Sunday January 7, 2018
On an overcast Thursday afternoon in Nairobi, Mr Aden Duale, the Leader of Majority in the National Assembly, sat in his office at Parliament Buildings overlooking Uhuru Highway and boldly predicted that the next five years in the House will be “calm, sober and progressive.”
His first tenure as the ruling Jubilee Party’s top man in Parliament witnessed some of the most divisive debates in the House and which are thought to have contributed to the heightened political tensions in the country.
Many Kenyans who witnessed it will not forget the mass brawling that broke out in Parliament in December 2014 as the government forced through a controversial security Bill in a stormy session that saw Opposition senators Johnson Muthama and Moses Wetang’ula’s clothes torn, allegedly by Jubilee MPs.
This was also the day Mbita MP Millie Odhiambo removed her underwear on the floor of the House in protest at alleged sexual molestation by Gatundu North MP Moses Kuria.
Nor will Kenyans likely forget the pandemonium witnessed two years later in December 2016 during a bitter debate over changes to the election laws in which MPs Irshad Sumra and Mpuri Apuri emerged with injuries.
“It’s all in a day’s job,” Mr Duale told the Sunday Nation, with a light chuckle, of those scuffles. “I have been given a duty to perform by my party and I have to see it through in whatever way possible.”
However, this is not the way Parliament should conduct its august business, said the Majority Leader, who is also the Garissa Township MP. “I believe we can achieve more by talking with each other than to each other,” he said.
But his wish for a Parliament “that is a role model to our children,” might just be that – wishful thinking. More confrontations within and outside Parliament seem inevitable as Nasa dig in and prepare to swear in their party leader Raila Odinga as president within this month.
However the 48-year-old father of five sees the situation differently. “We in Jubilee want to have a strong united vibrant opposition that will check the Executive’s excesses.”
He added: “But politically speaking and in line with the succession politics of 2022, where our presidential flag bearer will be the DP, we shall work round the clock to act as a catalyst in the disintegration of Nasa. We shall raid their strongholds and turn them into red states.”
Mr Duale’s office – whose concept is heavily borrowed from the United States model – is a creation of the 2010 Constitution. It replaced the position of the Leader of Government Business in Parliament which was traditionally held by the vice president.
His main work is to push through the government’s agenda in Parliament by marshalling ruling party MPs. It also involves anticipating and thwarting Opposition moves against the government side.
To this end, he has chalked up an impressive record in the five years he has held the job to justify a second term. Mr Duale sponsored 132 out of 180 Bills in the last Parliament.
His signature appears alongside that of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s and the National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi in 128 of the Bills that were assented into law. Five Bills were left in abeyance either at First Reading or Second Reading.
“I only lost one Bill in June 2015 (Statute Law Miscellaneous Bill 2015) and that is because I was away in Algeria,” he said. “After that I vowed never to travel outside the country when the House is in session.”
In total, Mr Duale has missed just seven sittings of the 12th Parliament. He said the position has shaped his work ethic in ways he did not expect. “I sleep at around midnight on most days when the House is on and I am up by four o’clock in the morning, to pray and read,” he said.
A trained teacher, Mr Duale has been forced to meticulously read and understand the Constitution and the Standing Orders of Parliament so as to enunciate government agenda effectively.
Through the shouting matches, insults and occasional fistfights of the 12th Parliament, Mr Duale has tried to define the place and the role of his office in the wider politics of the nation.
In the absence of cabinet secretaries in the House, the Leader of the Majority is the crucial person in driving the agenda of the government and is a crucial link between the Legislature and the Executive.
Even his harshest critics acknowledge that he has fared fairly well. Minority Leader John Mbadi argues that given the polarised nature of our politics, Mr Duale has done fairly well.
“MPs are in Parliament courtesy of political parties. You therefore do not expect him to disagree with his party, we do not expect him to support our cause and vice versa except on matters of national interest,” he said.
Pointing they get along well, Mr Mbadi says for harmonious operations in the House, he has to work in concert with his counterpart with the speaker being non-partisan.
“Everyone of us has their weaknesses but he has done his work as the majority leader, you may disagree with his style of delivery but he has done well,” he said. On his part, Mr Duale said he will hold regular meetings with Mr Mbadi to reduce any divisions going forward.
Mr Duale often comes across as a belligerent, take-no-prisoner type of leader, a charge he does not dispute. “There is nothing wrong with being forceful about what you believe in,” he said.
In his line of work, he naturally tussles with opposition MPs, but some of his controversial fights are with Jubilee legislators, especially those from the Kalenjin community that forms the political bedrock of Deputy President William Ruto.
Mr Duale was originally elected on the defunct United Republican Party (URP), Mr Ruto’s party whose partner The National Alliance (TNA) of President Uhuru Kenyatta formed the Jubilee Coalition. Both parties merged last year to create Jubilee Party.
First elected to represent Dujis constituency (which was later split into Garissa Township and Mbalambala constituencies) in Parliament in 2007 on an Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) ticket, Mr Duale later allied himself with Mr Ruto who was the Agriculture Minister in the Grand Coalition Government that was formed from the ashes of the 2007-2008 violence.
However when Mr Ruto and ODM party leader Mr Odinga began pulling apart, Mr Duale threw his lot with the latter and was rewarded for his loyalty to the former Eldoret North MP with his current post when Jubilee won the 2013 elections.
That explains the bold and outspoken manner in which he has taken on the DP’s perceived opponents, especially those in the latter’s Rift Valley backyard.
In September 2014, he told off former Bomet County Governor Isaac Ruto, who was then the chairman of the Council of Governors (CoG) for his repeated claims that the National government was determined to frustrate devolution by starving counties of money.
During a public political rally attended by the DP in Narok town, Mr Duale told the Governor, who was seated next to him, “hii pesa sio ya mama yako bwana (this money is not your mother’s)”.
Those caustic words almost led to a physical confrontation between him and the governor at the time and led to widespread condemnation in the press and by the civil society of his “loose tongue”.
Mr Ruto got a chance to use the same choice words on Mr Duale when he was mentioned as a beneficiary of the National Youth Service Sh791 million scandal, an allegation that the Majority Leader denies. Both still call each other “brother”.
Mr Duale was paraphrasing retired President Daniel arap Moi, who once famously dismissed opposition calls for constitutional review in the 1990s by telling them “katiba sio ya mama yenu (the constitution is not your mother’s property)”.
Early last year he trained his sharp tongue on Baringo County Senator Gideon Moi, for allegedly undermining the DP, telling him “the man whose daughter I married, Gen (rtd) Mohamud Mohammed, rescued your father (former President Daniel arap Moi) from the bushes in the 1982 coup and we carried him on our backs. It is now your turn to carry William Ruto.”
Mr Duale’s latest duel is with four Jubilee MPs who have sued him for removing them as chairmen of four Parliamentary committees after they defied the party’s preferred lineup.
Interestingly, three of the four are from the Kalenjin community: Alfred Keter (Tindiret), Silas Tiren (Moiben) and David Bowen (Marakwet East). The other is James Gakuya (Embakasi North).
This prompted some Kalenjin MPs to accuse Mr Duale of harbouring an ingrained bias and low opinion of the community, as Mosop MP Vincent Tuwei claimed last week during a political function in Nandi County.
Mr Duale accuses the MPs of engaging in diversionary tactics. “They know that what they did is wrong. They were in the meeting chaired by the President which endorsed the party’s list yet they never spoke,” he said.
The MPs have threatened to impeach him, a threat that Mr Duale laughed off as “hot air”. “I was nominated to this position by Jubilee’s parliamentary group meeting which was chaired by the party leader (the President) and can only be removed through the same process,” he said.