What type of politician is your MP?

A sitting of the National Assembly.

A joint sitting of the National Assembly and Senate on November 30, 2021.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Parliament comprises the Senate and the National Assembly. Parliament performs the functions of legislation, oversight and representation. Members are currently settling in for a new session. However, soon members will fall into specific typologies. Kenyans will soon uncover their competencies and discover their unique capabilities, politically speaking.

The first type of parliamentarians are the ‘House vocalists’. These are parliamentarians who excel in articulating issues either during plenary sessions or committee sittings — or both. This type tends to be well-educated and studious. They prepare cogent motions and Bills. Those that are singularly good in contributing during committee sittings are unfortunate, though.

They unwittingly speak to an ‘echo chamber’, as such participation adds no political value to their re-election chances. Most committees enjoy no media coverage, hence the voters do not know these MPs are working; save for the Public Investment and Public Accounts committees, which get tonnes of media coverage. The plenary vocalists have good chances of re-election. Examples of successful ‘house vocalists’ include Millie Odhiambo, a good plenary debater.

However, ‘house vocalists’ need to watch out. At times the electorate can kick out an MP who speaks “too much English” in Parliament if such participation is at the cost of visiting the grassroots. Joe Donde brought a progressive Bill that sought to tame bank interest rates when he was Gem MP.

Public rallies

My friend John Mututho, former MP for Naivasha, brought progressive legislation that sought to remedy youth alcoholism but forgot to manage local politics. Both lost in their re-election bids. A neat balance is needed between House vocalisation and local engagements.

The second type of MPs are the ‘field marshals’, the Moses Kuria type. These ones accompany big honchos like President William Ruto or Raila Odinga to public rallies and whip the crowd to a frenzy through fiery speeches. This type has a distinctive advantage. The political honchos value them highly since they add value to the big boys’ political trajectory nationally.

Therefore, if they lose popularity at the local level, the honchos help them back during nominations. That is often the case in ODM and the coalitions it anchors. The Azimio la Umoja presidential candidate in the last polls has been losing elections perennially. Therefore, he can only trust a select crop of House ‘field marshals’ who have stood with him in all his battles. In contrast, love or hate Ruto, he often grants fair nominations, which at times causes ‘field marshals’ to lose during nominations.

However, some locally unpopular ‘field marshals’ scare off potential competitors who fear “unfair nominations” and clinch nomination without any opposition. This can cost a popular party in the main elections.

For example, in Kimani Ngunjiri was a strong UDA ‘field marshal’ who scared off current Bahati MP Irene “Mrembo”. She joined Jubilee and won but after spending four times more resources to fight the UDA wave.

Upward mobility

‘Field marshals” possess the greatest chances of upward mobility in politics. Kimani Ichung’wa, the current National Assembly majority leader and Kikuyu MP, was a strong UDA ‘field marshal’. Current Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Alice Wahome were fervent UDA ‘field marshals’.  All minority House leadership post are occupied by ‘field marshals’ ; with Enoch Wambua, John Mbadi and Opiyo Wandayi as successful examples.

However, some ‘field marshals’ can be dismissed by their constituents as “TV people” with no local connection. Some champion wrong horses. That explains electoral loss of Kanini Kega and Amos Kimunya.  Some are nominated back to the House. Sabina Chege of Jubilee in 2022 or Isaac Mwaura in 2017 come to mind.

But some ‘field marshals’ have no time for plenary vocalisation. There are some strong UDA and Azimio ‘field marshals’ now in their second or third term who have never uttered a word in the plenary.

The third type are the ‘home Boyz and Girlz’. They eschew Nairobi and thrive in staying with their constituents. You rarely see them on TV. Some are sharp political operatives who win elections overwhelmingly. The humble and ever-smiling Kabete MP James Wamacukuru is one of them. Samuel Moroto from Pokot is another of the ‘home boyz’ who is now doing 30 years in Parliament. This type falls into two categories: ‘socialists’ and ‘developmentalists’.

The ‘socialists’ derive their appeal from social capital. They attend all burials and weddings. ‘Developmentalists’ conjure life-changing programmes for their people. They silently penetrate government offices in Nairobi looking for projects for their constituencies. But ‘home boyz’ and ‘home girlz’ rarely climb the political ladder beyond their local seats.

CAS positions

They have no name recognition. Even party honchos bypass them when dishing out parliamentary, ambassadorial or CAS positions.  Recent CAS appointees Isaac Mwaura, Cate Waruguru, Nicholas Gumbo, Millicent Omanga, Bishop Margaret Wanjiru and Charles Njagua “Jaguar” were all field Marshals, not ‘home boyz’ or ‘home girlz’.

There are instances where some MPs spent too much time locally that they lost respect. Once upon a time in Kieni constituency there was an MP who spent all his time locally. When the next elections came, the locals would beseech him to allow “guests” to talk. The “guests” defeated him as he had nothing new to tell the voters.

The fourth category are the ‘disappearists’. They disappear from public view immediately they get elected. For them, Parliament was a form of self-actualisation. These MPs are at the highest risk of losing come the next elections. However, money and luck sometimes rescue them. Some seek the “Mheshimiwa" tag to have Nairobi business doors open, allowing them to make loads of cash. They sometimes manoeuvre the ticket of the popular party and return to Parliament safely.

Then we have the ‘combinists’. These MPs combine all the above typologies in smart doses. Of course this is very difficult since MPs are all different in character.

So, in which category does your MP fall?

Dr Kang’ata is the Governor of Murang’a County.