Afresh storm is rocking Deputy President William Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) over the party’s National Executive Council line-up unveiled early last week. The stakes are high since the council will lay the roadmap for the party primaries next year ahead of the General Election.
As senior party members express their dissatisfaction in private for fear of being targeted, Dr Ruto is reportedly concerned that the disaffection might slow down the momentum his party has gathered in recent days.
The list of 34 officials was filed with the Registrar of Political Parties earlier in the week but the ensuing acrimony forced UDA Secretary-General Veronica Maina to withdraw it. She said it has errors that required correction.
“The United Democratic Alliance on October 12, 2021 formally conveyed to party faithful and general public a list of 34 officials who will form the NEC in accordance with Political Parties Act 2011,” she noted in an announcement.
“The party wishes to inform the general public that there was an inadvertent error in that list and therefore an amended list will be issued in due course.”
Eyeing elective seats
The disquiet arose from claims that some of those appointed to run the party were eyeing elective seats, and that they would have an undue advantage over their opponents at the party primaries if they are allowed to contest.
Some of those announced as members of the party’s National Executive Council are a sitting MP, a former Cabinet minister, a former MP, a former campaign manager for ODM leader Raila Odinga, and a number of technocrats.
UDA Chairman Johnson Muthama is listed as having three deputies — former Cabinet Minister Kipruto Kirwa, Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) Secretary-General Seth Panyako, and Nicholas Marete.
Ms Maina has three deputies — Mr Odinga’s former aide Eliud Owalo, who is deputy secretary-general in charge of strategy, Mr Daniel Ole Sambu, in charge of programmes; and Mr Abdi Mohamed, in charge of operations. Former South Mugirango MP Omingo Magara, who has been leading the People’s Democratic Party, is UDA’s national treasurer.
Saturday, Mr Muthama admitted that the list had sparked off protests from a section of MPs but termed the reaction as “democratic”.
“Democracy must be allowed to thrive and it is okay to have some members supporting the list and others rejecting it. But those are interim NEC members appointed so that we can meet requirements of the law,” Mr Muthama said.
The party is planning to hold its grassroots elections in either late next month or early December, said the former Machakos Senator.
“We had planned to conduct the elections in September or October but put them on hold so that we do not lock out any aspirants who might not have been registered as voters yet,” he said.
This is the second time UDA is cancelling its elections after the last-minute postponement of those slated for June. Its future, it appears, now lies in the manner in which it will run its internal affairs. During the appointment of party coordinators recently, elected leaders who were in the frontline were accused of trying to short-change their non-elected colleagues.
There were accusations that MPs had strategically placed their proxies in pole positions at the time, and that kind of narrative risks creating a chaotic primaries contest.
Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, a staunch ally of the DP, admitted that the party faces a number of perception challenges but was quick to downplay them as a good sign of maturing internal democracy.
“UDA, like any other new organisation, faces teething problems. There is no tension but healthy debate and criticism. UDA allows internal democracy and encourages members to speak out, unlike Jubilee, which we left after it became a one-person dictatorship,” Mr Gachagua said.
He added that the moment they manage to marshal five million members, they will embark on party elections.
As home of one of the presidential front-runners, Ruto’s UDA has attracted a number of defectors from other parties, including the ruling Jubilee. But that popularity blessing has come with its own curse.
In Kirinyaga, for instance, Woman Representative Wangui Ngirici, who among those who have stood with the second-in-command since he embarked on this new political journey, is poised to face off with Governor Ann Waiguru at the party primaries. That will create tension in the party ranks as Waiguru, for long a Jubilee stalwart, is now seen as crossing over a bit too late. She disagrees and says she has enough support to beat Ngirici hands-down.
2.9 million members
Data on the UDA website indicates that Dr Ruto’s party has registered 2.9 million members since its unveiling in late February this year. But is that enough to calm the storm within?
For Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa, those disgruntled by the list of party leaders are elements who have been questioning the loyalty of some of the NEC members, while others are not okay with their possible 2022 opponents being party officials.
“They are uncomfortable because some of the officials might have shown interest in their seats or have been campaigning for other people, but we are handling the complaints on a case-by-case basis,” he told the Nation.
“I have no problems with those proposed for the NEC because they are caretakers who are just holding the brief for us. After February next year elected leaders will no longer be at loggerheads with the law for defecting from their parties, hence we will officially leave Jubilee and occupy those positions,” he said.
Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono agreed, saying: “We want to organise the primaries properly and also register more members so that we can become the leading political party.”
The lawmakers want to stage a mass exodus in May next year since at that time the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) will not be allowed by law to hold by-elections in case the defectors are expelled from their parties and lose their elective posts.