The country’s top political parties, Jubilee and ODM, are at a crossroads, rocked by internal fighting that could see them crumble before the next elections.
The two, like others before them, have started showing signs of disintegration, buttressing the long-held view that parties in Kenya are only a means to acquire power.
Jubilee was formed in 2016 amid much fanfare, which rekindled the days of the mighty Ford before it disintegrated into Ford-Kenya, Ford-People and Ford-Asili.
Some 12 parties came together to form Jubilee, including TNA and URP.
Jubilee promised ideology-led politics, but events in the recent months suggest a party that may not even celebrate its fifth birthday intact.
The cracks in Jubilee are wide but the top leadership is hell-bent on showing a united face.
This weekend, several Jubilee MPs allied to Deputy President William Ruto had their security withdrawn in what is an apparent attempt to frustrate them.
Last week, party secretary-general Raphael Tuju openly contradicted the DP, who is also the deputy party leader, in an unprecedented move that left political observers with no doubt that Jubilee is no longer reading from the same script.
While Mr Tuju announced that ODM had pulled out of the Wajir West by-election following consultations between the parties’ bosses, Mr Ruto had accompanied the former ODM candidate (Mohamed Yusuf Elmi) as he announced to the media that he had pulled out of the race following an agreement with elders, and that he would back the Jubilee candidate (Mohamed Kolosh). ODM leaders from Wajir also buttressed the point that it was Mr Ruto’s political acumen that led the ODM candidate to pull out.
When he resigned in January as vice-chairman, Mr David Murathe had stated that differences between him and Mr Ruto had led him to make that decision. Four months on, his position has not been filled, raising questions about whether his resignation letter was officially accepted by the party leader, President Kenyatta, or whether he was just playing to the gallery.
MPs, especially those aligned to the “Tanga Tanga” group, have been pushing for the party to have either a retreat or a parliamentary group meeting where they will discuss the apparent cracks.
Mr Tuju said the party will have a retreat ultimately but could not specify when this will happen.
“We will have a retreat. We will also have seminars and workshops to discuss the party academy. However, these will not be dictated by anyone. There will be no pressure, the meetings will happen as per the party’s schedule. Pressure won’t work at all. People should be able to interact out of holding a common ideology,” he said.
ODM, on the other hand, which was launched more than a decade ago, has enjoyed massive support across the country, but not anymore.
Launched in 2005 after the constitutional referendum won by leader Raila Odinga’s orange side against President Mwai Kibaki’s banana camp, the party has enjoyed huge representation, and in the 2007 elections, barely two years after its registration, had majority legislators in Parliament.
In 2008, the party won the coveted House Speaker seat through former Emuhaya MP Kenneth Marende and Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim.
After the 2007 general election, ODM had a total of 99 MPs against the Party of National Unity’s 4.
ODM had 16 MPs, Kanu 14 and Narc three, among other parties.
At one time, former Cabinet minister and ODM loyalist Gerald Otieno Kajwang’ boasted that the party would only be compared to the African National Congress of South Africa.
Apart from nomination troubles that have always endangered the existence of the Orange party, today, it is at the crossroads following internal wrangles, confusion among members and supporters on the objectives of the March 2018 handshake between Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta and, above all, dismal performance in the just concluded by-elections in Ugenya and Embakasi South.
Even though the party leadership led by Mr Odinga has insisted there was no cause for alarm, behind-the-scenes political manoeuvres depict a divided party with factions emerging.
Early last week, at a press briefing in Nairobi on the outcome of the two by-elections, Mr Odinga said there was no big deal after the loss.
“What’s the big deal?” Mr Odinga said when asked to comment on the results of the by-elections.
When asked whether he had any problem with Siaya Senator James Orengo, who led the Ugenya campaigns, he fumed: “What do you mean? What problem? Orengo is a loyal party member.”
But despite his position, party insiders told the Sunday Nation that tension has been simmering in the party and its performance in the mini-polls, particularly in Ugenya, could have resulted from the transformations.
For the Ugenya loss, anger has been directed at Mr Orengo, who was apparently the party’s chief campaigner for Chris Karan.
Mr Karan managed 14,507 votes against the Movement for Democracy and Growth candidate David Ochieng’s 18,730 votes.
Mr Odinga, at the funeral of former senior chief Daudi Olak in Lifunga Kobiero village, Ugenya sub-county on March 2, delegated the campaigns, citing a busy schedule at the African Union. “I will not be coming to campaign for our candidate since I have a bigger role of taking care of infrastructure development in the entire continent,” Mr Odinga said then.
Mr Orengo was then tasked to lead the campaigns for the party’s candidate, Mr Karani.
Mr Orengo would be the engine behind the campaigns and most of the “strategy” meetings were held at his rural home in East Ugenya.
ODM director of elections Junet Mohamed, a close ally of Mr Odinga, apparently kept off the Ugenya campaigns allegedly over “bad blood with Mr Orengo”.
Mr Mohamed, who is now seen as Mr Odinga’s blue-eyed boy, was the politician who accompanied the ODM leader when the handshake deal was brokered at Harambee House.
Mr Orengo, who has been one of Mr Odinga’s strategists, was never invited to the event, and some party insiders feel it could be the cause of friction between him and Mr Mohamed.
Mr Mohamed did not respond to the Sunday Nation’s queries on why he did not campaign in Ugenya despite being the party’s director of elections and whether he had any issues with Mr Orengo.
Another issue that has caused friction in the party is Mr Orengo’s proposal for the impeachment of Mr Ruto and his claims the handshake was an indication of a political deal between Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta for the sake of the 2022 elections.
The proposal was not discussed by the party leadership and there is a feeling it had given Mr Ruto’s allies leverage to hit hard on Mr Odinga.
East African Legislative Assembly MP Oburu Oginga told the Sunday Nation that Mr Odinga had given Mr Orengo “the benefit of the doubt” over his recent statements on the proposal to impeach Ruto and claims that the former prime minister and President Kenyatta had a deal for the 2022 elections following the handshake.
Dr Oginga said some statements by Mr Orengo and other unnamed party members were giving their opponents “the leverage to hit back at Mr Odinga”.
For instance, he cited Mr Orengo’s statement two weeks ago that ODM was working behind the scenes with President Kenyatta to help Mr Odinga become the Head of State in 2022.
The statement, he said, was used by Mr Ruto’s allies to portray the “handshake as a political tool” for Mr Odinga in 2022.
“The handshake has enhanced unity and we all support it. It was not about the politics of 2022,” Dr Oginga said.
Mr Orengo had said: “ODM is going for political power, and when we are holding these meetings our eyes are set on 2022. The contestation for power is going to come from a formation with ODM in it and formation of Jubilee, where President Kenyatta is playing a role.”
ODM chairman John Mbadi was the first top politician to dismiss Mr Orengo’s claims, reportedly on the request of Mr Odinga, confirming undercurrents in the Orange party.
“I want to set the record straight and make it categorical that ODM has not formed any alliance with any party or individual. Any contrary opinion should therefore be treated as personal.”
Dr Oginga said Mr Mbadi’s rebuttal was welcome.
“I supported Mbadi on that because we must sieve what goes to the public to avoid sending mixed signals to Kenyans.
“It is not right to make some comments with a bigger political magnitude without proper consultations,” Dr Oginga said.
On Mr Orengo’s impeachment proposal against the DP, which he said was his initiative, Dr Oginga lamented that the proposal had been used by Mr Ruto’s allies to hit back at Mr Odinga over claims he was eyeing the Deputy President’s post.
“We all know that Mr Orengo is Mr Odinga’s spanner boy; and the main agenda of ODM is to push the DP out so that they can occupy the position through the backdoor,” Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro said.
Whereas, ODM secretary-general Edwin Sifuna argues that Mr Orengo was within his mandate as a party member to come up with such a proposal, Mr Wycliffe Oparanya — ODM co-deputy party leader — said the sentiments did not reflect the party’s position.
Mr Sifuna said Mr Orengo’s proposal was healthy for the party, adding that even though ODM had not taken a stand on it, party members were free to generate ideas of national importance.
But Mr Oparanya said the party had not discussed the DPs impeachment.
Prof Herman Manyora described the proposal as the “biggest blunder ever”, adding that it had even undermined the handshake between Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta.
“Impeachment motions are sometimes floated just for political relevance. In this case, Mr Orengo sounds as such and will achieve nothing,” Prof Manyora said.
He went on: “Mr Orengo’s motive could just be to whip up emotions and acquire national relevance.”