Ababu Namwamba and Onyango Oloo have, curiously, some things in common. They are both lawyers-turned-politicians and former party spokesmen of presidential frontrunners, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Raila Odinga. And now they have switched loyalties.
While party defections are a common trend, party hawks rarely jump ship to the opposite camp so close to the elections.
From a fiery defender of Mr Odinga who, in 2008, caused drama in the National Assembly by swearing his allegiance to the ODM leader instead of President Mwai Kibaki, the Budalang’i MP has, for instance, become the harshest critic of the National Super Alliance (Nasa) presidential candidate.
Similarly, Mr Oloo, who diligently served President Kenyatta as his TNA party spokesman, has turned his guns on the Jubilee administration. Upon defection in January, he vowed to share all valuable secrets on Mr Kenyatta and Jubilee with Mr Odinga.
“The Jubilee operatives claiming I left their party empty-handed are in for a rude shock. Even a watchman at one’s gate has some secrets about his boss and in my case I was more than that at Jubilee. If there is anything I can share to help Nasa to beat Uhuru, I will do just that,” Mr Oloo told the Nation.
Mr Namwamba was similarly on unfamiliar ground on Monday when he accompanied the President to present his nomination papers to the electoral body at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre. Surrounded by Jubilee party enthusiasts, he vowed to help Mr Kenyatta to subject his former boss to a humiliating defeat. But not so long ago, Namwamba was a self-confessed ODM and Raila “damu” (staunch supporter) lieutenant. And even when his loyalty appeared questionable, particularly following the Orange party’s botched elections in 2014, the vocal politician silenced his critics with a very disarming defence.
“Ahh jamani mnitazame. Mimi hii sura yangu inakaa sura ya Jubilee kweli? Hii lugha yangu ukiisikiza, ni lugha ya Jubilee kweli (Please take a second a look at me. Do I look like a Jubilee man? And by listening to me, are you convinced I truly speak the Jubilee language)? The blood of Ababu Namwamba is so incompatible with that of Jubilee that if you mix the two, you get a fatal blood clot,” he said proudly.
On Sunday, asked about these previous utterances, the Labour Party leader curtly responded the context at that time suited his utterances. He did not comment further on the matter.
Before Mr Namwamba eventually quit the Orange party last year Deputy President William Ruto appeared to have let out the secret by declaring the Budalang’i MP had joined Jubilee. At the time, Mr Namwamba came out to strongly deny the claims, terming them “hogwash”.
At a separate function to promote his “Luhya Consciousness” campaign, he said: “I am not joining Jubilee. I have no time for them. I am priceless. I cannot be bought. That (claim that he was destined to the President’s camp) is hogwash and a tired narrative aimed at maligning my name and the great Mulembe nation. This is always what rivals say when we have a different opinion from theirs,” he said at Lwecheche beach in Budalang’i.
On his part, though, Mr Oloo never denied at that point that he was headed to the rival camp. But before changing allegiance, he never tired of hitting at the Orange party and Mr Odinga.
In one such personal attack in December 2013, Oloo took issue with the former Prime Minister, accusing him of “failing terribly” to discharge his mandate as an official opposition leader. And he personally warned Mr Odinga to stop opposing what the President says for the sake of it.
“It is sad that CORD leader, Raila Odinga, instead of engaging Uhuru’s Government in activities that will push this country forward, is engaging in mere rhetoric”, said Mr Oloo.
Despite his political about-turn, it is such statements that have rendered the one-time Kenyatta man still unforgivable among some of Mr Odinga’s diehard supporters.
“I am aware I said some nasty things about the Opposition and even my party leader Raila but I am now a different man. Whatever I said or did, I acted to defend and articulate the policies favourable to my boss at the time. But now I have turned the guns on them and I am busy working day and night to ensure Raila becomes Kenya’s fifth president,” Mr Oloo told the Nation.
Having twice unsuccessfully vied for the Kisumu Central parliamentary seat on a Narc and ODM ticket in 2002 and 2007, Mr Oloo considers his move as a “homecoming”. He says he opted out of Jubilee following the merger of TNA and URP among other parties to form Jubilee.
While both Mr Namwamba and Mr Oloo are happy in their new homes and claim to have moved on, the Budalang’i MP still has a bone to pick with his former boss. He claims the Nasa leader betrayed him and maintains he is a dictator. On Monday, he even referred to Mr Odinga as “mtu wa vitendawili” (a man that specialises in proverbs and rhetoric) who has done little for his constituents, borrowing a line favoured by Mr Ruto.
On the contrary, Mr Oloo says he still has a lot of respect for Mr Kenyatta: “My years at TNA as secretary general were golden and I will forever cherish that part of my political history. And as an individual, Uhuru is a very good hearted man. But issues of leadership are totally different and right now I have teamed up with the best man.”