Luhya unity bid faces fresh headwinds as criticism rises

Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi (left), Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa (centre) and Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula speak during former Vice President Michael Kijana Wamalwa's memorial service in Kitale, Trans Nzoia County, on August 23, 2018. They are pushing for unity of the Luhya people. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The leaders signed the unity deal during the memorial of service of former Vice-President Michael Wamalwa last week.
  • MP Amisi argued that the pro-unity leaders were out to exploit the community’s strength to bargain for State jobs.

Barely a week after the signing of a unity deal among a group of Luhya leaders, sharp divisions have already emerged, an indication of the headwinds the bid faces.

Most of its opponents are sympathetic to Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s ODM.

Before the 2017 elections, ODM was the single biggest party in western but it lost this tag to the Amani National Congress.

However, the party has been working to win back its lost support in the region, including naming a youthful politician from the region, Mr Edwin Sifuna, to its influential position of secretary-general.

The emerging divisions show that western Kenya would be up for grabs by the key contenders in the 2022 presidential elections.

ECONOMY

The lines seem divided between Deputy President William Ruto and Mr Odinga.

However, the leaders pushing for unity say they will back one of their own for the job in 2022.

The leaders signed the unity deal during the memorial of service of former Vice-President Michael Wamalwa last week.

Dubbed Unity of Purpose, the MOU is aimed at uniting all the groups that form the Luhya community and improving the economy of the region that has been on life support following the collapse of the two main sugar factories — Mumias and Nzoia.

Sugarcane farming is the main economic mainstay of the region.

RUTO ALLIES

However, leaders who skipped the Thursday event dismissed the initiative as part of the wider scheme to coronate Mr Ruto as the next president of Kenya.

ODM secretary-general Edwin Sifuna, MPs Caleb Amisi (Saboti), Godfrey Osotsi (Nominated) and Senator Cleophas Malala declared that they will not join the unity bid because it is an extension of Mr Ruto’s campaigns.

“The call for unity is being pushed by people who are in Mr Ruto’s pockets. They have already auctioned their souls to the DP and his team but they fear coming out to openly support Mr Ruto’s bid because they know that it can’t fly,” Mr Malala said.

“If they are men enough, they should come out of the woodworks and declare their support for the DP instead of hiding behind this unity thing.” Mr Sifuna took a dig at ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi and Senator Moses Wetang'ula, accusing them of secretly negotiating with Mr Ruto.

“Each one of them is walking with an MOU to be Mr Ruto’s running mate in their pockets. Their careers have been dented so badly. They are like an abandoned quarry; you can neither plant nor build anything on it,” he said.

SELFISH INTERESTS

Mr Sifuna censured both Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang'ula for failing to rally their MPs to support the report on harmful sugar that was rejected by the National Assembly.

“It’s funny that these leaders could easily mobilise 40 MPs to attend the memorial service of Mr Wamalwa but could not mobilise the same number to support the report on sugar in the House,” he said.

While Mr Amisi said he supported the unity of the community, he declared the unity must place the interests of the community above anything else.

He argued that the pro-unity leaders were out to exploit the community’s strength to bargain for State jobs.

“They preach unity during the day and at night they scramble in Ruto’s house for handouts,” the MP said.

Mr Malala said proponents of the unity crusade were deceiving Mr Mudavadi and are on the path to blindly take him to the Mr Ruto’s side.

GENUINE EFFORT

Mr Mudavadi dismissed the claims, noting they are from people fighting back because they are threatened by the realisation of the unity.

“Its absolute nonsense. Its purpose is to create division within the Mulembe nation, therefore responding to them is giving credence they don’t deserve,” he said.

Mr Jack Wamboka, an aide to Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, also denied the claims saying they amount to character assassination.

“Ruto neither funded nor was involved in the planning or financing of the meeting. Are you suggesting that our leaders have no money to buy tea? Ruto was not involved and we are ready to say this under oath.”

Those who signed the unity agreement included Mr Mudavadi, Mr Wamalwa, Mr Wetang'ula, Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka, Governors Wilbur Otichilo (Vihiga), Wycliffe Wangamati (Bungoma) and Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia).

Additional reporting by David Luvega

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