During the weekend of the burial of the Late Otieno Kajwang’ in Homa Bay, I travelled to Mombasa to condole Senator Dr. Agnes Zani.
Dr Zani had lost her mother -a renowned educationalist who authored several kiswahili texts – and, who was later to be buried that weekend in Kwale.
It was a personal decision borne out of a past experience. As I waited to be bailed out from remand prison sometime last year, Senator Dr. Zani and ex-campaign manager of Raila Odinga’s 2013 presidential bid Eliud Owalo together with a group of ODM/CORD youths marched in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park (from Freedom Corner to Milimani Law Court) to symbolically protest my case.
She was the senior-most ODM elected leader to ‘publicly’ join the agitated young peers in a case which really was, and remain, an attempt by the ‘victors’ to use NCIC to re-write the post-independence ethnic history of communal land grabbing by determining the spectrum of debate on land conflicts – real or imagined (a story for another day) – here in Kenya.
This is not to say other ODM/CORD leaders did little – or should have done anything at all. I remember Kibra Mp Hon. Ken Okoth, Dagoretti’s Hon Simba Arati and many other Nairobi civic leaders visiting at Industrial area.
Privately, many others – known and unknown, big and small – pulled the strings. And now that the media frenzy and sensationalism which accompanied the case has frozen, Hon. James Orengo is still representing me; and, in due time, tells me, it shall pass.
Let me end the digression and return to my issue today.
At its crux is a question to Luos – are we done? Are we done with respect to our community’s national ambitions? In simple terms, are we still chasing the presidency?
If the answer is NO, then you must categorically tell first time/term Nyali MP Hon. Hezron Awiti Bolo to rethink his ambition to vie as Mombasa Governor in a duel likely to pit him against incumbent Ali Hassan Joho, or any other coastal leader who may stake the seat in 2017.
Awiti’s move will change the equation of Coastal politics in ways we will regret for at least a generation, or even forever.
Jaramogi Oginga Odinga may have miscalculated some of his critical strategic political manoeuvres whose effects still boomerang to date; however, in the post-1992 coastal political equation, Jaramogi’s magical wand has worked well.
Many contemporary Luo politicians and a vast number of Luos may not know how the coastal communities became ready partners of western kenya communities in political contests. And because of this dearth in knowledge, or deliberate ignorance, this partnership is at its weakest point today.
Jaramogi FORBADE Luo politicians – and extended this fiat to any indigene of western kenya who identified with his Ford Kenya party – in vying in the parliamentary and civic vacant seats in the region.
Jaramogi ordered all Luo politicians angling for election as MP to go battle it out back in the Kavirondo and Western, or the ethnically neutral Nairobi. He then advised that Luos and other communities from western Kenya (Luhya and Kisii) to provide their ‘swing’ numbers to the local coastal-born politicians who would align with Ford Kenya, and, or him.
What followed was that as the indigenous coastal communities rejected KANU, the coast-based Islamic Party of Kenya which was first becoming the voice of the local people readily identified with Jaramogi. And while KANU massively rigged the results of the 1992 elections, it badly lost the ‘perception’ war as Jaramogi, rested in the hearts and minds of the coastal people.
More fundamentally, the Kavirondo became instant comrades in the struggle with the coastal communities.
This pact has endured. To Raila, who would take over the political leadership of Luo, this arrangement remained kept in the immediate post-jaramogi years, and, has remained kept even today.So adamant was ODM in denying its tickets to ‘up-country’ leaders that even in the 2013 elections, Awiti Bolo, despite being ‘popular’ (all politicians say they are popular) was denied the ticket.
No other region outside Nyanza is the fanaticism of Odinga and Odingaism, with its manifest desire for ‘change’, so rooted in the ethnic body politic than coast. It explains why, over 20 years later, Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Tana River, Lamu, and Taita Taveta remain so apathetic to political unions where western kenya ‘brothers’ are not in the equation. It explains why Mombasa County voted ‘ODM’ to a fault – the only county where all the assembly leaders were ODM.
Awiti, however, has shown his disregard for this 20-year history and is raring to go. A lot of money goes into reshaping history and those who participated in the 2013 election can tell you that the Nyali parliamentary seat race was one of the most expensive as Awiti literally bought each and every vote he got.
Now Awiti is eyeing the Mombasa gubernatorial race where he will use shilling for shilling, million for million, billion for billion, in a race that Ali Hassan Joho has also indicated he cannot lose. However, my fears, shared deeply by Luos in Mombasa who already foresee what would be a costly political gamble complete with its share of social ramifications, is whether the ‘pact’ will hold – and if it doesn’t, where will Luos get the kind of political comradeship the coastal communities have offered us in more than 20 years.
I have attended ODM/CORD rallies in this country but nowhere did I experience the deep-rooted politics of grievance and rebellion as one in Ukunda town, Kwale.
Are we done? Are we still chasing the presidency? In post-Odinga era, will our politicians, those living and the Luos not yet born, ever get the ‘reserve army’ of ‘Luos’ of Pwani- people who think, feel, rebel and plot against the same same forces with the same same (same) reasons as we, the Luos of Nyanza, do? Which other community and people will we replace coastal people with – from Taita Taveta to Kwale?
My fellow Luos, it will be ‘coastly’ for us to make this mistake. We must tame the ambition of our members. We are lucky that Jaramogi entered this pact on and for us. Imagine if the support of coastal people would be elusive for us, or if we had to buy it as the kikuyus bought the kalenjins in 2013? Where will we get the billions in the current exchange rates?
Thing is, politics is getting devolved. Each region will be looking for new alliances based on their inherent interests. And, however much we may want to give every man his meat, let’s not forget the reasons why some communities are so hated and distrusted in this country – selfishness, domination, greed, inability to keep promises and pledges and pacts.
I do not argue on the electability of Awiti. Those who believe in those legal mumbo-jumbos tucked in articles and sections of the late ‘new constitution’ and the Political Parties Act know he is qualified. There is no contesting this – but, there is the ethno-social realities embedded in our political experiences in this country which are, I dare say, ‘above the constitution’.
Fellow Luos, are we abandoning the race to the presidency only 50 years since independence and less than 20 years after we forced them with multi-partyism? By offending our traditional allies; by disregarding the sacred instruments and terms which formed our unity, by being greedy and selfish and ‘wanting it all’, we sure are.
We would be deeply lying to ourselves if we accepted the pessimist’s view that our union with the people of pwani is not beneficial. A Luo is likely to be employed by Governor Joho, Governor Mvurya of Kwale, Governor Kingi of Kilifi than Governor Ongwae or Nyangarama who neighbour us in Nyanza. You are likely to find a Luo in the office of Mishi Mboko or Mwalimu Mwahima than you will in the office of Senator Moses Wetangula or Senator Dr. Wilfred Machage!
You know why? Because our relationship with the leaders and people of Pwani go back in time. We have a shared history with them. The kisii, despite being our neighbours, have just recently started ‘warming up’ to us. There are still hurdles, and you know them. The Luhya, despite being our ‘relatives’, are so like us – overly ambitious! What this means is that going forward, the swing votes will be by those communities whose leaders will agree to be ‘subordinates’ – to come second.
Even more importantly, in a political environment increasingly being commercialised, with some people/regions having enough money to buy whole communities in churches and prayer rallies and elders’ forums, we sure will need a people who cannot be bought. A people who will vote out their own leaders sent to distribute the national loot, in and around election time.
The people of Pwani have proven to us they can do this. When you see county commissioners being openly told to relax – (wewe ni mtu mdogo sana) and folks like Mungatana and Mwakwere reduced to political nothingness, all these indicate the coast is still costly for our opponents.
But, and this is what must never be lost on us: no condition is permanent. We must not behave as if the people of Pwani do not exist nor do they have their own ambitions. They do exist; and they have their ambitions.
In conclusion, may I remind our people that Raila Odinga will not live forever to chart our political future. We may defy him today but be assured that we may never enjoy the social cordiality, leave alone the political support, we enjoy in Pwani.
In 2017, 2022, 2027 and 2032; just like in 2013, 2007,2002, 1997 and 1992; the Raila Odinga I know, if he will still be alive, will still keep our commitments to the people of Pwani.
In 2017, the best way to give jubilee an edge in Mombasa is to front a Luo in general and Awiti Bolo in particular.
Dikembe Disembe blogs on CORD politics.