Sunday, May 25, 2008



By Jerry Okungu

I don’t claim to know Mheshimiwa Ababu Namwamba that personally, but I have read a lot of his political commentaries in the local press in the last five years. The last major theatrical show he put up inside parliament on the day of the grand opening was spectacular and superbly entertaining. I watched it live from my hotel room on CNN in Maputo.

Ababu Namwamba badly needs to cut his teeth pretty early as a fearless democrat in the ninth parliament. To achieve this fete, he has set his eyes beyond the Orange Democratic Movement, the party that took him to parliament. He is busy reaching out to PNU, NARC Kenya, ODM Kenya, KADDU and any other MP that will care to listen to him. He is craving for a grand opposition in parliament along the lines of the grand coalition that has been put together between PNU affiliate parties and Raila Odinga’s ODM.

To achieve his goal, as much as he is prepared to step on every one’s toe that may stand in his way, he has enlisted the support of Cyrus Jirongo of KADDU, Isaac Ruto of ODM, Franklin Bett of ODM and possibly Kiema Kilonzo of ODM Kenya; even though Kilonzo has gone rather quiet of late. In his earlier crusade, he significantly convinced Millicent Odhiambo, an ODM nominated MP to support his cause.

Personally I see nothing wrong with what Ababu Namwamba is doing. Being a politician, there are certain political paths an individual MP is allowed by law and conscience to pursue. One such path is independence of thought, conviction and the pursuit of democratic space in the attainment of a transparent and a just society. In so doing, one is bound to annoy, disobey and even step on other people’s toes.

However, this kind of behavior can only apply in a truly democratic society. It could never happen in Communist Russia, Nyerere’s CCM, Communist China, Moi or Kenyatta’s one party era. Such blatant disregard for authority in the party would have earned him several severe punishments that would include immediate expulsion from the party and parliament.

Now that Ababu Namwamba has chosen the path of confrontational politics right inside his ODM party, what are the likely repucations or backlashes against him? Can he go against the wishes of his party leaders and still survive much longer as a politician?

There are several factors that will determine Namwamba’s failure or success in his current calling. One such factor will depend on his personal popularity back in his constituency. In other words; did the legislator win the election on his own right or did he ride on the popularity of the ODM party that was sweeping across Western and Nyanza provinces? Did he ride on the backs of Raila Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi and Chris Okemo to win the seat or, could he have done it even as an independent candidate?

Ababu Namwamba reminds me of tragic heroes I have read in William Shakespeare’s plays. In Shakespearean writings, I am reminded of Othello, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar among others. On the African scene, Achebe’s Okonkwo and Ngugi’s Mugo are classic examples of tragic heroes.

They are characters that are headstrong, forceful, pay no attention to other people’s opinion but most of all; are one track-minded in such a way that they are blind to every alternative thought. They get destroyed by their own folly.

If Ababu Namwamba were to come from Nyanza Province, more so Luo Nyanza, I would have invoked for him living examples that have in the past crossed swords with Raila Odinga on the political platform and lived to regret it. Such examples are Joe Donde of Gem, Shem Ochuodho of Rangue, Raphael Tuju of Rarieda, Oloo Aringo of Alego, James Orengo of Ugenya and Anyang Nyong’o of Kisumu East. Others include Otieno Kopiyo of Kasipul Kabondo, Odongo Omamo in Bondo, Dalmas Otieno in Rongo and Dennis Akumu in Nyakach.

These were worthy politicians in their own rights and achievements. They could hold their grounds anywhere locally and internationally.
One only remembers too well when Raila Odinga’s NDP merged with KANU in March 2002 prompting the entire NDP parliamentarians to join the government side in parliament. The only dissenting voice was Dr. Shem Ochuodho of Rangwe who remained seated in the opposition side alongside Kibaki’s official opposition. When the elections came, it didn’t matter that Raila Odinga had joined Kibaki in opposing KANU in the 2002 general elections. Ochuodho was a marked man in Nyanza. Six years down the line, Ochuodho’s political star continues to dim with each passing day.

The only possible reason Ababu Namwamba may survive the onslaught and even squeeze a compromise rather than punishment from Raila is because everything political in Kenya is rather shaky for everybody for now. The coalition is not working as well as envisaged. More importantly, the discontent in Rift Valley for reasons that are obvious to Raila Odinga may force the Prime Minister to tread carefully especially with MPs that have no tribal allegiance to him. Ababu may just invoke the tribal factor and get all Luhyas singing behind him. He may just be the messiah the Luhyas like Jirongo, Kombo and other disgruntled Luhya politicians were waiting for.

Having said that; there is something in Raila Amolo Odinga, which Ababu Namwamba and other ODM rebels may need to know; that Raila Odinga is at his best when faced with a political crisis. Like he always says; never mistake a lion that has been rained on for a cat!

The other reason that may make Ababu Namwamba a tragic hero is because he seems to have been pushed to the forefront by people who have nothing to lose because they have been losers before. The likes of Jirongo, Isaac Ruto and Franklin Bett may be in parliament today by default when in actual sense of the word; they cannot be politicians of substance without god- fathers. These politicians are adept at wheeler- dealing, arm-twisting and blackmailing. That is how Moi brought them up.

They know they cannot convince a single legislator outside or inside parliament; the more reason they have zeroed in on the innocent and more credible Ababu Namwamba.
What I can guarantee Namwamba is that if today Kibaki and Raila woke up to reshuffle the cabinet and included Jirongo and Isaac Ruto in the new lineup, they would deny him three times before the cock crows!