Edwin Sifuna

ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna during the interview at Chungwa House, Nairobi, on January 24, 2022.

| Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

Sifuna: Azimio to sweep city seats, Mudavadi adds no value to Ruto

What you need to know:

  • Straight-shooting ODM secretary general says Nairobi needs no cowardly leadership.
  • He says that he is best placed to promote Nairobi County's interests in the Senate.


Kenya’s political scene has since the turn of the year experienced high-octane political activities, with the biggest of all being Musalia Mudavadi’s ANC and Ford Kenya inking a deal to work with DP William Ruto’s UDA.

In line with the unfolding political manouevres, Saturday Nation sat with ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna to discuss the money ODM gave Nasa partners, nominations, Azimio, Jimmy Wanjigi and Miguna Miguna conundrum and the battle for the soul of Nairobi.

It is now official. Amani National Congress (ANC) and United Democratic Alliance (UDA) are working together. Does this pose a threat to your plans for the August election?

It doesn’t, and I want to congratulate them on finally accepting our proposition that 2022 is going to be a two-horse race. They have finally conceded that they were not a horse and have decided to back a horse of their choosing, which is okay. We wish them well and will not begrudge them. 

Did you see the Ruto/Mudavadi deal coming?

It is one of the worst kept secrets in the political space. Everybody knew Mudavadi would end up with Ruto because every sign was there. And, in fact, in the past few months, it was even more ratcheted. There is no coincidence in politics and nobody should ever lie to you that somehow Ruto was just overflying Kakamega then decided to land at Senator Cleophas Malala’s tournament. 

Everything was arranged. You cannot also lie to me that Malala was just driving on his way to Kakamega then he ran into the UDA rally in Eldoret and decided to join them. These things are choreographed. What I find strange is that Mudavadi didn’t have the guts to tell his partners. 

Who benefits from the two working together?

From my perspective; Mudavadi has chosen to commit political suicide because in Western, the name Ruto is synonymous with evil and nobody’s going to support anything remotely associated with Ruto, you will see a lot of political haemorrhage.

Already, all the members of Parliament are running away from ANC and soon Musalia will be left with only Malala. Nobody in their right mind is going to run on an ANC ticket in Western, knowing very well that ANC is now affiliated with UDA.

So the deal essentially plays into your hands?

I think it really helps us. If I am honest with you, one of the problems we were anticipating was facing a Luyha presidential candidate as it would have presented more problems to us because of tribal mobilisation.

Personally, I am very relieved because he has made my work easier in Western. Now I can freely run candidates knowing fully well that there will be no talk of supporting one of our own that would have been there if Musalia ran as ANC.

What if Musalia goes to the ballot, will it hurt your prospects in Western? 

I think one of the most laughable jokes is for anyone to imagine that Ruto will step down for Musalia. What we are seeing is a coalition between Ruto and Mudavadi and the most he can get is being the running mate. That will not present any challenges for us because as I told you, Ruto is unsellable in Western Kenya.

But should he get to the ballot, will he eat into Raila Odinga’s votes in Western Kenya?

That would be the foolhardiest scheme because it will not succeed. Kenyans understand where this election is going and everybody understands that it is now down to two horses; they will not waste time with people they know have no chance of winning and just want to run as spoilers.

What is the dealing between ODM and the recently formed DAP-Kenya? 

They have expressed support for our presidential candidate and Azimio, but we do not have any formal agreement so far.

Your party leader has been labelled as a State project, do you think he actually is? 

Raila is the people’s project and he has been so since 2002. Raila is the reason I, Sifuna, voted for Mwai Kibaki in 2002. So Raila has always been and remains the people’s project. And we are happy that after the long journey that this project has been on, we are going to finalise it in August.

The people of Kenya have expressed their desire to make Raila president for a very long time. In fact, it is the same State they are talking about that denied Raila the presidency in 2007. 

Does that not amount to doublespeak because ODM went to bed with the same State you are accusing of denying Raila victory?

We are not in bed with anyone. I think it is a mischaracterisation of what the Handshake is. I remember we struggled very much to explain to you guys in the media in 2018 that this Handshake was not about Raila and his people going into government, even then you did not believe us.

In the past it has been hard to popularise Raila in Central. What makes you think it will be different this time round?

The people who were largely responsible for that state of affairs have come out to explain why it was difficult. They have told us they are the ones who demonised him but have now offered to clean up all the dirt they had thrown at him. They have owned up to the tactics that they were using to block Raila from the region and now the people of Central can get an opportunity to see this person who we all love, respect and wish well.

We are grateful that this time round our brothers and sisters in Central have opened their ears, and hearts to welcome his message. That opportunity to interact with them is all we were looking for and we are eternally grateful that this is happening now.

But do you think it is ironical that the people, even the bigwigs, expected to sell Raila in the region are not ready to fly ODM or Azimio flag?

That’s not true. I can give you a catalogue of people who are running on ODM in central Kenya from Kiambu, Meru, Murang’a, Tharaka Nithi to others. We have not had the same sort of interest we are seeing in ODM right now.

With regard to the bigwigs, there are all sorts of local dynamics that people bring up and I don’t think we begrudge them. Everyone is weighing the situation on the ground, but the truth is, there will be more interest in ODM in the area than has ever been.

They say a day in politics is a long time. For ODM, is there plan B should your partners decide to go on their own?

We have plan A. It is all we have and it’s going to work. ODM is not into politics to win at all costs. You have to have an agenda for Kenya. We believe in the progressive agenda of uniting the country. That is where we will be. So there is no plan B. There can never be plan B to uniting a country.

Any talks with Kalonzo Musyoka with regard to Azimio?

I don’t speak for Azimio, but as ODM, we are willing and ready to partner with any political party or any person who has bought into the vision of Raila and President Uhuru Kenyatta to unite the country, and that is where we are. 

So we will not close the door on anyone and let those willing to join us do so without conditions. For conversations about what is in it for whom, those are beyond me and above my pay grade and will be handled at another level.

Who are being considered for the running mate slot under Azimio, any names?

Again, the decision of who is running mate is something that is personal to the candidate. He hasn’t shared with me the sort of people he’s considering, or the criteria he will use. I think it is only fair that we leave it to Raila to look around the political landscape and see the person, who, if added to the ticket, will bring him the value he is looking for.

Who killed Nasa? There have been accusations that ODM was hellbent on seeing the coalition dead?

I think the answer is very simple. If you go to the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties, you will find the people who killed Nasa. They wrote letters to the Registrar saying they wanted to dissolve the coalition. ODM never wrote to the Registrar on this question. So the people who killed Nasa are Ford Kenya, ANC and Wiper and it is in writing. 

Do you think it was good riddance to have Nasa dead?

I can say there have been very clear benefits of ODM running its affairs the way it is doing now. We are way lighter in terms of decision-making as we are not bogged down by having to consult other people on our moves. But we wish the former partners well.

What happened to the Sh4 billion that ODM received from the political party kitty?

First of all, we have not received the Sh4 billion. It was a court award and we expected the Treasury and Parliament to make allocation to honour the order. So far, the government has given us, maybe, Sh500 million.

Edwin Sifuna

ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna during the interview at Chungwa House, Nairobi, on January 24, 2022.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

ODM was adamant that it will not share the money with the coalition partners, what softened the hard stance?

Somebody can harangue you until they break down your spirit. We didn’t understand why every day our name was being soiled out there, so we told them to show us their calculations and Wiper, ANC and CCM sent us theirs and we paid them. Wiper received Sh70.4 million, ANC Sh43.8 million, CCM Sh3 million. However, Ford-K could not get theirs because of the leadership wrangles within the party at the time.

But don’t you think they had the right to ask for part of the money?

What possible right do you have to claim the money, especially when you remember that the coalition partners fielded candidates against ODM costing us seats as Nasa?

We lost Lang’ata seat because Wiper insisted on fielding a candidate against ODM, yet they had no chance of winning. 

Jimi Wanjigi has made it clear he will challenge Raila for the ODM presidential ticket. Did he present his papers when the party called for the same?

No, he did not. I told him there’s no way he can become president. Even if we gave him the ticket, we would lose the election. He has no path to victory. I know, for a fact, Jimi is not running for president. He is totally on a different agenda and I am sure that soon that agenda will become clear. So I want to leave it at that.

What about claims of financing Nasa in 2017 General Election?

He is a member of the party, but this claim that he financed the party is the most misleading statement out there. And you can invite him to show how he financed us. Certainly, I didn’t see that financing.

What I remember is that when I was running for Senate, he promised he was going to finance me. My team came up with a budget for the entire campaign, which was Sh35 million, but he ended up giving me Sh100,000. I am sure other people also have experiences with him and they will tell these stories one day.

Is the party considering taking any disciplinary action against him?

You don’t punish every mad man. Subjecting him to any disciplinary action is just giving him prominence. He is a person we have chosen to ignore.

Miguna Miguna was very close with your party leader in 2017. Why did ODM go silent on him?

Raila Odinga is the one who put together the legal team that got Miguna Miguna all those court orders he talks about. He also paid for Miguna’s legal fees and I know that because I was the one carrying the money from Raila to the lawyers. I have the receipts and they are in my name. Nelson Havi can bear me witness.

But your party leader has been accused of using and dumping people close to him...

In the case of Miguna, it is him who chose to distance himself from us, even me, the person who was bringing him food and medicine when he was in the cells in Githunguri and Lari, he even insulted me. One day I brought him chicken and fries but he said I was trying to poison him. So it is not me or Raila who said we don’t want anything to do with Miguna, it was him. Actually, there is nothing that prevents Miguna from coming to Kenya. It is just drama.

As ODM spokesperson, you’ve been accused of being very combative. Some people think your combativeness is scaring away potential partners. What do you have to say about that?

I am a very amiable person and not combative in every situation. I only get combative when dealing with issues of propaganda that are detrimental to the interests of ODM. That is my job. So people must understand that you differentiate between the role and the person. I have a duty to protect this party, to protect the image, the interests and the members. I am proud of the work I have done and anyone who feels I have offended them must go back to what they did to deserve that offence. 

Is there a post-Baba future for ODM?

I think there is a great future because what attracts people to this political party is the ideology and the desire to create a fair society with some level of equity. That dream can never die. There are people who have declared ODM dead every year since 2013, but we’re still here. The party is only growing stronger, and is going to produce Kenya’s next president.

Which seat will you be vying for in this year’s election? 

I will be going for the Senate seat in Nairobi County. One of the things about me that they sure must have known is that I am not a coward. I take positions on issues, and I defend those positions in the best way I can. There is not going to be an issue before the Senate when Sifuna is the senator that I will abstain from voting on, whether it is the impeachment of Nairobi governor, or allocation of resources to Nairobi.

ODM has been dogged by claims of popular candidates getting rigged out in favour of the highest bidders during nominations. What will you do differently this time round?

I think we have had the time to listen to our people. In fact, the first thing I did when I became the SG was to put together a taskforce that went round to collect views about what can be done to improve our primaries. From the findings and lessons learnt, everyone has been satisfied by the subsequent nominations we have conducted. 

What new should we expect in terms of nominations?

There are a few things that the party is toying with. In fact, the National Executive Committee of the party already proposed four methods of nominations. The first method is consensus, the second one is direct ticket, which must be backed by scientific data. This was used in Bonchari by-election where data and science showed us that Pavel Oimeke would win if he got the ticket, and that is exactly what happened.

The third method is nomination by delegates and the final method, which is expressed in our rules as a last resort when all the other three methods fail, card-carrying ordinary members of the party will vote where science is showing that two aspirants are neck and neck, hence there is no justification of giving a ticket to one and leaving the other. 

There have been talk that Azimio movement will have joint candidature. What is going on?

At this stage, Azimio has not been formally launched. Once that is done, the coalition partners, whoever they will be, will work on the modalities. So it would be presumptuous for us, as ODM, to discuss the modalities of how we will go about identifying Azimio candidates without the input of the other partners, including the ones yet to join us.

So as we speak, there is no deal for Nairobi under Azimio?

There is no such deal. What we are saying is: You cannot make a deal, yet even the coalition party itself has not been finalised.

There have been reports that ODM and Jubilee will have a joint candidature for Nairobi governorship with the former providing a running mate while the latter the governor. Is that the plan?

That is not a discussion we can have now. ODM will have a list of aspirants for all positions. We cannot speculate and discuss other things that have yet to materialise like this Azimio movement.

Will ANC, working with UDA, force the Handshake team back to the drawing board in Nairobi?

The two political parties you have mentioned have no solid presence in Nairobi to necessitate going back to the drawing board. So having them working together does not add any value in terms of votes. The two most dominant parties in Nairobi are actually Jubilee and ODM. 

Don’t you think having a Sakaja and Margaret Wanjiru joint ticket will give you, Azimio, a run for your money?

There will be no fierce battle. For us, the challenge is to ensure we present credible candidates.

Does having Jubilee elected MPs decamping to UDA make success in the capital a lot harder?

No. Actually, Nairobi is an ODM stronghold and we will not be worried about anyone joining the Tangatanga group. Ruto has no serious support in Nairobi, so those joining him are essentially committing political suicide. Outside Rift Valley, people will struggle to get elected on UDA, so we are not worried in Nairobi.

Tomorrow in the Sunday Nation:Exclusive interview with Hussein Mohammed, the head of communications at DP Ruto’s presidential campaign secretariat and former news anchor at Citizen TV