A ferocious but unspoken battle to control Nyanza politics has erupted and promises to define combat in 2022 for the country’s top job.
The conflict pits Opposition chief Raila Odinga against Siaya senator James Orengo, his former ally and close legal adviser. The two have been rivals in the past and more recently Orengo was not privy to talks on the handshake between Raila and President Uhuru Kenyatta on March 9.
Outside Nyanza, Mombasa governor Hassan Joho and his Kakamega counterpart Wycliffe Oparanya are scheming to take over the ODM political machine, despite signals that Raila has no intention of hanging up his boots. The former Prime Minister has not declared his intentions.
Orengo is said to have assembled mostly first-time MPs, particularly those with legal background to oppose Raila’s position on a number of issues. They call themselves intellectuals.
At the centre of the row is Raila’s decision to work with President Kenyatta.
The clearest and most recent sign of trouble between Orengo and Raila was the controversial vote in Parliament on Uhuru’s Finance Bill that imposed an eight percent VAT on fuel and other taxes.
While Raila rallied his troops to support Uhuru’s tax increases, Orengo rubbished the proposal and urged the National Assembly to reject the presidential memorandum. In was adopted after tumultuous sessions on September 21.
On Orengo’s side are MPs Otiende Amolo (Rarieda), Paul Abuor (Rongo), Peter Kaluma (Homa Bay), TJ Kajwang (Ruaraka), Millie Odhiambo (Suba North), Martin Owino (Ndhiwa), Mark Nyamita (Uriri) and Women Representative Dr Pamela Odhiambo (Migori).
Also siding with Orengo is ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna.
The Orengo group is facing off with a group that takes marching orders directly from Raila and Joho, the ODM deputy party leader.
They include ODM chairman John Mbadi (Suba South), Junet Mohamed (Suna East), Woman Representative Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay), Peter Masara (Suna West), Tom Odege (Nyatike), Jared Okello (Nyando), Woman Rep Rosa Buyu (Kisumu), Samuel Atandi (Alego Usonga) and nominated Senator Rose Nyamunga.
Asked yesterday about the existence of camps and factions, Junet said, “I do not know.”
The Orengo group opposed the Finance Bill in the House, despite an earlier party meeting that agreed ODM lawmakers would support it.
Soon after the acrimonious vote in Parliament, MPs Otiende Amolo, Abuor and Kaluma, among others, took to social media, saying they didn’t toe the party line but voted with their conscience.
“President Uhuru’s memo on [lowering to eight per dent] the 16 per cent VAT is subterfuge and diversion. We need to reject the 16 per cent VAT and discuss other ameliorating mechanisms later. Let each MP stand up and be counted!” Otiende said.
In another signal that fraying party unity was getting out of hand, Raila’s spokesman, Dennis Onyango, urged Otiende to resign from ODM.
“I think you should go a step further and resign from the party and seek a fresh mandate since your views are no longer consistent with those of the party. That would make you truly honourable,” Onyango told the Rarieda lawmaker.
He went on, “If you choose to live by principles, you go whole hog.
It is not conning. Taxation and budget are serious policy matters. If you don’t agree with your party on those two fundamental issues, you should not continue being in the party.”
But Otiende took on the challenge and asked Onyango to write to him formally requesting his resignation, and then he would do so.
Soon after the passage of the Finance Bill, ODM secretary general Sifuna hit the ground, condemning it.
He told journalists later that supporting the Bill was not an ODM position and instead referred the section of the media that needed clarification to the the head of the Nasa secretariat, Norman Magaya.
Raila, on the other hand, thanked those who stood with the party and supported the taxation Bill.
He has since explained in various forums that support for the Bill was dependent on certain conditions, including a vigorous war on corruption, repatriation of stolen public funds and property and reducing government waste.
The two ODM camps also have figured in the just-concluded Migori senatorial campaigns. The by-election is today.
Last weekend, Orengo led his team to Migori to campaign for the ODM candidate, Ochilo Ayacko.
Migori MPs kept off, except for Dr Odhiambo and Abuor.
The problem of the two factions was discussed extensively at ODM’s Central Management Committee meeting two weeks ago. At that time Sifuna was at pains to explain that he was only opposed to the process through which the Bill passed in the House — arranging lack of quorum — and not the Bill itself.
Raila is expected an informal gathering of Luo MPs to iron out the differences but he is said to be fully aware of what is at play and who is behind it.
The Bill is said to have merely been a trigger for Orengo — who remains bitter that Raila sealed the deal with President Kenyatta without involving him and appears to be relying on junior MPs for advice.
A contest between the two preeminent Luo leaders, Raila and Orengo, has happened before.
The first major rift was in 1994, soon after the death of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, when a contest erupted over the leadership of Ford Kenya.
At the time of Jaramogi’s death, Orengo was the chairman of Ford Kenya and the undisputed leader of the Luo community. Raila held a junior position of deputy director of elections.
Nyatieng, as Orengo is commonly known, made no secret of his intention to take over the leadership of Ford Kenya and that of the Luo community.
In that contest, Orengo sided with Vice President Wamalwa Kijana.
Raila was later to leave Ford Kenya and formed the National Development Party, which swept the Nyanza parliamentary seats in 1997 — consigning Orengo and Anyang’ Nyong’o to the cold for five years.
The other time was in 2002 when Raila threw his weight behind former President Mwai Kibaki.
At that time, Orengo broke ranks with Raila, ran for President and lost.
However, Orengo was later to become one of Raila’s trusted lieutenants.
Last year, he led a battery of lawyers that secured Nasa’s initial victory at the Supreme Court when, in an unprecedented decision, it nullified Uhuru’s election victory on August 8 last year.
In more recent developments, Orengo was vociferous in opposing the Raila-Uhuru cooperation pact. Orengo also defied Raila’s warning against toppling Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula as Senate Minority leader and destabilising ODM’s base in Bungoma.
Orengo went ahead and now himself is Senate Minority leader. Wetang’ula swore revenge.