Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, Moses Masika Wetang’ula and Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi will always remember the date — Friday, March 9, 2018 — when, like all other Kenyans, they learnt through the media that President Uhuru Kenyatta and National Super Alliance (Nasa) leader Raila Odinga were holding talks at Harambee House, Nairobi, without their knowledge.
An intra-coalition game of tit-for-tat ensued, and on Thursday, Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) made the first public move to solidify its role as the main opposition by attempting to remove Mr Wetang’ula as the Leader of Minority in the Senate and replace him with Siaya Senator James Orengo.
Mr Wetang’ula, in essence, becomes the first casualty of the handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, which has entrenched suspicions between the alliance partners.
Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka however suspended the removal of Mr Wetang’ula until Mr Orengo is elected in the House, according to the Standing Orders, which provide that the removal of the Leader of Minority shall not take effect until another one is elected in accordance with the rules.
As a result, Mr Lusaka ruled that the ODM meeting that dethroned Mr Wetang’ula does not in law have the power to appoint Mr Orengo.
He added that House procedures require that the axing of Mr Wetang’ula be by a majority of the votes of all senators belonging to the minority party.
Besides ODM’s 20 members, there are seven other Nasa members of the Senate. The House has 67 members.
LEADER OF MINORITY
Mr Wetang’ula, who was in the House when Mr Lusaka announced his removal based on the minutes of an ODM parliamentary group meeting attended by 16 senators, had protested that the ouster was not procedural because ODM, as a party, is not a member of the Senate, but Nasa, as a coalition is.
“If you want a divorce, then it will be noisy, messy, and it will not be easy,” Mr Wetang’ula warned ODM, accusing Mr Orengo of being behind the conspiracy to dethrone him through a series of nocturnal meetings.
“I am an elected leader and you can’t belittle me. I will fight you mundu khu mundu (Luhya for man to man).”
Apart from the political clout that comes with the position, the Leader of Minority office has perks such as government vehicles, an improved security detail, an office complete with secretaries and aides within the precincts of Parliament, and priority in contributing to debates in the House.
The removal was introduced through a letter from Minority Whip Mutula Kilonzo Jnr as set in the House rules, and backed by minutes of an ODM Senate group meeting held at Crowne Plaza Hotel, Nairobi, on Wednesday.
MPs from ODM partners in Nasa — Wiper, ANC and Ford-K — had earlier vowed to take up the role of the opposition should ODM join the ruling Jubilee.
The MPs accused ODM of insincerity after their leaders were left out of the meeting held at Harambee House last week between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.
Led by Lugari’s Ayub Savula (ANC) and Makueni’s Dan Maanzo (Wiper), they spoke just a day after Mr Musyoka asked for the three Nasa principals to be included in the talks, in the spirit of inclusivity and for the sake of national unity.
“In case ODM is swallowed by Jubilee, or ODM joins Jubilee, we will divorce them,” Mr Savula said.
“We, as Wiper, ANC and Ford–Kenya, are ready to take up our role as the official opposition.”
But ODM, through secretary-general Edwin Sifuna, said the affiliate parties are free to leave at will.
“We encourage them to fill the divorce papers,” Mr Sifuna told the Nation, summing up, with those eight words, how ODM now feels about the rest of the Nasa brigade.
The writing, really, has been on the wall. Had they listened to the statements that were coming out of ODM headquarters, Mr Musyoka, Mr Wetang’ula and Mr Mudavadi would not have found themselves in the uncomfortable corner they have been thrust.
“We will no longer be forced to walk on our knees so that our short friends can feel better about themselves,” Mr Sifuna, who comes from Mr Wetang’ula’s Bungoma backyard, had warned earlier, cajoling the rest of the coalition for their poor numbers.
“If you are shorter than me, it is not my responsibility to walk on my knees so that we can look the same.”
Thus, on the steps of Harambee House — where Mr Odinga sealed a deal with President Mwai Kibaki on February 8, 2008 — the trio watched on TV as their co-principal in Nasa emerged with a two-page statement, flanked by President Kenyatta and the two promising to work together.
“The divide ends here,” Mr Odinga promised, hoping to resuscitate the unity dreams of Kenya’s founding fathers, who, ironically, were their parents — President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and his Vice-President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga — before they badly fell out in 1966.
With that promise, Mr Odinga’s three lieutenants, who had worked with him in his quest for the Presidency for the fourth time, looked like politicians caught in a time warp.
That afternoon, they only confirmed the obvious: “We were not privy to the discussions at Harambee House.”
While Mr Odinga’s ODM was comfortable with the talks, the other Nasa affiliates had been caught flat-footed, and in TV talk shows their handlers said as much.
ANC secretary-general Barack Muluka accused Mr Odinga of tricking the other Nasa chiefs to “stay away until he calls them”, and of sneaking to his Uhuru Park “swearing-in” ceremony without their knowledge.
Mr Odinga had, according to Mr Muluka, asked his co-principals to switch off their phones, and, curiously, told them he would reach them using a Nigerian number.
That call never came, and, for missing Mr Odinga’s mock oath ceremony, the three have been ridiculed by ODM followers as “cowards”.
Mr Odinga is immensely popular and wealthy, and enjoys political support that cuts across communities.
His moves always force his political associates to either play second fiddle at best, or be eclipsed at worst.
While he has not held a public rally since his Uhuru Park ceremony, party meetings with his co-principals have been tense.
When he invited the three for the ODM National Governing Council meeting on February 28, only Mr Musyoka showed up, and he was embarrassed by Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho, who said the Musyoka-Wetang’ula-Mudavadi trio was cowardly and should be shown “the dust”.
Mr Odinga had called Mr Musyoka to ostensibly rebuff media reports that the Nasa was falling apart, but the meeting turned out to be a confirmation that the house was, indeed, crumbling.
The owners might refuse to admit it, but neighbours can see it from across the fence.
Whether Mr Odinga, a man with a chequered political career in both the trenches and boardroom deals, plotted this final fallout is not clear, but recent events indicate that he is now more concerned about his legacy and the fate of his political base after his exit from the presidential race than the future of the opposition coalition.
Six days ago, his ODM party formed a five-member task force to evaluate its ideology, and political pundits say that team could also give Mr Odinga the green light to exit the Nasa.
The team — Catherine Mumma, Larry Gumbe, Irshad Sumra, Alfelt Gunda and Tony Moturi — will also review the coalition’s performance in the 2013 and 2017 General Elections, particularly whether it has been beneficial to ODM.
On Wednesday, ODM leaders in both the Senate and the National Assembly moved motions to support the dalliance between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.
Interestingly, the Senate motion was not moved by the Leader of Minority, Mr Wetang’ula, but by Mr Orengo, who is poised to take over from Mr Wetang’ula if he is dislodged from the lofty position.
Although the Nasa principals feigned unity in public, taking advantage of Mr Odinga’s popularity, they also complained that most decisions for the coalition were made by ODM.
Also, there has been acrimony over the sharing of seats in parliamentary committees, where they accused ODM of taking the most slots.
With ODM members promising to work with Jubilee Party, the fate of Mr Muysoka, Mr Wetang’ula, and Mr Mudavadi will now rest on their followers.
“When our general says move, we move,” Mr Junet Mohammed, the Suna MP, who accompanied Mr Odinga to the Harambee House meeting, said.
And move, they are; slowly, but steadily.