Is Richard Onyonka ‘king’ of turn-arounds?
The biggest politically significant event in the run-up to the Kitutu Chache South election in November last year happened on the first Friday of that month when Raila Odinga endorsed Richard Onyonka.
Like much else in the life of the opposition chief, he did not even need to be physically present for it to happen. He was reported to have spoken on phone to opposition supporters at Ruga Primary School.
As his rivals for the seat, all of them from Nasa protested saying they had made similar calls to their party leaders and been told there was no such agreed position amongst the coalition’s principals, Mr Onyonka was home and dry.
He had decamped to Ford-Kenya an angry man, saying he had been robbed of the opportunity to get the ODM ticket through botched nominations.
With the suggestion that the Opposition field joint candidates scuttled, Amani National Congress, Wiper, ODM and Ford-K all had candidates. Samuel Omwando was perhaps the one with the all the right to be angry as his Party Leader had effectively thrust the knife in his back.
Mr Onyonka won easily, getting double what his closest competitor, Jubilee Party’s Anthony Kibagendi, got and sweeping into Parliament for his third consecutive term.
The former Foreign Affairs assistant minister was wearing a smile when he led MPs from Kisii and Nyamira in thanking President Kenyatta for retaining their indefatigable son Fred Matiang’i in the Cabinet. Dr Matiang’i being from Nyamira, they said, it would not be too much to ask President Kenyatta to find another hardworking son of the community from Kisii county.
When the main statement was done with and the questions from the journalists came, Mr Onyonka responded with gusto to the question of what they made of the plan to swear in Mr Odinga as “the people’s president.”
“Kwanza, rais wa Kenya ni Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta (First, the president of Kenya is Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta),” he started.
When a Kenyan politician refers to another with their three or more names, it is not only for stylistic effect. There is an element of respect, reverence, in that kind of usage.
The former Foreign Affairs assistant minister would know all about that, as he spent a good part of 2008 to 2013 mingling with diplomats and hobnobbing with high commissioners and special envoys.
He went on: “If you look at it from a legal point of view, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta was sworn in, he was given the instruments of power, he is the commander-in-chief of the police, the army, he is in charge of Kenya’s money, he is the President of the Republic of Kenya.”
“As an MP in Ford-Kenya and Nasa, I have doubts about the manner in which the elections were conducted but I can’t say that Uhuru is not the President of Kenya. I don’t have a problem with Uhuru being the President of Kenya because he was sworn in and the Constitution recognizes that,” he continued.
He was well aware of the effect of his statement and how far it was from the repeated assertion by his boss in the National Assembly, National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi, that Nasa does not recognise Uhuru Kenyatta as a President.
Mr Onyonka’s turnaround is not the latest.
On October 31, 2016, Mr Onyonka faced Mr Odinga and senior members of ODM at the Bomas of Kenya and after pulling on an ODM cap and donning blue scarf, pleaded with him to be allowed back in the party.
“What happened is that we have realised that nothing is going to be done. We have realised that the country is taking the wrong direction,” he said at the time.
At the height of his coziness with Jubilee, Mr Onyonka was amongst MPs who shut down Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi at a July 2015 joint meeting of the Finance and Labour committees with then Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru. He would take on Dr Oburu Oginga, then a nominated MP, repeatedly referring to him pejoratively as the former Prime Minister’s brother.
Mr Onyonka would change tune by November that year, joining MPs in calling for the removal of Ms Waiguru from the Devolution Ministry because of the scandal at the National Youth Service. He remained in ODM until the nominations, when he sprinted into Ford-K.
While it is true that it is only a fool that does not change his mind, Mr Onyonka’s latest statements could fuel the fear within the Opposition that Jubilee could accomplish its stated aim and destroy Nasa before the next elections.
Keeping the Opposition together is not easy, its leaders know, and when a direct beneficiary of the generosity of its head starts talking like Mr Onyonka did, the enormity of the personal and regional interests that might destroy it from within are clear.