Tuesday, October 7, 2008



October 7,2008
By Standard Team
Nairobi, Kenya

If politics moves in slow but inevitable cycles, then nationalistic, radical and profession-driven politicians are in a deep and irreversible recession in Kenya.

In a major shift, radical, clear-minded politicians who also doubled as professionals are losing out to those who stand for little and seem to care less for the nation.

The re-introduction of competitive politics in 1992 saw what looked like a particularly gifted and nationalistic group of politicians with outstanding clarity on issues join Parliament.

Ford Kenya, led by the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, brought to the House a team of ideology-driven politicians who also doubled as scholars and respected professionals hell bent on reforms.

From Central Province, Mr Mwai Kibaki, then leader of the Democratic Party, strode to Parliament with a group of MPs who looked single mindedly focused on the economy. MPs Silas Ita, David Mwiraria and Matere Keriri established themselves as alternative voices on matters of economy.

Back then, Central and Nyanza provinces were never short of firebrand politicians who highlighted national issues and kept the Government on its toes. The regions produced leaders whose agenda resonated with the entire nation, not their tribes.

Radical politicians

Central produced the likes of Wanyiri Kihoro, Paul Muite, Njeru Kathangu, Njehu Gatabaki, Stephen Ndichu, David Murathe, Mwangi Githiomi, and Thirikwa Kamau. Some of these were not in DP.

They would meet their match in Jaramogi’s team including Oki Ooko Ombaka, Anyang’ Nyong’o, Wangari Maathai, Raila Odinga, James Orengo, Joseph Ouma Muga, Omolo Opere, Gitobu Imanyara, Kiraitu Murungi, Rashid Mzee, Wamalwa Kijana and Lawrence Sifuna. There was George Anyona who represented Kitutu Masaba on a Kenya Social Congress party, but worked closely with the radical politicians.

While these firebrands who appeared nationalistic in their worldview may not necessarily have been effective at the constituency, they raised the level of debate in the House and clarified national issues.

Downward spiral

But since 1992 elections, Kenya’s politics has been on a downward spiral. The regions that were famous for MPs with a national outlook now have minnows barely known beyond their constituencies, some barely able to pursue a debate in Parliament.

Nearly all the proponents of pluralism from Mt Kenya region who made it to Parliament in 1992 have been phased out except Ministers Martha Karua and Mr Kiraitu Murungi. Mr Imanyara also made it back this year after serving a term out.

Some of the firebrands lost because of the need for change while tycoons who bought their way into Parliament edged others out. Some of those pushed out were outspoken during the repressive Kanu regime. They carried the spirit of defiance into the Narc regime and were seen as sources of trouble for President Kibaki, hence their rejection.

As politics becomes money oriented, the politicians who relied on their oratory skills have found themselves shoved aside by lackluster moneyed men and women.

In the 2007 polls, Maragwa MP Elias Mbau was the only backbencher from Central Province who retained his seat. In Central, Karua cuts the image of being the last radical standing, but she has lost the ties radicals from this region had with their counterparts from Nyanza.

The same change has happened in Nyanza, where only Mbita MP Otieno Kajwang’, Raila, Nyong’o and Ugenya’s James Orengo are in the House. Raila, however, is a Nairobi MP, though he controls Nyanza politics. Mr Orengo made a return after a term out.

Mr Kajwang’ has largely gone quiet, as Nyanza and national politics go mute while Orengo is struggling to balance between his radical self and the mute national politics. For Kajwang’ and Orengo, the dilemma is compounded by the fact that they are in the Cabinet. The turnover is high in Nyanza and Central provinces and there is no telling who will make it to the 11th Parliament among the MPs.

Radical, some say ideology-driven politics, propelled Mr Anyona to three easy victories. Anyona, who died in 2003, joined Jaramogi and pushed Kanu for reforms in the 1980s. When he was detained, he passed the mantle to Mr Abuya Abuya, who joined others and kept the push for change going while Jaramogi and Anyona remained under State supervision.

Kisii has never produced an MP to match Anyona.

"Anyona was a politician in his own class and at that time, his kind of politics was necessary," said his successor, Mr Walter Nyambati.

Assistant Minister Omingo Magara says Anyona and his likes remained relevant because they championed the interests of the silent majority.

"By then, it needed tough skinned politicians to stand up and tell off the single party and dictatorial Kanu regime," said Magara.

But he says that brand of politics now "has no place since there is adequate freedom".

Cabinet Minister Sam Ongeri said the Kisii community identified with Anyona because of what he stood for.

Lost value

"When you speak out for the masses and you prove your commitment to their cause, the common man will definitely follow you," says Ongeri.

He says political radicalism has since lost value because of the reforms that have been put in place. Still, most of the MPs from the last elections are rarely clear on national issues.

In Central, it is difficult to get the MPs to comment even on matters affecting their constituencies. Majority of the new MPs are not even known beyond their constituencies.

In one case, it was reported that some two legislators sent their personal assistants to represent them in an MPs’ induction course at the beginning of the year.