Date: 12 May 2017 17:56
On Saturday, April 29, Machakos Senator Johnson Muthama’s aide sent a text message to reporters calling for a press conference the following day at his private office in Gigiri, Nairobi.
“Senator Muthama,’’ the message said, “has taken an unprecedented position regarding his candidature for senator in the forthcoming elections.’’
On the appointed day, another text was sent early in the morning cancelling the event and advising that there would be further communication.
That came nearly a week later on May 8 when Mr Muthama announced that he had quit Wiper and that he will not defend his Senate seat.
The move was a culmination of a struggle in the party that threatens its hold on the Ukambani region and with it the National Super Alliance (Nasa’s) fortunes in the August election.
The troubles in Nasa presidential running mate Kalonzo Musyoka’s party also have the potential to give Jubilee a foothold in his eastern stronghold.
Although Mr Musyoka has blamed the ruling party Jubilee for enticing Wiper MPs to defect, accusations of favouritism and even nepotism are featuring prominently in the wrangling.
Wiper party has gone through three phases of wrangling and defections since the 2013 General Election.
First was Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua, who rebelled and later formed his own Maendeleo Chap Chap party, then followed the rebellion by six MPs – Joe Mutambu (Mwingi Central), John Munuve (Mwingi North), Richard Makenga (Kaiti), Regina Ndambuki (Kilome) and Kisoi Munyao (Mbooni), all who defected to Jubilee.
Mr Musyoka accuses Jubilee of influencing the defections to undermine him and he has vowed to teach the rebels a lesson on August 8.
But it is his latest fallout with party founders David Musila, the national chairman, and Mr Muthama, a self-declared key financier that must be giving him the most headache as it has served to embolden the rebels.
Both Mr Musila and Mr Muthama started having problems with Mr Musyoka as the Nasa principals lobbied for the presidential ticket.
Mr Musila, Mr Muthama and their Makueni counterpart Mutula Kilonzo Junior, seemed ready to accept a Nasa candidate who would guarantee victory and not necessarily their party boss.
But Kalonzo’s diehard supporters in Wiper, led by Minority Leader in the National Assembly Francis Nyenze, threatened that he will leave Nasa and contest on his own if he is not picked as the candidate.
Worried that the Wiper leader might just do that, the three senators warned that he would be on a highway to political oblivion if he did that because he will face a major rebellion in Ukambani.
It is at this time that Mr Musyoka seemed to have doubted the loyalty of these three pillars of his party and moved to shore up his support in the region.
This he did by bringing into the Wiper fold other leaders like former Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu of Narc, Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana of Muungano party, former MPs Ms Wavinya Ndeti of Chama Cha Uzalendo and Mutua Katuku of Peoples Trust Party.
Governor Kibwana alongside another newcomer, former Garissa Town MP Farah Maalim, became deputy party leaders and, therefore, some ranks above Mr Muthama in party hierarchy.
However, the challenge for Mr Musyoka was that the two senators had major interests in the three Ukambani counties governor positions.
Mr Musila wanted to run in Kitui against Mr Musyoka’s favourite Julius Malombe, the incumbent, while Mr Muthama had allies he supported, deputy governor Bernard Kiala in Machakos and real estate mogul David Masika in Makueni.
It is their loss to Kalonzo’s allies – Dr Malombe, Prof Kibwana and Ms Ndeti – that triggered their acrimonious exit from the party with Mr Musila resigning to run as an independent candidate.
Now as the countdown to August 8 gathers speed, the turmoil in Wiper is a major headache for Nasa.
When Mr Muthama cancelled his initial press conference, sources said he did so at the behest of Nasa leader Raila Odinga.
Apparently, the Machakos senator’s “unprecedented position’’ involved not just quitting Wiper but defecting to Mr Odinga’s ODM.
This unsettled Mr Odinga because the friction it was certain to create with Mr Musyoka, his running mate, would cause more divisions in the Nasa fold. Raila, the sources said, advised Mr Muthama to reconsider the move.
When he finally quit, Mr Muthama did not join ODM but instead vowed he would campaign for Mr Odinga only in the region, not Wiper candidates.
Even if Nasa ends up carrying most of the presidential votes in Ukambani, this turmoil may lead to Wiper losing seats at the county and parliamentary levels.
That the exit of Mr Musyoka’s staunchest political allies for many years is a big blow was evident on Thursday when Wiper held its National Executive Council meeting to consider replacements.
Mr Musyoka now faces the daunting task of restoring harmony in his political backyard and ward off stiff challenge from rival Jubilee party that has been emboldened by the Wiper disunity.
According to Kitui Woman Representative aspirant Jane Kibati, there is real prospect of Wiper losing many parliamentary and governor seats in Ukambani and hence affect the overall performance of Nasa.
“The consequence of the bungled primaries is that we are staring at the possibility of Ukambani region moving from being a Nasa stronghold to a battleground with Jubilee party,” said Mrs Kibati, who lost the Woman rep position in the disputed nominations and will vie as an independent candidate.
Across the political divide, Jubilee campaigners who mostly defected from Wiper after similar fallouts now appear like “political saints” and are buoyed up in efforts to retain their seats.
In the eyes of Ukambani voters, the Jubilee leaning MPs have been politically vindicated by the resignation of senior Wiper officials and are now bragging that they were right in quitting the party two years ago.
“People thought we were being selfish and ungrateful to the party that sponsored our election in 2013, but now the whole country can see how even those we thought were party owners being hounded out,” said Mr Joe Mutambu of Mwingi Central.
Efforts to reconcile Mr Musyoka and the two senators seemed to have hit a dead end, after the party nominated Jackson Kalla to run for senator but sources intimated that Mr Musyoka has not given up mending fences with them.
“The push is to have Mr Musila prevailed upon to drop his gubernatorial bid with a promise of appointment as Cabinet Secretary if Nasa wins the elections” said the source.
However, the Kitui senator has rejected the offer and maintained that he will be on the ballot and that he was confident of beating incumbent Julius Malombe.
The senator is capable of getting votes from across the county and if he manages to rally his stronghold of Mwingi Central, Mwingi West and Mwingi North behind him, he can spring a major surprise and embarrass his former party.
But Governor Kibwana accused Mr Muthama of blackmailing Kalonzo with unreasonable demands and attempts to manipulate elections through proxies.
In a hard-hitting open letter posted on his Facebook account, Prof Kibwana challenged the Machakos Senator to swallow his pride and appreciate that there can only be one party leader by showing Mr Musyoka respect.
“I understand you desired to be Governor of Machakos through Mr Kiala. I would imagine if you had by now attained the academic qualifications required of a governor candidate, you would have been the candidate yourself," Prof Kibwana said.
Prof Kibwana blamed Mr Muthama for the party’s dismal performance in Ukambani in the last elections saying he was unhappy because the party had attracted fresh talent that made his style of operation irrelevant.
“Senator Muthama kept asking all small parties in Ukambani to fold up and join Wiper for the community to speak with one voice, why then is he running away after we agreed to his demands” he said.
He said in 2013 Wiper lost five of the eight parliamentary seats in Ukambani to small parties because Muthama imposed his own set of candidates who were rejected by people.
It is clear that both sides have dug in their positions and unless some middle ground is reached, there will be anxious moments in Nasa on August 8 after voting stops and counting starts.