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‘Luhya unity’ meet created chief maker, left ‘Western’ rift intact

Tuesday January 10 2017

Musalia Mudavadi

Musalia Mudavadi being crowned the Luhya spokesperson at Bukhungu Stadium in Kakamega on December 31, 2016. PHOTO | ISAAC WALE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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A major characteristic of politics is the emergence of “tribal chiefs”.

In desperate situations, a leader crops up to save people.

Alternatively, a leader arises out of manufactured realities to benefit scheming individuals.

“Chief makers” become very handy in making “chiefs” and remain the powers behind the face.

In the former case, unexpected individuals rise to a specific occasion to champion the interests of a people that appear threatened.

They acquire authority and a sense of believability that has little to do with statutory power. Their word becomes law.


With Moses-like attributes, they tend to be rare and acquire “religious” mien with claims that oil has been poured on their heads.

While some deliver on expectations, many would-be messiahs end up as demagogues exploiting the vulnerability of desperate people.

Secondly, chiefs are created as instruments of exercising power by proxy as the master calls the shots in the background.

In this case, attention goes to the intentions of the “manufacturer’”.

In the colonial days that was called “indirect rule” and enabled a few colonial white officials to rule over vast territories at minimal cost.


The chiefs even made their subjects meet the cost of being enslaved.

Occasionally, such “chiefs” become extremely powerful and lord it over the people they rule as long as they remember who their master, the “chief maker”, is.

But however the tribal chief emerges, there is no shortage of aspirants for anointing.

And it is in the anointing that matters become tight — in determining the authority of the anointer.

Such was the case on the last day of 2016 when a well-endowed team associated with Cotu boss Francis Atwoli convened a Luhya gathering at Bukhungu Stadium, Kakamega, to anoint Musalia Mudavadi as their tribal chief.

With two of Kenya’s major television networks beaming the event for hours, Atwoli was the star with others cast in supporting roles — including Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and aspiring Busia governor Paul Otuoma.

Noticeably absent were Luhyadom leaders such as Governors Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia) and Ken Lusaka (Bungoma) and Moses Wetang’ula, Cyrus Jirongo, Eugene Wamalwa, Ababu Namwamba, and Dr Boni Khalwale.

While Atwoli enjoyed being praised, he was angry with Luhya “leaders” who didn’t show up.

He is not humble: he often reminds people of his continental and global recognition as a trade unionist and uses graphic language.

He particularly likes the Kiswahili word shenzi (savage), re-emphasised with “Yes!” as he turns his verbal guns on his “opponents”.

Atwoli insisted that the Luhya people are in one “tribe” with many “sub-tribes” and should have one leader, who turns out to be Mudavadi, and anyone who disagreed with that would be against the collective interests of the “tribe”.

He therefore had unpleasant things to say about the absent “leaders”.

The snag with the declaration that Mudavadi was the new Mulembe spokesman — close to but not quite the position previously held by Masinde Muliro — was that it attempted to cover up deep friction within the two meanings of “Western”.

There are many “peoples” in the geographic/administrative “Western” that are not Luhya.

This reality emerged at Bukhungu and raised the question of whether these were included in the unity talk.

Second is the conceptual political and cultural “Western” that is restricted to people with different types of “Luhya” blood in their veins.

It comprises three broad “greater” zones of identity occasionally at loggerheads over influence.

“Greater Kakamega”, Maragoli-dominated and hitherto the “seat” of Luhyadom, is often in conflict with the Bukusu sphere of influence in “Greater Bungoma”.

Kakamega and Bungoma tend to dominate, but there is the Samia zone of “Greater Busia” that gets lost in the Kakamega/Bungoma feud.

The show, however, tended to confirm Atwoli as the emerging “chief maker” in Luhyadom.

Professor Macharia Munene is a history scholar