The recent appointment of Rongo MP Dalmas Anyango Otieno by President Uhuru Kenyatta as envoy to the ongoing South Sudan peace talks has left many guessing over its possible political significance.
Coming in the wake of the former Cabinet minister’s open defiance and stinging attacks on his ODM party leader Raila Odinga, the timing of Otieno’s appointment could not have been more suspect. Some political pundits view the development as a reward to Otieno — who boldly stood up against Raila, probably Uhuru’s sole formidable political rival — after quitting in a huff from the ODM party race.
In doing so, Otieno criticised the “party’s leadership” (a euphemism for Raila) of intolerance and dictatorial tendencies. While the timing of Uhuru’s gesture in appointing Otieno points to a possible infiltration of Jubilee into the Orange party internal affairs, it is also possible that the President identified Otieno on the simple account of his personal diplomatic skills. Political turncoat Yet, still there are those who view Otieno as a political turncoat who “after all has always been a Kanu man”.
This last assertion points to the fact the former Cabinet minister and the President share a political bond as products of the independence party. But the appointment of this so-called ODM rebel would appear to be part of a wider political strategy by the President, who has lately re-ignited the old Kanu networks with the purpose of consolidating his political constituency across the country. Luo Nyanza region, where the President including his predecessor Mwai Kibaki, hardly enjoy any meaningful support, is obviously a strategic starting point. Besides Otieno, Kenyatta has also appointed former Siaya District Kanu chairman Edwin Yinda as chairman of Kenya Films Board.
For a long time, Otieno and Yinda were faces of Kanu in the hostile Luo Nyanza opposition zone. Otieno is a long serving Kanu legislator and minister in the former President Moi government who was also nominated to the Ninth Parliament by the then Kanu boss, Uhuru. Noting that “Dalmas has been around for far too long”, Suna East Member of Parliament Junnet Mohammed feels that his Rongo counterpart should now exit the political scene to give room to fresh leadership devoid of the “Kanu mentality”.
Junnet is among legislators who maintain Otieno was a Kanu man from the word go and no amount of persuasion, including rewards by Raila, would change this fact. Indeed, the late Internal Security assistant minister Joshua Orwa Ojode went to his grave blaming the former PM of sidelining him and instead rewarding the “Kanu man” with a full Cabinet position. Just like Otieno, Ojode hailed from South Nyanza. Otieno has kept his cool all this time with the allegation of him being a “Kanu mole in ODM” flying around his face. However, he maintains he chose to be honest with Raila to correct ills in the party and help him manage it better.
Machakos County Senator Johnstone Muthama views some of the appointments as deliberately geared at infiltrating and undermining CORD, the official Opposition. “He is now appointing members of our coalition without consulting our leaders,” reacts Muthama in reference to the appointment of Otieno.
The senator argues: “When he himself was Leader of Official Opposition in the Ninth Parliament, he protested bitterly when President Kibaki appointed the late Njenga Karume (of Kanu party, of which Uhuru was chairman) to his Cabinet. What has since changed?” On their part, Jubilee leaders accuse their rivals of whining “over everything including our own strategies”.
“This is politics and instead of complaining about ours, they should design their own strategies to improve their political standing,” National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale told The Standard on Sunday. Last week, Duale similarly dismissed claims by ODM that the ruling coalition had infiltrated the Orange party’s electioneering process. The Garissa Town MP stated that Jubilee had no business getting involved in ODM affairs “because we would be getting into a sinking ship”.
Duale’s reaction notwithstanding, the President seems actively involved on the ground. Besides targeting Nyanza, the former Kanu leader is keen on regaining control of the independence party’s former strongholds of Ukambani, northern Kenya and Coastal regions. Courtesy of strong marshalling from the late Mulu Mutisya, the self-styled King of Ukambani and Coastal kingpin the late Sharrif Nassir, these regions voted overwhelmingly for successive Kanu governments.
Dangerous foray Muthama believes Jubilee is trying to win back these regions, which solidly voted for CORD presidential candidate, Raila and his running mate former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka in the last general elections. His anger, though, is that Jubilee is going about it dangerously. “Jubilee’s top leadership is now inciting some first-term MPs from Ukambani into giving ultimatums to Wiper party leader and the former VP to disengage from Raila and run for the presidency or risk being deserted by the people of Ukambani. This is a deliberate ploy, whose aim is to give Uhuru a political foothold in the region,” claims Muthama. The politician also claims Uhuru’s strategists are behind the push by coastal region politicians to disengage from CORD and form their own political outfit. Incidentally, Kilifi North MP Gideon Mung’aro, who is CORD’s Chief Whip in the National Assembly, is the face of the current crusade.