Mudavadi, Natembeya, Wetang'ula
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Walking the talk: The Natembeya politics, Western kingpin debate and Wetang’ula, Mudavadi play

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From left: Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya and National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula.

Photo credit: Nation Media Group

The fight for political control of the second most populous community in the country has taken a new trajectory with the entrance of the outspoken Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya.

The supremacy battles between National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula, 67, and Natembeya, 53, has excited both sets of supporters in Western Kenya.

The two have in the past weeks engaged in heated political confrontations as they battle for the soul of the more than two million voters in the restive region.

Not seeing eye-to-eye since the August 2022 elections, the two leaders – representing the old and new order – have been flexing their political muscles with the region lacking a unifying figure.

With Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leader Raila Odinga eyeing the top African Union Commission seat, which will require him not to actively engage in local politics, coupled with a laid-back approach to politics by Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, a leadership vacuum has presented itself in the region.

Since the August 2022 elections, Wetang’ula has been positioning himself as the de facto political leader of Western Kenya, owing to the impressive performance of President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance in the region.

Dr Ruto garnered 629,552 votes, close to three times the 242,000 votes UhuRuto had in 2017, in Western in the last elections.

Wetang’ula’s political bedroom of Bungoma County contributed 255,907 votes to President Ruto’s basket, beating Odinga’s harvest of 145,240.

In 2017, in the same county, Odinga had 284,786 votes against UhuRuto’s 126,475. Owing to the performance, and with Wetang’ula being one of the principals in the ruling alliance, the House Speaker has been taking political credit for helping Dr Ruto make significant political inroads into the region.

By virtue of being constitutionally the third in command in the country after President Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua, Wetang’ula has been at the heart of political manoeuvres aimed at rallying the region around his Ford-Kenya party, where he is at the helm, stealing quick steps ahead of the laid-back Mr Mudavadi.

The PCS failed to deliver the Vihiga vote to President Ruto with Odinga garnering 114,717 votes, almost twice of what the former managed, 67,631.

However, Wetang’ula’s quest to be the region’s kingpin faces fierce opposition from Natembeya, who disputes the Speaker’s perceived political presence in Western.

Considered a political greenhorn, Natembeya has been ruffling feathers in the region as he positions himself at the high table.

As a member of DAP-Kenya, an Azimio affiliate party led by former Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, the former Rift Valley regional coordinator has been throwing political punches in the region.

Buoyed by his gubernatorial campaign that saw Odinga beat Dr Ruto in the cosmopolitan Tran Nzoia County with 132,404 votes against 116,372 in the August 2022 elections, Natembeya has not been afraid of taking on Wetang’ula.

Natembeya has also on several occasions accused Wetang’ula of frustrating his leadership through proxies after beating his Ford Kenya candidate in 22022. Ford-Kenya held the Trans Nzoia gubernatorial seat through Patrick Khaemba for 10 years.

There have been reports that Wetang’ula is grooming Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha, who unsuccessfully vied for the Woman Representative position on a Ford-Kenya ticket, to take on Natembeya in 2027.

“Is it Mudavadi? Wetang’ula? Natembeya? Or even Eugene Wamalwa? So, it is both local politics in terms of Trans Nzoia and Bungoma as well as about the wider Luhya community,” offers political analyst Mark Bichache. 

Last week, the supremacy battle between the two reared its ugly head during a funeral in Trans Nzoia where their supporters clashed. The two leaders have in the recent past disagreed on the Mulembe Nation unity as well as on who deserves to be the community’s kingpin.

“Regardless of their status, no leader should be permitted to exploit impunity and violence to sow discord and turmoil merely to gain political advantage,” said Wetang’ula in response to the fracas.

But in a swift rejoinder, Natembeya said the quest to liberate the Luhya nation from poverty was on course and no amount of violence will derail his bid to unite the region.

“They think through violence they will stop the bid to liberate the Luhya community. It has just started. We will soldier on until this community is liberated from poverty.  This plane is still on the runway,” he said as the two traded political barbs.

In a veiled attack on Wetang’ula, the no-nonsense former provincial administrator in February dismissed leaders from the community imposing themselves as kingpins and engaging in politics of worship.

“Our people have suffered because of the mistake of some leaders who purport to be kingpins and engaged in the politics of worship,” he said.

“These leaders have done nothing to the community for years they have served in the government and elective positions.”

He would then declare himself a self-made leader, dismissing the politics of worship, a pointed attack at Mr Wetang’ula who goes by the moniker, Papa wa Roma. “I am a self-made leader. I have worked hard to get where I am today, and I will not worship or clap for leaders who call themselves kingpins and have done nothing for our community,” he offered.

Mr Natembeya has publicly dismissed Wetang’ula and Mudavadi, saying “we cannot follow leaders who have never sacrificed anything for anybody”. He claimed that as currently is; the region has no political head who can negotiate on behalf of the community, unlike Nyanza with Odinga and Rift Valley (President Ruto).

“Western has no leader who can take us to the table where key decisions are being made. Those (Wetang’ula) who pretend to be leading have only one vote for President William Ruto. If he wakes up and changes his mind, Wetang’ula will be home,” said Natembeya.

Instead, he has fronted a new movement known as “Tawe Movement”, Luhya word for NO, which he seeks to use to propel him to the high office. The clarion call for the movement, which he aims to popularise across the five Western counties, is -- say no to poverty, oppression, tribalism and political patronage.

Saboti MP Caleb Amisi says Natembeya, together with himself, are leading a generational change in Western region. He avers that both Wetang’ula and Mudavadi have nothing to show for their 40 years in politics with the region condemned to political and economic oblivion.

The MP accused the two of not fighting for the interest of the community but jobs for themselves and their families.

He said the health system has collapsed completely, all factories on their deathbed as well as the agricultural sector. “The two have put an entire region into political and economic starvation. So, it is time they go. And we are not mincing our words. I’m handling Mudavadi and Natembeya is making sure Wetang’ula disappears from the scene,” says Amisi.

“We are going to chase them because we’ve given them enough time to become presidents. And they have failed. We want change in Western region,” he adds. 

But Ford-Kenya Secretary-General John Chikati has downplayed any rivalry between the two as the two are not on the same political level.

“First of all, there’s no rivalry at all. At all. We have never had a Wetang’ula talk about Natembeya in any forum. So, it is about someone who is trying to mudsling the other for greedy purposes,” says Chikati.

“So, I see Natembeya as a greedy person who wants to assume power and leadership of western by soiling the name, not only of Wetang’ula but also Mudavadi,” he adds. The Tongaren MP dismissed chances of Natembeya assuming the leadership of the region, terming him a lone ranger.

Trans Nzoia County Governor George Natembeya at groundbreaking of Trans Nzoia County Stadium construction in Kitale town

Trans Nzoia County Governor George Natembeya during the ground breaking ceremony of Trans Nzoia County Stadium construction in Kitale town on February 27, 2023.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

“If you look at anyone who has assumed leadership in Kenya, he or she has done it through networking, advocacy and lobbying. It is not through insults and use of violence. That cannot lead him anywhere,” adds Dr Chikati.

Sirisia MP John Waluke, the Western MPs Caucus chairman, accused the first term governor of working for a political master through his persistent attacks on Wetang’ula and Mudavadi. “He must toe the line because we (MPs) will not engage in a war of words but teach him a ‘political lesson’ in the near future,” said Waluke.

Shinyalu MP Fred Ikana also accused the governor of being used to scuttle the ever-elusive Luhya unity currently being spearheaded by Wetang’ula. His Webuye East counterpart Martin Wanyonyi described Natembeya as a political greenhorn who should tread slowly instead of lecturing politicians who are not his equal.

“Instead of him trying to flex muscles to be seen as a political kingpin, he should join us and work on a formula of delivering the presidency to one of our own in 2032,” said Mr Wanyonyi.

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The mention of the name George Natembeya in Western Kenya a few years ago was not interpreted beyond the State administration.

But since he was elected as Trans Nzoia Governor under the little-known DAP-K party ticket, the man has emerged from the shadows of traditional Western Kenya political bigwigs like Moses Wetang’ula and Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi and is fast dislodging the two Moi era politicians as he drums up the elusive Luhya unity.

He is slowly rising as the next kingpin of the Luhyia Nation. His rising political profile is shaking the Mulembe Nation’s political landscape. He says Ford-Kenya, a party led by Wetang’ula, has outlived its usefulness to fight for the community’s interest as millions are languishing in poverty, unemployment and high cost of living.

“It doesn’t have to be me but I will lead from the front to make sure the community is on the negotiating table,” says Natembeya. The ‘Tawe Movement’ is gaining popularity by the day if the number of people attending his rallies in Trans Nzoia and Western Kenya is anything to go by.

“Kikuyus have been presidents for 35 years while Kalenjins have tested presidency for 24 years so far, and if Ruto goes for second term, they will have been in power for 34 years, making the two communities enjoy the trappings of power for 69 years in total, yet we are number two in population,” says Natembeya.

“Kikuyus, Kambas, Luos, Somali and Mijikenda have enjoyed the top leadership of the Kenya Defence Forces but Luhyas have remained in the periphery.”

“We don’t have a commander even in Administration Police unit. We are only commanders of private security companies. What kind of Luhya leaders do we have in the government? There is no hope with the current Luhya leaders in the government and that is why we must start early preparations.”

His powerful way of driving his political message home through the masses is gaining ground and he has warned his opponents to brace themselves for a tough fight. “I don’t take chances. I’m not a coward and nobody will kill my spirit of fighting for Luhyia unity, which leaders like Wetang’ula and Musalia have failed.”

“If President Ruto decides to do away with Wetang’ula or Mudavadi, they will go and nothing will happen and that is reality because they were not taken on the negotiating table by their people but they took themselves there and are bragging that they are community representatives. These two leaders are alone in this government for their selfish interests,” said Natembeya.

“I’m not a tribalist but Luhyia votes are not about supporting other candidates to win presidential elections every five years. Wetang’ula and Mudavadi cannot take us to Canaan.” Wetang’ula and Mudavadi have refused to fold their parties and join the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) as directed by President Ruto.

“Wetang’ula has driven the community to a poverty hole. I want to unite the community and put money into the pocket of people and target the poor to empower them by making sure we have a true representative in the national government who is sent to the negotiating table by the people,” said Natembeya.

“I’m like a general. We are in a plane on the runaway ready for take-off. Wetang’ula and Mudavadi have failed to unite the Luhyia community. We know injustice when we see one. We have played second fiddle for a long time; it’s time for Western to produce the President in 2032.”

He criticizes the two leaders as “leaders who have never sacrificed anything in their lives for their people and have reduced the Luhya community to be a brand of jokers. These are the same leaders who advised former President Moi to reject multi--party and defended him. We shall not be led by such leaders.”

Natembeya seems to be properly utilising his long experience in the provincial administration to shape his political career. A true student of former powerful Minister for National Security and Provincial Administration, he started his civil service career as a District Officer in 1996. He rose through the rank to be the youngest Regional Commissioner in Rift Valley.

He is regarded as the only Regional Commissioner who fulfilled his mission in Rift Valley by taking the bull by its horns. He led the successful evictions of settlers in the Mau forest proving that he is a man walking the talk on hot Mau issues succeeding where many had failed. He is also credited with fighting bandits and outlawed groups like Mungiki like a real commando and is set to use the same skills to strategize himself as the next king of the Luhya community.

Just like when he was in the provincial administration the no-nonsense Natembeya, is seen by many as a performer and is focused on what he wants to achieve.

His resignation to run for the gubernatorial seat was dramatic when he said in a press conference in his office:” Those who were doubting me and telling me to resign and hand over the uniform today a handing over.” He symbolically started removing his official regalia.

He has led the war against bandits in Rift Valley. “I have been baptised by fire, this one will not be a problem to me.” “I have declared the war. Natembeya is coming to Trans Nzoia,” he said.

Additional reporting by Francis Mureithi