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Citizen Weekly

Sunday, 7 December 2014

ODM BRACES FOR POTENTIALLY ACIDIC HOMA-BAY BY-ELECTION

With the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission announcing the Homa-Bay senatorial by-election date, daggers have already been drawn and the Orange Democratic Movement is in a big dilemma as serious political crack seem to have emerged at the party branch as several candidates declare their interest to be the party’s flagbearer.
But what has further complicated the matter is a proposal that ODM party leader Raila Odinga should go for the seat. Although majority of the Homa Bay county MPs are supporting the idea, a section of the clergy, the political class and the Homa Bay elite have stood their ground in opposing the move.
Leading the camp that is opposed to Raila’s candidature for the senatorial seat is the Luo Council of Elders chairman Riaga Ogalo who categorically said that Homa Bay county has more credible and competent sons and daughters to represent them in the senate.
Following a strongly worded statement by Raila at the burial of his closest lieutenant Otieno Kajwang’ that Homa Bay people must give him somebody who will perfectly fit in the Kajwang’s shoes, a number of prospective candidates are said to have chickened out despite having made earlier announcements declaring their candidature.
The fact that Kajwang’s death also left a vacuum in the position of the Homa Bay ODM branch chair has further complicated the situation as there exists two rival groups claiming to be the bonafide branch office bearers.
The ODM branch office is crucial as it will be the one to liaise with the party national election board to coordinate the nomination of the party candidate to fill the gap left by the fallen ODM loyalist.
Kajwang’ died at a time when the Homa Bay ODM branch office was embroiled in leadership row that began in April this year when a section of party delegates ousted Kajwang’ and installed former Rangwe MP Martin Ogindo as the branch chairman.
Ogindo’s line-up had Karachuonyo MP James Rege as the secretary and Meru business mogul and Kasipul politician Ong’ondo Were as his deputy. Last week, the two claimed that there is no leadership vacuum in the county ODM branch as they were fully in charge.
The other Homa Bay ODM branch faction is led by ODM nominated ward representative Monica Amolo whom the late senator elevated to the deputy chair position during period when the two groups were engaged in a bitter and titanic political battle of supremacy. Monica has since picked Karachuonyo politician Tom Dola as the branch secretary.
Raila will have to design a method of sealing the loopholes in the branch office before it developed into a serious and disastrous supremacy battle. It is now clear that the bickering between those perceived to be moles in the party and their opponents is not yet over.
A group of remnants of the original struggle who have steadfastly remained loyal behind the party leader from those volatile periods of the defunct NDP feels that it is time for them to reclaim the leadership of the party.
In the remnant team is the former Nyanza ODM co-coordinator Dola, the current Homa Bay county ODM co-coordinator Tom Okong’o, the party branch treasurer Aguko Mayora, organising secretary Okinyi Rawo and Monica Amollo who has since claimed the position of branch chairperson.
The elevation of Gwassi MP John Mbadi to be the ODM national chairperson has again posted a dilemma. Pundits say the post is likely to make him Raila’s point man in that county perceived to be the home of the party rebels that include Kabondo-Kasipul MP Sylvance Osele, Rangwe MP George Oner and Ndhiwa MP Augustino Neto. Neto was conspicuously absent from Kajwang’s funeral for fear of being heckled and booed. He is said to have lost touch with his Ndhiwa electorate and could perhaps be serving his last term as the ground is hostile with him.
As if that is not enough, the pre-election pact is another hard nut to crack. When the agreement was entered before the 2013 general elections, the county was zoned in three regional voting blocs. Rachuonyo bloc comprising of Kasipul, Karachuonyo and Kabondo Kasipul constituencies was to take the position of governor while Homa Bay bloc consisting of Rangwe, Ndhiwa, and Homa Bay town constituencies was to get women representative and the deputy governor slots respectively. The Suba bloc comprising of Mbita and Gwassi constituencies was to take the senatorial post.
Again going back to what Raila said during the burial ceremony of Kajwang’, that the party will not accept party rebels and moles to succeed Kajwang’ and that the seat was not a preserve of the larger Kajwang’ family or a particular sub clan within Homa Bay county, the race is now wide open and this contradicts the pre-election 2013 agreement by Homa Bay county leaders.
Raila’s strongly worded statement threw the succession battle to replace Kajwang’ wide open and was widely interpreted to mean that any interested person can vie for the seat regardless of the family or regional bloc.
Raila was reacting to claims by residents of Mbita and Suba subcounties that the seat was their preserve and that Kajwang’s replacement must come from the Suba speaking community. So far, it is said that some of the late senator’s family members were expecting the ODM party leader to endorse one of their own as a successor to their late beloved son. They had planned to rally behind the late senator’s brother Moses Kajwang’.
In Homa Bay county, the senate vacant seat has attracted a number of top notch politicians. The man who is said to be having a head start is the youthful Nairobi businessman Hilary Alila. The 41-year-old contested the seat in 2013 and garnered 59,508 votes against Kajwang’s 232,601 votes. Alila defected to PDP after allegedly being rigged out during the ODM nominations.
The name of former Rangwe MP Philip Okundi has also featured but it is said age is not on his side. He contested the Homa Bay gubernatorial seat but lost during the ODM nominations. Sources close to him say he has retired from politics.
The immediate former Rangwe MP Martin Ogindo has also been mentioned among possible Kajwang successors. Ogindo lost the Homa Bay town seat to Peter Kaluma during ODM nominations. Before Ogindo lost his seat to Kaluma, he had indicated that he was going for the governor’s seat but withdrew at the eleventh hour and went for the parliamentary seat.
Another name is that of a former NSSF managing trustee Fred Rabong’o. He comes from Waondo village same as Kajwang’. However Rabong’o is said to be close to President Uhuru Kenyatta and is always seen with Big Ted, one of those handling the president’s communications. He declared going for Homa Bay seat after holding a meeting with Uhuru’s nephew Jomo Gecaga who is a private secretary of the head of state.  Big Ted was present.
 The former Gwassi MP, Felix Nyauchi, is also said to want to try his hand in the seat.
The former PM’s chief of staff Karoli Omondi who hails from Gwassi in Suba South is also said to be in the race. Karoli’s main undoing is his recent remarks that Raila the ODM leader will never be the president of Kenya. He is said to be fronted by Nairobi governor Evans Kidero whose influence in the county cannot be under estimated. Kidero hails from the region and during the burial of Kajwang’, he was widely cheered for initiating development and not abandoning them at the hour of need.
Homa Bay county MPs are said to be divided down the middle on who to back, but what has come out clear is that MPs George Oner, Augustino Neto, Oyugi Magwanga, James Rege and Silvance Osele are strongly supporting Ogindo. MPs Milly Odhiambo, Gladys Wanga, Oyugi Magwanga and nominated MCA Monica Amolo are said to be neutral until they get a clear signal from Raila on his preferred candidate.
Homa Bay county so-called Salvation Front leader Aguko Mayora said that the lobby group will take a neutral position and will not back any candidate instead they will work closely with the party to ensure that the ODM conducts a peaceful and democratic nomination.
The name of Nairobi businessman Sammy Wakiaga who hails from Rusinga Island in Mbita constituency is also being mentioned as possible Kajwang’ successor. It is also being speculated that Suba MP John Mbandi who is also the ODM national chairman designate is likely to resign his parliamentary seat to contest the senatorial position.
Also in the race is Charles Ong’ondo who   contested the Kasipul seat on Tip ticket after being rigged out during ODM nominations. He garnered 14,947 votes against Magwanga’s 18,650 votes. Were rejoined ODM and is the Homa Bay county branch deputy chairman in Ogindo’s faction. Ong’ondo is said to be under pressure to go for the seat but if he opts out, he is likely to influence the outcome of the nominations.
Some sources say that if shove comes to push, then Raila may throw his weight behind Ruaraka MP TJ Kajwang’ and that the city legislator may be forced to resign from his seat to contest the by-election as it is rumoured that he had planned to shift his political base to Homa Bay county.
Others who have shown interest include Kenneth Kambona who works with USAid East Africa, George Omburo the vice-president of Derma Sciences, former Microsoft country director Mark Matunga, Aduke Ratimo, a Kisumu  businessman Innocent Masara, a former staff member at the then Prime Minister’s office Silas Jakakimba and former member of East Africa Legislative Assembly Ochieng Mbeo who hails from Migori county and his nephew  Brian Weke.
The “mole” and “rebel” tags being labelled on some of the ODM aspiring candidates may add tension as the nomination date draws near. In the same league of moles and rebels are politicians who ditched ODM party after the 2013 shamble nominations and contested various seats in other Cord affiliated parties.
In 2013 general elections, Martin Ogindo defected to FPK, Ong’ondo Were went to Tip party, Aduke Ratimo took the Labour party while Alila contested on PDP. All of them have since defected back to the Orange party.
Apart from Raila as the party leader, there are also other regional kingpins from the county that candidates are looking for moral and material support. Many candidates are scrambling to get the blessings of Akech Chieng of Ndhiwa and  Mathews Oseko of Kasipul. The two are currently believed to be controlling blocs that any serious contender would not disregard.
It will be interesting to see political events unfold in the county where half the MPs have been labelled rebels or jubilee moles. Sources now say that Raila has confided in his cronies that ODM will conduct free and fair nominations. Raila is said to be in touch with Governor Cyprian Awiti on daily basis as he strategies for the seat to have a man who can work with Awiti to consolidate his power base in the region. Mbadi is also involved. The entry of Kajwang’s brother Moses in the race has been dismissed by local voters.