A recent Infotrak poll debunked one of the most enduring myths about Nyanza politics. The myth is a fallacious assumption, often peddled by anti-Raila Odinga forces who masquerade as ‘development-minded’, that you cannot be active politically in opposition and still serve your constituents.
The myth juxtaposes development as mutually exclusive of politics. Cheaply, it persuades people in opposition strongholds to shun politics (whatever this means) and concentrate on development (by the government). Successive governments have used the rhetoric of development without politics to ‘reward’ or ‘punish’ certain regions of the country and justified gross human rights abuses meted on people.
At its lowest ebb, ‘development without politics’ has been used to denigrate and degrade popular politicians. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga endured it for years, earning the belated recognition as the ‘doyen’ of opposition politics.
But is politics and development a ying-yang affair? Not really. The recent poll by Infotrak opens a discussion on this issue.
The poll measured (in a scale of one to ten) the ‘perception’ of constituents towards their elected representatives. The results thrilled and appalled in equal measure, with winners making a ‘kill’ out of it and losers crying foul. The poll, broadly, suggests that politically active legislators are highly favoured by their constituents.
Overall, ODM MP Dr. Wilber Otichillo ranked highest, followed by Sirisia’s John Weluke.Â In Nyanza, Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo ranked first, followed by Ugenya’s David Ochieng and Suna East’s Junet Mohammed.
One similar feature of these constituencies – with the exception of Suna East – is that they were already ‘household’ names in Kenyan politics before the current office holders.
Dr. Otichillo’s Emuhaya constituency was initially represented by former speaker Kenneth Marende. Rarieda, which pioneered ‘mobile clinics’ as panacea for mother and infant mortalities, had been placed in the maps by former Minister Raphael Tuju. Sirisia, now represented by Hon. Weluke was the constituency of Senate Minority Leader and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula, then MP and also powerful minister of foreign affairs in the second Kibaki government.
For decades, Ugenya has been in the national radar thanks to Hon. James Orengo who first entered parliament in his twenties, and enchanted the nation with his legal and physical fieriness in the tumultuous 80s. Orengo, still legally agile but not physically fiery, now represents Siaya County in the Senate.
Suna East – the oddity – is represented by Hon. Junet Mohammed. A dominantly Luo constituency in the southerly part of Luo Nyanza, the constituency was hived off from the larger Migori Constituency. Junet, though Somali indigene, became the inaugural legislator of this ‘unknown’ constituency of Luos.
Unknown to many people, Junet may be a first time MP but is not a first time politician.Â By 2002, he was already in active politics, serving as councillor and Mayor of Migori in the old constitutional order. His rise to parliament was therefore a culmination of over 10 years of ground work, during which time he had rarest resource in politics – time – to study the 4Ws and 1H of Luo Nyanza politics -Who, What, Where, Why and How.
It is this combination -of early maturity (in politics) and late entry (in parliament) that has allowed him to plot and ploy with ruthless accuracy. The impact is that where his first time peers have sold themselves to the devil, the Hon. Junet has remained a steady hand in the often fluidous choreography that forms the mainstay of Kenyan politics, local and national.
At the local level, Junet has mastered the 4Ws and 1H. Â Suna East is like his home. At a recent tour of the constituency, where I had an opportunity to accompany him, I observed a man who has created a political fiefdom: grasp of the issues and a strong grip on the people.
The issues? Hon Junet long understood the things that worry a Luo family most.
Education. So he has the most transparent bursary scheme in the region. Bursary is offered at the polling station, where choices were made and will be made again. And it is not him who gives, the community sits together and drafts a list, he then gives a lump sum amount which, again, the community sits together and determine who is in dire need and who is not. Just one rider: he sets the minimum each student can get, and that is sh 8000 which has now been revised to sh10,000 and is ambitiously headed to sh15,000!
At Ochieng’ Orwa, a primary school located in the dusty Kimaiga alley, he gives Ksh 900,000. At another school he gives sh 1million. More schools visited, more goodies dished. As he traverses the expansive constituency, he comes across across this boda boda man ‘hired’ to heckle him. Hell, he alights from the vehicle and confronts the young man, who is quickly devoured by ‘loyalist’, before he ‘forgives’ and continues the journey. Later in the evening, the young man sends sms – jakom ng’uonna, Pesa (former MP) ema ne oora. Again, forgiven.
It is day two. Some women want a soccer ball. Some youths want new brick makers, or sand harvesters. A road leading to some school is in bad shape. A road is shoddily done. A church has no pews. Another church has leaking roof. A group of old men want to drink sodas, or achwaka. Some bursary committee not working. A funeral, a birth, aÂ young man wants to marry.Â It is all told to Junet Mohammed in vernacular.
And so, we traverse the constituency, listening and listening, talking and talking; eating in this school or at that home. Every stop has its politics and its issue. Sometimes, the issue is trivia, like that ‘satisfied’ locality where the villagers only Â lamented how ”you’ve been away for so long” and want you to ”pass our greetings to Baba”.
It is this fast lane politics, punctuated by carrots here and sticks there, kindness always and arrogance when necessary, that powers the man to the national arena, where he sits at the right hand side of Raila Odinga, master, veteran, enigma!
If Junet has revealed something about contemporary Luo politics, it is that the nexus between politics and service delivery to constituents is in the person of the elected politician remaining true to the electorates and loyal to the community’s ‘ single most important national interest’. There is no place in Luo politics for yesmen and political night-runners!
What is perception made of? Schemata. The sum total ofÂ present feelings of past experiences. For politicians, the ‘halo effect’ created by favourable perception is the enzyme that catalyses the automatic re-election. See, Junet Mohamed espouses the politics of grievances and usurpations that those he represent carry beneath their skins.
The French would say, Je suis Junet!Â
Dikembe Disembe blogs on politics. He studied Communications at Moi University.