Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Of campus politicians and National politics

After several months off my blog, I have decided to re-engage it with a piece, which was supposed to be titled “Of Campus politics and National Politicians,” but I changed it to “Of campus politicians and National Politics.

A good number of the people who have shaped Main stream politics in Kenya are those who were also part of University student leadership back in their days. From the ‘greats’ like James Orengo, Mwandawiro Mghanga, Wafula Buke, Kabando wa Kabando, Oduor Ong’wen among others who in their days opposed the KANU dictatorship, to the likes of Isaac Ruto who supported (and were supported) by the dictatorship then….…to the younger entrants led by the likes of Omar Hassan who have been on the progressive side.
But perhaps a more interesting development is shaping itself, quietly, as if ushering a new epoch in the mainstream politics of this country. What I would call my university generation is now playing a mainstream role in the National Politics barely five years after graduating.
Unlike in the recent past where former student politicians became Personal Assistants of ordinary politicians, or when they became youth wingers in Political Parties where they did not have any major say;
This time round, a few of these around-thirty-and-below are now playing non-periphery roles in the Kenya’s mainstream politics. Not that their intentions are necessarily good, but, they are still there.
I know that there could be more out there (especially from the other institutions), but I thought I’d highlight a few of them, those whom I had some interactions with in Campus, how my interactions with them back were then, and what they are doing now.
.(This is more of a journalistic piece, with a short conclusion that foresees bringing out and sharpening contradictions in Kenya’s political sphere)

Lydia Mathia-
A performing poet, Mathia had worked with the Youth Agenda for some time, before she was later unveiled at Uhuru Kenyatta’s TNA Party launch at KICC, as the Secretary for Gender. She was my year-mate at the UoN, where she began her politics at the Hall representative level, latter vying unsuccessfully for the position of Vice Chair SONU. She finally vied for and became the Secretary General of Women Students Welfare Association (WOSWA)
In the ups and downs of fate, she was nominated by TNA for the Senate, her name appearing in the top five positions on TNA’s list, meaning that she was quite sure that she would be part of the next Senate. This was not to be. The IEBC strangely(and illicitly) decided to nominate and gazette other people whose names were lower in the list.

Dann Mwangi
We had heard about each other when we were both in our freshman year: -
He had heard about a first year who had declared intentions of vying for SONU chair, later changing to Secretary Health, and eventually being disqualified by the then overseer of the elections, Professor Peter Wanyande (an action that ended up violently and with some arrests.)
I had heard about this student who had led his fellow first year students in a demonstration outside the Vice chancellor’s office, demanding for a congress position for law students staying in Lower Kabete Campus, which had been scrapped by those overseeing the elections (leading such a demo was extremely courageous, given that the Vice Chancellor, Prof. George Magoha, was a feared man)………of course, the VC never gave them a hearing, he just sent an employee who told the students to go back to their college and even offered them a bus, failure to which they would all be expelled from the university. They complied.
We would meet for the first time the following year, when he was vying for Secretary legal affairs and I for the OS position. The elections were badly rigged, and most of the winners, including myself were rigged out. Dann Mwangi earned our respect for fighting alongside us against the injustice in a fight that brought about a lot of tension in the university; this was in spite of him having won the Legal Affairs seat.
He would later vie and clinch the SONU chair’s seat, where he led one of the biggest students’ Demonstrations in recent history, against the assassinations of Oulu GPO and Oscar King’ara.
His political opinion pieces frequently appear on the major National Newspapers, and he is slowly becoming heavy weight in the Political commentary circle,,,even though his commentaries during the campaign period became clearly pro-Uhuru.

Aol Paul
Aol was a very bright law student and the sharpest student leader that I interacted with during my campus days. His understanding of legal processes, still while in campus was deep, and he knew how to present his opinion in a powerful manner. He also served as a legal affairs Secretary, and I interacted with him more during a review process for the SONU constitution (where surprisingly, the VC himself had asked that I be included in the process, despite myself not holding any official political position and despite our opinions having clashed severally in the past)
He now works with Evans Kidero, the Governor of Nairobi, where he holds the gate-pass to the access of the Nairobi Governor. He worked as Kidero’s Personal Assistant, and later led the Evans Kidero’s Campaign team as the team’s Secretary, where they emerged victorious in the murky, tribal and expensive Nairobi Governor politics.
He also managed to pull in James ‘Woodboy’ Mwangi-who served with him in the same SONU as the Secretary Sports and Entertainment- into Kidero’s team. Woodboy was in charge of Youth and Sports in the Campaign team, and he also did most of the design works for Kidero’s Campaigns. The name Woodboy stuck when we were in first year and he had vied for the main campus’ wooden Prefabs halls. During his campaigns, he had promised to organize an inter-prefabs football tournament, and i got to know him better when I helped him organize the tournament, a period when he would first publicly express his interests in the field of Sports.

Nixon Korir
Nixon Korir was two years behind me in college, where he pursued a degree in Law. He later became the Secretary General of SONU, where I briefly worked with him and his Chair-David Osiany when we were demanding for the reinstatement of Kenyatta University student leaders who had been expelled for protesting and organizing demos against their Varsity administration. He is now the Executive-Director of the United Republican Party (URP). He vied for Lang’ata parliamentary position, but he was not successful.
 His influence within the Party was seen when Lang’ata constituency was initially zoned-off for URP within the Jubilee coalition in a move that would have almost confirmed his winning of the seat. The idea was later abandoned.
The fact that he was not nominated into parliament probably signals a top government posting in the Uhuru-Ruto government.

Martha Wangari
Martha was two years ahead of me, and my first interaction with her was on a wrong footing. She was vying for the Vice Chairperson SONU position, and I supported her opponent from Kikuyu campus, despite the fact that she and I came from same campus, Chiromo. She went ahead to win the elections, which meant that she would automatically become a commissioner in the next elections (a very absurd rule it was!), an election where I became a candidate. I knew I was in trouble when I learnt that she still remembered my not supporting her, given that I had fallen off with most of the would be commissioners, and more so given the fact that I had witnessed brazen rigging by the commissioners in the previous elections (where I was an agent for
Adhiambo Adhiambo-Secretary General and Joseph Adinda-Secretary Sports----both of whom cut off their contact with me immediately they won. Typical Kenyan politicians!), but we would later find some truce.
From that year when she won the position, beating other male opponents, the seat of Vice Chair-Academic Affairs has been held by female students ever since. In fact, some future students would come to believe that the seat was constitutionally reserved for women.
She is now a Nominated Senator, and her weight was became evident when she was nominated for the only senate seat awarded to her Party, the United Democratic Front (UDF), where she holds the position of UDF Party Treasurer.

Dr. Boniface Chitayi
Dr. Chitayi is one of the few people whose politics I’ve always considered progressive among the crop of student leaders of my generation; I have respected his politics a great deal. Though he served in a SONU characterized by kick backs, tribalism and corruption, I was never aware of him engaging in such.
He may not be the greatest orator, but when it comes to organizing people, coming up with ideas and implementing them, creating and maintaining networks, taking bold stands, and obeying the rule of democratic centralism in an organization, he is one of the best.
Despite being a Luhya, which meant fewer numbers in the highly tribal campus politics, Chitayi had always won with landslide margins from the time he vied to be a Campus representative to when he vied for Secretary Health position in SONU. Even though he never won in his last try when he vied against Dann Mwangi for the Chairman’s position, he still retained a lot of respect especially among the medic students. During the campaigns, I would on a few occasions meet him in his SR room where we would discuss the future of student politics (all student leaders and highly political students used to stay in these SR&QR rooms; I had always turned down offers for those rooms since I felt that they were too big and too lonely) and even though I had boycotted the elections following our call of No Reforms No Elections, I towards the end asked those who still insisted on voting that they’d rather vote for Boniface Chitayi for the chairmanship of the Union. I knew that he was genuine.
Chitayi’s organizational skills would be seen two years later, when he, together with other Medics formed the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), a militant and parallel doctors’ Union which is credited with inspiring young workers from other sectors to either be active in Union politics, form Unions where there were none, or form parallel but genuine Unions to fight for their rights.
Under Chitayi’s leadership, the Union’s first major campaign was not just to demand for a pay rise, but also for radical improvement of government health facilities throughout the country, and the progressive realization of the African Union’s Abuja Declaration on Health. The Union would later organize one of the most successful doctors’ strikes in the country, which ended with the government coming up with a paper on how it would improve its health facilities, and the young doctors winning a 100% pay rise, the highest awarded to any Union in Kenya’s recent History, but that was after being conned, threatened and cajoled by ironically, the then Minister Professor Anyang’ Nyong’o, a former Marxist who now claims to be a Social Democrat (was in fact a former Secretary General of the Social Democratic Party!)
With this first experience, the Union would continue to successfully keep the Government on its toes, threatening further strikes and at times making good their threats.
But Chitayi’s role as the Secretary General of the Union would come to an end, after he was approached by TNA party to come up with a health policy that would be included in the party’s manifesto, and was unveiled as TNA Party’s Secretary for Health, indicating that, should TNA win, then he would be made the Cabinet Secretary for health. The social media was awash with demands for his resignation on one side and congratulatory messages on the other, with those demonizing the move seeming to have taken the day.
In as much as I personally didn’t agree at all with the Party that he had chosen, I totally disagreed with those who bayed for his blood for openly participating in politics (which was their main reason). I would have preferred that the debate revolved around which Party the Union should support, rather than the COTU-style stand where Trade Unions and Unionists do not participate in mainstream politics, and just leaving their members to vote for whomever, irrespective of their policies on Workers, working conditions etc.
In order to avoid further internal conflicts within the Union, Chitayi chose to step aside as the Secretary General of the Union.
In as much as KMPDU’s Chairperson and Treasurer are both excellent speakers, I still felt that the young Union had lost the best Secretary General who could organize and lead the Union especially at their formative stage, though I understand that he still served in its National Executive Council as a member.
It will be interesting to see how TNA will treat him now that they are forming the government.

Johnson Sakaja
Campus politics is pretty expensive. One has to chuck posters, move between the seven campuses….and it is at that point that aspiring student leaders organize along their tribes so as to fundraise amongst their tribes men, and also so as to ensure that each tribe(or a combination of tribes) produces one candidate so as to beat the other candidates from other tribes. The worst culprits were the Kikuyu and the Luo. Classical tribalism.
But in Chiromo campus, things were organized along the same idea, but in a different way. Aspirants from the campus would meet, so as to produce a single candidate for any of the executive positions, so as to beat candidates from other campuses, and also so as to trade empty positions with aspirants from other campuses in exchange for their support. An equivalent for regionalism.
So I remember attending the first Chiromo meeting, where I first met Sakaja, who was introduced to the meeting as a “…person with big connections out there, who, once we agreed on a line up, would mobilize enough funds for the final lineup..” He was vying to become the first Module two representative, which was a newly created executive position. I never got to see the funds, leave alone the “enough funds,” but he went ahead and won, and just like Dann Mwangi, he also showed a lot of solidarity with those who had been rigged out in those elections.
We then encountered each other was during the 2007 Kibaki campaigns where we were on opposing sides.
Two years later, I would meet his name in the list of individuals who had connived with the registrar of Political Parties to illegally impose themselves as leaders of the Social Democratic Party. They were led by Kibaki men who included Mutahi Kagwe, Njeru Ndwiga and Mutua Katuku. His name was appearing alongside the three in the National Executive Committee.
Of course, they had invaded the wrong Party with ‘tough-skinned, clear-headed Communists’………and they eventually had to run, run very fast.
It seems like they all ran in different directions, with Kagwe running to Ngilu’s NARC, Katuku to WDM-K, and him coming out as the Chairman of Uhuru’s TNA.
As we neared the elections, I knew that ODM Party, which was the biggest and the most popular Party would face their toughest race, given that the young sharp Sakaja (now with Uhuru’s Billions at his disposal) was going ahead and including young people in the top leadership of their campaign team, while ODM’s Henry Kosgei and his team preferred working with the likes of Franklin Bett, with the young maintained mostly in the rank and file positions.
It was incredible watching the two Right Wing Parties (and later coalitions), with budgets running into Billions, the capitalist media fully behind them and the tribal and regional mathematics carefully calculated, fighting for Wanjiku’s votes. It seemed like the CORD coalition team was caught flat foot, as if thinking that they were campaign against President Kibaki (whose 07’ campaign team was lousy and heavily bureaucratic). While ODM chose to re-use propaganda and lies from the past about prophecies and such, Jubilee’s propaganda and lies attacked everything, not even sparing the PM’s wife. While CORD was majoring on Citizen TV and radio stations, Jubilee was not only using its newly bought Mediamax outlets, but had a much stronger multi facetted presence on the internet and Social media. It wasn’t until later when CORD created the youthful CORD-effect team, that their propaganda and lies began equaling that of Jubilee, finally and ineffectively surpassing that of the Jubilee team after the elections (during the petition.)
Sakaja is now a nominated Member of the National Assembly, though many had thought he’d be given a cabinet Secretary position------an indication that Uhuru Kenyatta doesn’t want to lose him as the Chairperson of TNA, probably saving him for some future fight.

Booker Ngesa
I met Booker Ngesa in my second year, but began working with him more closely in my final year after forming the Liberator movement, which included Oscar King’ara and Oulu GPO, who were both assassinated after Alfred Mutua, the then government spokesman had claimed something to the effect that Oscar’s organisation (Oscar foundation) was a conduit for Mungiki’s external funding. We had formed the movement to help the masses access information, educate themselves from the information, and liberate themselves with the information. After the killings, the movement came to an end, after some of the leaders sought refuge outside the country, leaving only Booker and myself.
Our last activity with the movement was when we were called in to assist the Kenyatta University Student leaders who had been suspended after their twin protests and riots against the Professor Olive Mugenda administration. We facilitated their meeting with other student leaders, and also progressives whose contacts they had, Bonny Khalwale was of greatest assistance, but it was Mwandawiro Mghanga who would impact on Booker the most.
After working with the students and Mwandawiro Mghanga, we joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP) where Mwandawiro was the Chairperson. The coincidence here was that we had always wanted to join the SDP, a Party that was financially weak, but with a rich history and considered In the political circles as the only ideological Party. Joining it came with some prestige, but we didn’t know how to go about it……..then we unexpectedly met the Chairperson!
Booker (I have done a lot alongside him, so I now edit myself off) became a member of the Young Social Democrats (SDP’s youth league), where he began cultivating his revolutionary growth, later rising to become the Young Social Democrats’ National Secretary. This was at a time when there were a lot of Party struggles in the top leadership. The wrangles would later escalate to a point where there were two parallel leaderships of the Party. One was led by Mwandawiro and was considered ideological with a history of action, the other led by Mutahi Kagwe and was considered as illegal and had a huge financial muscle with the backing of the state.
Booker supported the legitimate Mwandawiro faction, and he played a critical role in the long arbitration processes, which finally ended at the courts, where the Young Social Democrats defended the Party, representing themselves (couldn’t afford lawyers) while the other side was represented with two well established and experienced lawyers. The other side lost the case. The Registrar of political Parties still refused to abide by the court ruling, and demonstrations followed…..and the demonstrations worked.
Booker was a few months later elected by the National Congress into the Central Committee of the Party as the Organising Secretary of the Party, where he immediately and successfully embarked in the difficult and expensive process of making the Party comply with the election act 2011, whose main intention was to reduce the number of Parties from forty seven to less than five.(the intentions of the law didn’t work, since the number of parties initially went down, but many new parties were later created as the elections neared)
The Party would later field Booker to vie in Gem, Siaya County, where he was to vie against Raila Odinga’s first cousin, Jakoyo Midiwo. Many people thought that Booker would lose badly, since Siaya was an ODM zone, Jakoyo was Raila’s handiman, and SDP did not later join CORD coalition.
Before Booker’s entry in the race, Jakoyo was so sure of his re-election due to lack of competition, that he was constantly interfering with the Senatorial and Gubernatorial politics of Siaya county. Jakoyo would later be forced to confine himself in Gem constituency, after meeting real and stiff opposition from the young Booker Ngesa.
Jakoyo, a politician known for his foul mouth towards women, and better known for employing violence in his campaigns (his campaign t-shirts were printed “Otada x3”, loosely translating to War x3), would meet Booker on the ground, and after clashing severally-Booker would earn the name “Baby Nyahunyo”-one that disciplines but doesn’t injure!
 The Gem campaigns were just too dirty and bloody. With cars being smashed, houses being burnt, pangas being used and gun shots ringing in the air.
It was so clear that Booker was going to win, and I even argued with my good friend and President of Bunge la Mwananchi, comrade CD Otieno, when he told me that Raila Odinga would go to the region two days to the elections and the politics would change overnight.
I never doubted Raila’s influence in the region, especially Siaya, what I doubted him going to Siaya in the last days of the campaigns. I was wrong.
Whereas Booker’s strategy had taken care of Raila’s earlier visits, nobody in his campaign team had anticipated that Raila would go to campaign for Jakoyo and Cornel Rasanga in Gem on the second last day of his campaigns. Three days later Booker would call me and tell me that we had lost by about five thousand votes to Jakoyo. William Oduol also lost to Rasanga.

I feel that those behind Raila’s campaigns were either extremely poor in strategy, or they were so overconfident, that they saw it wise for Raila to spend the last campaign days in Kisumu and Siaya (before coming to Nairobi’s final rally), rather than in Kisii and Narok(then going to Nairobi). I believe that if he had campaigned in the 50-50 zones, then there would have been a clear runoff, without trying to sneak it in through their “Shocking evidence” in the Supreme Court.

It will be interesting to see how the future politics in Kenya will be shaped, with almost all of those appearing above being consciously or unconsciously right wing, versus a whole lot of others from the same generation and slightly below, consciously studying Marx, Lenin, Che, Mao and Kwame Nkurmah, while silently and slowly coming out of their study circles ready for revolutionary practice, inspired by Samora Machel, Fidel Castro, Thomas Sankara and hugo Chavez.

Benedict Wachira
3rd April 2013

1 comment:

  1. nice article. there are a lot of factual inaccuracies though. Korir is stroke 06 you are stroke 05,he couldn't be two years behind you. Booker was third after jakoyo and elisha odhiambo.The margins between booker and jakoyo were close to 31000.Booker got only 5000 votes.
    The article is superb and the detail is breathtaking. Kudos mamluki.