|The recent naming of the grand coalition Cabinet has brought an interesting twist to Ukambani politics – a political realignment hitherto talked about only in hush tones.
For the first time in a long while, known sworn enemies in the fight for the region’s political supremacy have found themselves sharing a platform. But will the new marriage of convenience work, and to whose benefit?
That Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, Water and Irrigation minister Charity Ngilu and Party of Independent Candidates of Kenya (Pick) boss John Harun Mwau, who has been appointed Transport assistant minister, find themselves in the same government has ignited a new debate.
And this has happened in different ways. While Mr Musyoka became VP following a post-election pact between his ODM Kenya party and President Kibaki’s PNU, Mr Mwau has come in through Pick and Mrs Ngilu through Narc which is allied to Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ODM.
While Ms Ngilu’s pact with ODM was known even before the December elections, that of Mr Mwau remains a puzzle to many.
In the run-up to last year’s polls, Mr Musyoka did everything possible to stop Mrs Ngilu making it to Parliament four times in a row as the Kitui Central representative.
In Kilome, he openly told voters that Mr Mwau was a Raila man and asked them to instead vote for his friend and then close confidant, Mr Mutinda Mutiso.
But the crusade flopped and Mrs Ngilu and Mr Mwau were among four candidates who defied the ODM-K sweep of the region’s 17 parliamentary seats.
The others were: Kathiani’s Ms Wavinya Ndeti (CCU) and Mr Charles Nyamai of Kitui West (Narc).
The Ukambani politics has been characterised by bitter political rivalry since independence, and observers say the scenario is likely to persist between now and 2012 when the country goes for the next General Election.
Rivalries that immediately come to mind are between Cabinet minister Paul Ngei and MP Mbolu Malu in the 1960s and ‘70s, as well as between Mr Ngei and influential politician Mulu Mutisya from the late 1970s to the early ‘90s after Mr Malu died.
“The Moi regime preferred Mr Mutisya to Mr Ngei, and with the Ngei fall from grace, the fight shifted to Mr Mutisya and retired armed forces chief turned politician Gen Jackson Mulinge,” says Mr Martin Masai, ad editor and publisher.
“With Mutisya dead and Mulinge incapacitated, the fight brought in new characters — Ngilu and Kalonzo and then Mwau, so we expect the trend to continue in the days to come.”
Before the Cabinet appointments Mr Mwau and Mrs Ngilu had shown signs that they would cut Mr Musyoka’s growing influence that threatened to strengthen his hold onto the unofficial post of undisputed leader of the Ukambani politics, a platform that had propelled him into the national limelight.
In the run-up to the 2002 polls, Mr Musyoka was involved in sideshows with Mr Mwau, the Kilome MP, at one time suggesting that he would stand for Parliament in the Mwingi North MP’s area.
When President Kibaki and Mr Odinga were working on the grand coalition government, no one imagined Mr Mwau’s name would feature anywhere. So it was a big shock in Ukambani when he and Ms Wavinya Ndeti became assistant ministers, the latter of Gender and Sports.
And a well-placed source says Mr Odinga is behind Mr Mwau’s elevation. It is said that Mr Mwau was in fact poised for a Cabinet position, but he declined the offer.
According to Mr Mwau’s close confidants, his argument was that as a businessman with connections abroad, a Cabinet post would restrict his movements.
If indeed Mr Odinga was behind Mr Mwau’s appointment, the residents are asking why. Some claim that the PM is returning Mr Mwau’s favour of funding his campaigns last year.
But others see the gesture as part of Mr Odinga’s efforts to keep in check the VP’s influence.
A Mwau confidant says the assistant minister no longer wants to be seen as just a community leader.
“Actually, the ‘Boss’ (as he is known in Pick circles) is cultivating a national image, just wait and see,” he adds. But Mr Mwau knows that to cut a national figure he must first win the heart and soul of his Akamba people.
And realising this dream will depend on how Ukambani takes the grand coalition Cabinet which even some Kalonzo supporters criticise as being unfair to the region.
A fourth political forum is slowly emerging in the quest for the region’s leadership, with youthful ODM-K MPs Charles Kilonzo (Yatta) and Kiema Kilonzo (Mutitu) taking the mantle.
They are mainly targeting young people in their camp. The Yatta MP has in the recent past emerged as a vocal politician in the region. He openly tells off Mr Musyoka at many forums and has rejected calls to tone down.
The two Kilonzos support the recently formed Ukambani National Forum, which is calling for a change in the current Ukambani political and socio-economic set-ups.
In an interview with the Saturday Nation at Parliament Buildings on Monday, they said Mr Musyoka and the ODM-K got a raw deal in the Cabinet appointments.
“The names the VP gave as his choice for Cabinet positions, like Machakos Town MP Victor Munyaka and Kibwezi’s Prof Philip Kaloki were ignored,” the Yatta MP said.
“The people who made it, save for Mwingi South’s David Musila and Mbooni’s Mutula Kilonzo, used their own connections to secure their positions.
“We spoke to Dr Munyaka and Prof Kaloki and, believe you me, they are not happy with the turn of events.
“I said before that the VP is not forceful enough in fighting for the rights of his own lieutenants, that is where Raila beats him and I want to be quoted on that.”
Kaiti’s Gideon Ndambuki also used his connections with Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, formerly his Kanu boss, to secure an assistant minister’s slot.
“That leaves only Mwingi South’s David Musila who was made an assistant minister, and Mr Mutula Kilonzo who was given the less glamorous Nairobi Metropolitan portfolio,” added Mr (Charles) Kilonzo.
And Ms Ndeti said her appointment had nothing to do with ODM-K. She is said to have also used her own connections to win over the PNU panel that prepared the party’s list.
“I thank President Kibaki, and get me right President Kibaki, for the appointment”, she told the Saturday Nation on Monday.
With the two Kilonzos increasingly criticising Mr Musyoka, it is a wait-and-see situation if the alternative front they appear to be pushing will survive the unfolding political storm.
They appear to be soft on Mrs Ngilu and Mr Mwau, and if they choose to team up with them, Ukambani should brace itself for a grand coalition of sorts that may change the region’s political landscape.
Mrs Ngilu’s confidants do not see a situation in which the Kitui Central MP and the VP will team up and channel their politics in the same direction despite serving in the same Cabinet.
“That is out of the question; there are some sins you can forgive, but not others,” said the aide when asked if it is possible for the two political adversaries to work together in Ukambani.
Testimony that there was no love lost between the groups of Ukambani leaders came to the fore when Mrs Ngilu was hosted by her now Cabinet colleague, Mr Najib Balala, in Mombasa a few days before the announcement of the Cabinet.
Addressing a crowd, she described Mr Musyoka as a coward, something that was not received well by the VP’s close associates.
Mr Musyoka has played down the new development, saying that the Cabinet naming focused on the national interest.