance with the President’s Jubilee Party. But whether Dr Kituyi is the missing link in the game is not clear – only that his name is featuring in pep talk.

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