Boni Khalwale: New Luhya King?

Published on 20th July 2015

Bonnie Khalwale
Although predicting political evolution with certitude is tricky, more so in a region so politically disparate as Western Province, one cannot fail to see that the Province is beginning to develop some form of political consensus. Unlike other parts of Kenya, political consensus in the Province has been elusive ever since mobilization of political support along tribal lines intensified with the re-introduction of multi-party politics in the country. For instance, prior to the last two general elections, every winning presidential candidate has received some substantial support in the Province, amounting to not less than 400,000 votes.

However, in the last election, the winning presidential candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee Coalition got not more than 100,000 votes in the Province. Although the Province’s two heavyweight sub-tribes the Bukusu and the Maragoli were as always not necessarily in the same camp, former PM Raila Odinga was able, for the first time, to draw substantive support across the whole Province, a feat that not even former Vice President, the late Michael Kijana Wamalwa, running as a presidential candidate with the Province as his home base in 1997 was not able to achieve. Suffice it to say that gradually, Western Province is building a political consensus.

Now a developing political consensus comes with a number of political possibilities. One, if cleverly managed and cynically manipulated, the consensus can be turned round into a formidable political tool. For instance, the emergence of William Ruto as a Kalenjin leader laid in the competent way he managed the emergent consensus amongst the Kalenjin after the exit of former President Daniel Moi.

After the exit of Moi, the Kalenjin were fearful of what would befall them. This was the basis of the consensus. Ruto therefore seized on this opportunity and kept the consensus alive by applying the victim card. The victim card was adequately supplied by the first Kibaki administration, which in its initial zeal to move the country away from the Moi era, shook the Kalenjin base of Moi’s administration.

The displaced Kalenjin elite turned against the administration and helped in consolidating the Kalenjin consensus further, with Ruto slowly emerging in this consensus as the leader to entrust with the Kalenjin interests. Raila further provided more of the victim card with his zeal on the Mau forest, further providing Ruto with the fuel he needed to consolidate the foundations of consensus amongst the Kalenjin.

So, if there is emerging consensus among the Luyia, it can either be sustained or suppressed depending on two main factors. For one, the way the Jubilee government behaves towards the Luyia will determine whether the consensus holds or breaks. On the other hand, if there emerges a clever, cynical Luyia leader with enough ambition to play the victim card, he (most likely) can sustain the consensus and use it to build himself into a formidable political player by 2017.

Starting with the first factor, the behaviour of the Jubilee government towards the Luyia can easily sustain the consensus. As we have seen with the case of both Kibaki and Raila in the last 10 years, government and the way it behaves towards communal interests and sense of pride is the biggest builder of communal consensus. A majority of Luyias noted with a sense of communal pain the ‘matimoni’ exchange between Musalia Mudavadi and Uhuru Kenyatta just before the last General Election. In addition to this, the election of the speaker of the National Assembly in which a Luyia homeboy was unceremoniously replaced as well as appointments into senior positions in the public administration have stoked further the feeling of alienation the Luyia feel towards the current government. It provides a perfect template for some cynic to picture Luyias as victims of the Jubilee government.

Turning to the second factor, pouncing on the emergent consensus and turning it into a serious political tool requires a clever leader. As already indicated, sustaining communal consensus requires someone who cynically paints a whole community as victims of a sitting government. Already we have seen, the behaviour of government prior to election and right into the current administration can easily provide a template of Luyia victimhood. It requires a leader who is not just clever, but also with the ability to travel the whole length and breadth of Western Province, parading those supposed targets of government victimization and whipping up crowds towards Luyia unity. It therefore requires someone with the capability to play the victim card extremely well.

However, looking at the list of current preeminent leaders comprising of Musalia Mudavadi, Moses Wetangula, Eugene Wamalwa, Atsango Chesoni, Ababu Namwamba and Cyrus Jirongo, they don’t strike one as capable of effectively employing the victim card to sustain Luyia consensus. Mudavadi’s showing at the last elections indicates how uninspiring as a leader of anybody he can be. Moses Wetangula will need to do a lot of work to outgrow the Raila shadow.

The same will apply for Eugene who has to grow out of his late brother’s shadow. His antics prior to the last elections also cast him in bad light as an indecisive leader. Ababu is young and energetic, but he is too ‘nationalistic’ and entirely committed to Raila to reduce himself into a Luyia crusader. Atsango may equally be too ‘nationalistic’ and intellectually sophisticated to attempt playing the Luyia card. As for Jirongo, he has the money and sometimes talks Luyia unity. He however lacks believability, and this is why Boni Khalwale was able to pip him to the Kakamega Senator’s position.

Who therefore is the clever, ambitious leader among the Luyia that stands the most realistic chance of sustaining and consolidating the budding communal consensus amongst the Luyia?  Bonny Khalwale fits the bill. Boni is all mouth – he can sing and arouse crowds with Luyia warrior chants. Bonny is all antics – his bullfighting can pull a crowd as big as those in market places in Western Province on a good market day. Bonny is all drama – he can perfect the drama of victimhood into something believable, just remember what he did to former Finance Minister Amos Kimunya a few years ago in Parliament.

And most important perhaps, he has the youth and energy to strut stage after stage, dancing Luyia tunes and shouting Luyia slogans. If it were not him, Wetangula perhaps would have lost the by-election in Bungoma. With a little more focus and ambition, more committed visits to the entirety of Western Province and a religious reading of the trajectory of William Ruto between 2002 and 2012 and application of its lessons, Boni will be one difficult Luyia to ignore in 2017.

By Okwaro Oscar Plato

The author is an analyst with Gravio Consulting Africa. The views expressed are solely of the writer.

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