Cord leader Raila Odinga faces perhaps his toughest political battle to retain his support in western Kenya in the face of what appears to be an exodus of his key lieutenants to other parties.
The recent departure of Budalang'i MP Ababu Namwamba mirrors an emerging pattern in which Mr Odinga’s point men in the former Western Province and Gusiiland are plotting to jump ship ahead of the 2017 election.
Among those who have left or are planning to do so include Kisii Senator Chris Obure, Funyula MP Paul Otuoma, South Mugirango MP Manson Nyamweya, East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) MP Joseph Kiangoi and Busia Senator Amos Wako.
Behind the impending exodus of these hitherto trusted allies are powerful forces pushing for strong and united regional parties with a view to forming political coalitions with whichever party wins the next General Election.
In the former Western province, former cabinet minister and one-time ODM strongman Fred Fidelis Gumo has emerged as the force behind the move by Mr Namwamba and Dr Otuoma to jump ship so as to join a “home grown” party.
In Gusiiland, former chairman of the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) Charles Nyachae and a senior government official are spearheading a similar push to rally MPs under Ford People, the once dominant party in the region.
“If our legislators went to see the President as individuals, the likelihood of getting his attention is minimal. But if we went as a united group, he would be much more willing to handle our concerns,” Mr Obure said.
“I have not yet left ODM. As leaders, we are still involved in consultations with voters. If they indicate their wish for us to decamp from our respective parties, we will do so and join the movement of their choice,” he stated, a veiled reference to Ford People.
Mr Obure is said to be planning to take on Kisii Governor James Ongwae but he believes the party ticket will be handed to the latter, thanks to his close association with Mr Odinga.
Another ODM MP from the region, South Mugirango’s Manson Nyamweya, last month also declared his intention to contest the Kisii governor seat on a Kenya National Congress (KNC) ticket. He made the announcement at a Kisii hotel on May 15.
Mr Nyamweya said his decision to run on the little-known party ticket was motivated by concerns about the fairness of the ODM nomination process.
“From previous experience, one cannot be very sure of clinching the ODM ticket. With KNC, I can be sure of my chances of appearing on the ballot box,” he said.
BACKING JUBILEE COALITION
Mr Kiangoi, who alongside Kitutu Masaba MP Timothy Bosire spearheaded Mr Odinga’s presidential election in Nyamira, led a delegation from the county to Deputy President William Ruto’s office this month and indicated that he was backing the Jubilee coalition.
The grand scheme among those coalescing around Mr Namwamba is to get at least 30 MPs elected on the Labour Party of Kenya (LPK) associated with former assistant minister Julia Ojiambo.
Even though Dr Ojiambo has come out to deny the arrangement, the Sunday Nation is privy to an ongoing takeover bid that would see Mr Namwamba play a pivotal role in the party.
“The party remains intact but we will form coalitions with like-minded parties at the General Election,” she said.
“When the exact number of politicians ideologically inclined to the new grouping is unveiled, people will be surprised,” Mr Namwamba said.
In the end, they hope to strike a pact with the coalition that wins the next election and thereby get Cabinet slots and other plum government jobs.
In choosing to resign last week, Mr Namwamba is said to have pre-empted his sacking as ODM secretary general. A senior party official told the Sunday Nation a fortnight ago that the firebrand lawmaker was a marked man and that his head was on the chopping board.
It was Dr Otuoma who first relinquished the vice chairman’s position before Mr Namwamba followed suit in what is turning out to be a bigger plot with more players behind the scenes.
“Political realignments, strategising and planning is something we are involved in our daily lives as political leaders. I am not sure why our case is being seen differently,” Mr Otuoma argues.
But Mr Odinga won’t take this lying down. He has lined up rallies in Busia that could either obliterate the rebels or strengthen their resolve should they survive the onslaught. Mr Odinga is in the process of identifying challengers to keep the rebels busy in their backyards.
Matayos MP Geoffrey Odanga, an Odinga ally who is the Busia ODM branch chairman, says they will be taking the war to the doorsteps of the rebel MPs.
“They will have it rough,” he said, further suggesting that there is an unseen hand in the rebellion. One such hand is said to be Mr Gumo, who is crafting a new political vehicle.
He has, however, denied claims that he is doing so at Mr Ruto’s bidding.
On Saturday, Mr Gumo said that much as he had retired from active politics, he had a right to come in whenever he felt that his people were being mistreated in ODM.
“When you say we have been bought just because we are questioning how things are being done, we will certainly fight back. I have my own means and do not rely on anyone for handouts, so when one says I have been bought just because I was in State House, I do not take it kindly.”
Despite his denials, Mr Odinga’s allies see Mr Ruto’s hand in the latest political unrest.
Mr Odinga reportedly cancelled a reconciliation meeting recently organised by Mr Gumo.
The meeting was meant to have Mr Odinga and Mr Namwamba bury the hatchet but the Cord leader opted out at the last minute when he was informed of Mr Gumo’s “latest assignment”.
OFFICIALS REFUSED TO TALK
Senior Orange party officials refused to talk on the subject as they are under instruction from Mr Odinga not to engage Mr Namwamba in any public spat. But they said the move by the lawmakers would likely boomerang on their political careers.
At a rally in Bukalama, Busia, where Mr Otuoma announced his decision to quit, Mr Gumo flew in on the same chopper as other local politicians, thrusting him at the centre of the ongoing political events in Busia county.
Mr Wako’s commitment to the Orange party has also been questioned, with some in Mr Namwamba’s camp saying he is solidly behind them.
While he could not respond to our enquiry, his absence in the party activities and most poignantly when Mr Odinga met a group of MPs from Western to allay disaffection, has served to reinforce the narrative.
Equally, there is a suggestion that he may not defend his seat next year, a scenario that could see Mr Namwamba gunner for the post.
Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary General Francis Atwoli is also leading efforts to rally Luhya politicians into some unity of sorts, but previous efforts on this have come to naught, making the region a fertile hunting ground for politicians from other parts of the country.
The political tremors in Busia that threaten Mr Odinga’s foothold in a region that has supported him almost religiously is also about political ambition and survival.
While Dr Otuoma and Mr Namwamba are not known to share ideological leanings in pursuit of their politics, with the former seeing the latter as junior, the Funyula MP’s plan to take on Governor Sospeter Ojaamong is said to be fuelling his rebellion.
Matters have been worsened by the governor’s closeness to Mr Odinga, as those in Dr Otuoma’s camp believe it will be near impossible for Mr Ojaamong to miss an ODM nomination certificate next year.
“It would be interesting to let voters evaluate the performance of the leaders, who were chosen not because of their individual performance, but because of political/tribal hoarding. How, for example, have candidates in places like Busia, Bungoma, Nakuru and Homa Bay counties — where we voted on negotiated democracy for governors — performed?” asked Dr Otuoma.
“We need strong candidates for presidential, senatorial, MP, governor and MCA positions from each of the political parties. A number of regions are seriously suffering because of these hoarded elections,” he said.