in

Nyenze catches many off balance with dull, deceptive demeanour

For Francis Mwanzia Nyenze, the burly, soft spoken National Assembly Minority Leader, politics is a game of wits where success depends on how you catch your opponents by surprise.

Mr Nyenze caught friend and foe off balance earlier last week when he demanded that the National Super Alliance (Nasa) should name its flagbearer within seven days or face a walkout by his Wiper party.

His hardline position that Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka would leave Nasa if he is not named the presidential candidate attracted condemnation within the coalition and celebration in Jubilee in equal measure.

The announcement caught even the Wiper party membership unawares as he convened the press conference alone while a National Executive Council meeting was under way.  

As the official leader of Opposition troops in the National Assembly and a member of the Nasa negotiating committee, it was least expected of him to drop such a political bombshell but it forced the coalition principals to come out to quell fears of imminent collapse.

From his role as the Minority Leader in the National Assembly to serving as MP for Kitui West Constituency, Mr Nyenze rarely attracts national attention.
He keeps a low profile and is rarely covered by the media in Kitui County.

DEFYING POPULAR OPINION

While debate continues on whether his comments represented the views of his party boss, the manner and the language in which they were delivered have indicated that he has a knack for defying popular opinion.

An excellent guitarist and a member of his church choir since his days at the University of Nairobi where he studied Art and Design, Mr Nyenze cuts the demeanour of a political underdog.

But his friends describe him as a sharp-witted man whose dull image has helped him to outsmart his political rivals.

“His image is deceptive. Behind the lacklustre and boring expression lies a calculating and cunning politician who cannot be underrated and who easily gets away with deliberate mistakes,” said Mr Rodgers Kaleve, a businessman in Kabati market in Kitui West.

Mr Kaleve says Mr Nyenze spoke for the silent majority of Wiper party supporters even though he may have used inappropriate language. “But that’s him,” he says.

“Even in Kitui politics, he survives by allowing his opponents to underrate his political strengths and he is comfortable when people dismiss him as a political weakling,” he explained.

PLUM POSITION

Within Wiper Party circles, the son of a renowned Africa Inland Church pastor, the late Reverend Philip Nyenze Mwambu, is rarely seen accompanying his party leader in campaign rallies even though he is the senior-most elected legislator.

His appointment to the plum position despite his party having less numbers in parliament than its partners was seen as a stop-gap measure as Cord sought to hunt for a more commanding personality but he ended up serving in the position for the entire term.

During the start of the current Parliament, Cord was shopping for a senior figure like Mr Musyoka to lead its troops in the National Assembly but it became difficult because none of the nominated MPs was willing to relinquish his seat, thus handing Mr Nyenze a lifeline in the plum position.

At some point, Cord MPs questioned his loyalty to the Opposition cause and threatened to replace him with his deputy, Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo, on the basis of his apparent lack of drive and passion in providing leadership.

The MPs were angry that, as their leader, he had abdicated his primary role of checking the excesses of Jubilee government and was too soft in prosecuting the Opposition agenda on the floor of the House.

His critics accused him of being an “absentee leader” who sometimes dodged important but controversial parliamentary sessions and failing to bolster the Opposition against Jubilee’s “tyranny of numbers”.

The pressure to kick him out of the powerful House position that comes with some privileges peaked in August 2015 after he failed to rally MPs to pass a proposed Bill that sought to shift the election date from August to December.

CHEST-THUMPING

Mr Nyenze says people have different leadership styles and thus his consultative style of leadership should not be mistaken as being ineffective.

“I widely consult leaders and I do not need to be seen chest-thumping in public but also give other leaders the opportunity to articulate the collective stand of the Opposition,” he said in a recent interview.

Mr Nyenze has also had to face accusations of having gone to bed with the ruling Jubilee party mandarins, based on his past political connections with President Uhuru Kenyatta with whom he served in the Moi government.

During the 2002 General Election when Mr Kenyatta first ran for president, Mr Nyenze was his pointman in Ukambani region, where as a Cabinet minister, he chose to stick with retired President Moi when Mr Musyoka and his colleagues deserted Kanu.

While other Kanu politicians decamped to Narc, he chose to defend his Kitui West seat on a Kanu ticket but lost to his long-time political rival Nyiva Mwendwa.

In a previous interview with the Sunday Nation, Mr Nyenze said he knew he would lose elections if he stuck with Kanu and Mr Kenyatta in 2002 but had to return the favour Mr Moi did by appointing him to the Cabinet at a young age.

Cord MPs cited his reluctance to firmly play his role as Minority Leader as a deliberate attempt to pacify his personal friendship with President Kenyatta.

His four-year performance has not been especially distinguished because during the four years he has been the Minority Leader in the Eleventh Parliament, Mr Nyenze has not sponsored a single Bill, according to Mzalendo.com, an organisation that tracks the performance of MPs based on their contributions to debates, questions and motions.

However, back home, Mr Nyenze is among the Wiper MPs who are likely to be re-elected with ease due to how he connects well with voters.

Our varsities are in need of urgent radical surgery to survive

Ruto says Nasa has neither political direction nor economic growth plan