Ridiculed for long for their divisive politics and elusive unity, leaders of the populous Luhya nation gave meaning to this mockery — yet again — when they failed to agree to a single meeting Saturday to discuss the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report and development concerns in the region.
It reportedly took the spirited negotiation efforts of Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa and a call from State House to ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi and Ford Kenya chief Moses Wetang’ula to save the situation.
“I personally tried to convince my senior brothers, particularly Mr Mudavadi, to unite the emerging factions in the Luhya nation, with little success. He has not only declined to play ball but has acted as a member of one of the feuding factions, thereby effectively fuelling the problem. I will never give up, though, in my efforts to unite our people,” Mr Wamalwa, the only Luhya minister in the Uhuru Kenyatta administration, told Sunday Nation.
With local leaders Mr Mudavadi, Mr Wetang’ula, Chairman of Council of Governors Wycliffe Oparanya and Secretary-General of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Francis Atwoli failing to reach a compromise, external intervention proved handy including use of threats, intimidation and cancellation of one of the rallies destined for Nabongo grounds, in Mumias.
On Friday afternoon, Mr Wetang’ula confirmed to Sunday Nation that he and Mr Mudavadi would not attend the Mumias meeting.
“We spoke firmly at Bomas in support of this process. Those therefore labelling Mr Mudavadi and I as anti-BBI are simply playing politics.”
The Ford-Kenya leader inferred the Bukhungu Stadium was viewed by some in his party members as an affair of the Raila Odinga’s ODM.
Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula nevertheless attended the Saturday meeting in Kakamega.
On the other hand, former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale maintained politicians allied to Deputy President William Ruto would hold a parallel meeting at Nabongo grounds.
From the current developments, the Luhya nation is yet again approaching a crucial national political undertaking — the BBI — a divided house, in the same manner it has done over the years.
In contrast, the neighbouring Nyanza region held a relatively calmer exercise.
Mr Mudavadi attributes the endless factional rifts to lack of consultation, opportunism and desire to vanquish each other at the behest of outside interests.
Some leaders, points out the ex-vice president, are extremely petty, deceitful and sceptical of each other.
There are instances, says the ANC leader, when the western parliamentary caucus meets and agrees on certain decisions, but are countered by members before being acted upon, mainly in favour of outside political players.
The Ford-Kenya leader specifically blames the confusion in Luhya land to “outsiders”, mainly the DP and former PM, for seemingly creating political rifts within for their personal interests.
“We have helped many since independence to ascend to the presidency. When we dance to their political tune they cheer us as nationalists, but when we request them to return a favour, they claim we are tribalists.
Time has come for us to reclaim our respect and honour even if this will slow down our quest for the country’s top seat,” says the Bungoma senator.
Political sociologist Amukowa Anangwe discerns the leadership fissures in Luhyaland as symptomatic of the community's political culture.
“It is inherently liberal and bereft of dogmatism unlike other ethnic communities. This runs across all the strata of Luhya society. As it were, it is a community of freethinkers or they subscribe to the ideology of “feelanga free”. It is an orientation that pervades the entire community,” says Prof Anangwe.
The ex-Cabinet minister argues that the trait is not necessarily negative as perceived adversely by the outside observers.
In short, he says, the Luhya leaders are simply enjoying fully their fundamental freedoms of association, speech, assembly and conscience, and “other ethnic communities should learn to follow suit in order to deepen democracy in the country”.
In this respect, Prof Anangwe opines that Mr Mudavadi — the de facto Luhya leader — has not failed to unite the competing political forces in the community.
“Our approach is different and Mr Mudavadi therefore has to lead the Luhya according to their basic political orientation while respecting their fundamental freedoms.”
But Dr Khalwale claims the Luhya nation is in a current political quagmire because of lack of leadership in the region.
“Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula are our senior political leaders owing to their parliamentary experience and because they are leaders of political parties, but they have let us down big time,” he said.
And if they continue in their alleged confusion, Mr Wamalwa says the community may be forced at some point to proclaim that western Kenya has no shortage of leaders, “since many others are ready to take over the mantle from them”.
Mr Mudavadi however maintains he is neither divisive nor belongs to a political grouping in the region.
“I have kept my counsel restricted to appealing for an inclusive BBI process to avoid splintering of western region. But I know some would celebrate if attempts to brand me a Ruto partner succeed.
In it, I read designs that it is me who's being targeted for exclusion because I have never stopped asking for inclusivity and a transparent BBI process,” Mr Mudavadi says.
Dr Khalwale opines that Saturday’s events will no doubt shape the political scenario of the people of Luhya ahead of 2022, with battle lines between Mr Odinga and Dr Ruto.
But Prof Anangwe disagrees: “The BBI disagreements are short-lived and are of little consequence on the political future of the community. Come 2022, the community will vote overwhelmingly depending on the political formations that will have emerged in due course.”