As campaigns enter homestretch in Siaya County, the Luo Nation is once again in Kenya’s political radar, for better and for worse. Coming out of the March 4 elections, where the community lost as a whole, the gubernatorial by-elections in Siaya, the heartland of Luo politics, has already deeply polarised the community’s young and outspoken political bloggers.
In social media, so divided are young Luos that often, to avoid inviting ‘outsiders’ in what they now term as a ‘family affair’, the disagreements often get sorted out in their mother tongue. Problem is, Luos rarely speak their language in totality, the outsiders will always make inferences.
In the coming elections, the schism appears to be based on what popular democracy mean for Luo Nyanza, and the place of party politics in a region often known for anti-government rhetoric. These questions will be answered when Cornell Amoth Rasanga meets William Oduol. For the avoidance of doubt; both Rasanga and Oduol are Luos, however, from the evolving politics in Siaya, even in the Luo community, some people seem to be more Luo than others – the difference, of course, being tangentially related to the social, political and ideological distance between the region’s political aspirants and the ODM leader, Raila Odinga.
Faced with an uncertain future after the end of Raila in elective politics, brought about by the loss to Uhuru Kenyatta, there has been incessant soul searching among the young Luos; many of them coming out of colleges and universities with sterling grades and checkered political history associated with their community.
The group uncomfortable with the candidature of Amoth Rasanga, the man preferred by the community party, ODM, make a series of claims that go back to the initial (shambolic) nominations of ODM candidates in the last general election. Even then, Rasanga had emerged third, trailing Oduol and Dr Oburu Oginga. Amoth Rasanga has never been the people’s choice. He is a party choice and one whose candidature is only significant to adernt party supporters, party hanger-ons and Raila Odinga sycophants.
The nomination of Rasanga, who would later win the last elections merely because people voted with the bigger picture of Raila Odinga in mind, rather than the smaller frame of an old party grandfather, would rare its ugly head in the priorities that the man has lined up for the county. To date, unlike the southern Nyanza county of Homabay, where Governor Cyprian Awiti is always signing multi-billion dollar development deals, Siaya County county agenda under the short stint of Cornell Amoth Rasanga pales in comparison with other counties in the region, or Cord counties nationally.
This is where Oduol comes in. First, William Oduol Denge is seen as a young, independent and progressive leader without the political baggage of Odingaism. Let me put this into context:
In Homa Bay County, ODM party honchos cast their lot with then then Party Elections Board Chairman Philip Okundi, the man was rejected by voters.
In Migori County, the party had a Raila man in the person of Prof Oyugi Akong’o, an octogenerian with few years to eat salt in this God’s earth; and Luos of South Nyanza rejected Akong’o who took cue and moved to the High Court to challenge the election of the current governor John Obado.
The high court, following the path set forth by the Supreme Court, rejected everything Odinga. The method which Prof Oyugi had got the ODM ticket during the nominations is a story for another day; suffice to say, Governor Obado would later win with the PDP party associated with Omingo Magara. ODM in South Nyanza lost the people’s trust; and the eventual voter apathy in most parts of Luo Nyanza during the March 4 elections vindicated those who had lost unfairly during party primaries.
In Kisumu County, Jack Ranguma outfoxed Ruth Odinga, riding in a nascent indignation of what Luos saw as an attempt by the Odingas to create a stranglehold on Luo Nyanza politics.
Luckily, for purely historical and tribal reasons, Luos would later vote Raila Odinga to the man, however, disgustment continued in the manner in which the party handled the nominations, with Siaya County becoming an ODM punching bag for the media and the Jubilee Alliance. Reading through most of the major outspoken ODM bloggers and adherents, since the nominations, each has attempted to reconcile blind support for the party with objective support, the latter being a dedication to a set of ideals of the Orange party.
This, in my view, is the continuing context within which most voters in Nyanza and those of us interested in Nyanza politics, view the unfolding political drama between ODM’s Amoth Rasanga and the apparent people’s choice, William Oduol.
In Siaya, it is a gone conclusion that Oduol is not competing Rasanga; had it been so, Denge would by now be preparing to be sworn in. The man is competing with Raila Odinga himself. The man is fighting to anchor popular democracy in a region which has fought so hard, and suffered abundantly, to institute plural politics in Kenya.
Nyanza’s politics is a big contradiction. The region often reminds the rest of the country on the importance of democracy and plural politics. All emblems of post-independence Kenyan plural politics can be traced to Luo and Kisii Nyanza, with the accompanying epitaphs of dead sons and daughters -from 1969 to 2013, yet the region has never tolerated ‘foreign parties’ or homebred sons politicking outside the region’s chosen political formations.
From the IEBC data, freely on its website, a quick math will tell you that more Kikuyus; we who are seen to have denied Raila a chance to be in Statehouse, voted the CORD leader than Luos reciprocated to Uhuru. Meaning, in terms of voting outside, in a scenario where both communities have fielded a candidate, the Kikuyu is more likely to vote a Luo than the Luo is more likely to vote in a Kikuyu! This fact is funny, right?
Oduol has been labelled all manner of names. The one which offends, because it is propaganda being peddled by ODM party top brass, is the insinuation that the political contest in Siaya is a continuation of the Raila-Uhuru fued. The party tried this in Migori County and failed. In Roza Buyu vs Olago Aluoch, again the party tried this outsider-insider type of propaganda and failed.
ODM needs to let internal democracy grow. It serves Raila more and it serves the party more. If, for instance, Oduol wins the Siaya race, why would Jubilee, which had no interest in that race, not celebrate and poke Raila more? After all, they said it was ‘them vs us’?
What the young Luos, and we who support ODM from the foothills of Mt. Kenya are saying is this: ODM needs to let party democracy grow. There are fights which Raila Odinga, as the de facto spirit holding the different competing interests in ODM together, ought not to fight. The Siaya gubernatorial race is not a Raila race, it is way below him and whoever won that race, if all factors had been put constant by the CORD coalition, would still have licked the sugary boots of the former prime minister.
To stop deluding ourselves, let the party top brass know: There can never be democracy in other regions with a continuing one man tyranny in Luo Nyanza. In the race to 2017, the political shifts in Luo Nyanza will inform the tectonics in other regions; especially for a generation witnessing the last gasps of the dogmas of a dying past- a past too inadequate to understand the stormy present, and act upon it.
By Chris Maina
Ben Odero contributed to this article from Migori; Osoo Mola from Eldoret; Steve Oyuye from Nairobi.