, NAIROBI, Kenya Jan 16 – The man who bestrode Westlands politics like a colossus, earning the moniker ‘kaa ngumu’ (stand your ground), Fred Gumo will from now on ‘kaa chini’ (sit pretty) after announcing he had quit the trade to pursue other interests.
At his prime, Gumo, the Regional Development Minister was reputed to be an abrasive, no-holds-barred and sometimes, confrontational parliamentarian with his poll battles against Betty Tett for the Westlands seat becoming symbolic of his career.
But on Wednesday afternoon, the man who has mellowed with age like a boxer who has taken in a lot in fierce ring battle faced the media to declare that after 38 years, he had thrown in the white towel ending an era that defined the politics of Kenya’s capital.
“I have decided to retire from politics peacefully. I know if I decided to run for any seat I can easily win. I am now 66 years old and I think I have done enough. I also need my own time so that I can travel around the world and my country and enjoy myself,” he told reporters at his ministerial office.
In his hey days, he had few contemporaries, with only the late Embakasi MP David Mwenje, perhaps the only politician in the city who could match his antics that made him a darling and divisive factor among the masses in equal measure.
His firebrand politics however, ceased when he was elevated to the cabinet in 2007, having recaptured his Westlands parliamentary seat on an ODM ticket ending his days as one of the most vocal and visible backbenchers over the years. In May 2012 he was appointed the Local Government Minister in an acting capacity, taking over from Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi who resigned from the post to focus on his presidential bid.
Mid last year, Gumo, who never shied from controversy was embroiled in what can be termed as the last scandal of his political career when he was linked to the theft of a Range Rover belonging to retired President Daniel arap Moi from CMC Motors in Nairobi.
Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, Gumo was eyeing the Nairobi Senate seat where he was due to battle it out for the ODM ticket with former Makadara legislator Reuben Ndolo, another hard-nosed politician and outgoing Kasarani MP Elizabeth Ongoro.
However, he has now elected to be a cheerleader of the presidential bid of Coalition of Reforms and Democracy (CORD) candidate Raila Odinga, joining the ranks of Franklin Bett, Beth Mugo and Abdikadir Mohammed as the fourth member of the 10th Parliament who has quit elective politics thus far.
His value as a vote hunter in the cosmopolitan city was never in question meaning his contribution in the current campaigns will be much needed.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga described him as far-sighted and selfless politician who is leaving politics at the very peak of his career, having accomplished all he wanted to.
“Hon. Gumo was a master politician who was always in touch with the grassroots. That is how he managed to build his career in Nairobi, where he served all Kenyans irrespective of their ethnic background. That is how Fred Gumo will always be remembered.”
Odinga added: “Kaa ngumu Fred!”
Gumo’s enduring legacy that started in the Kanu days will remembered for his titanic battles with Tett, an equally seasoned politician in the battle for Westlands supremacy.
In 1997 and 2002, it was alleged that the minister who won the seat on Kanu and the National Alliance Rainbow Coalition (Narc) tickets in that order lost to Tett only to be declared the victor after bulldozing his way past returning officers who cowed to declare him the victor.
In 1997, he was accused of compelling a female returning officer at Nairobi’s Railway Club to announce him as the winner after Bett allegedly polled in more votes and five years later, he again resorted to the same tactics when he lost the Narc nomination for the Westland seat to his arch nemesis.
The politics of the day had seen the rivals chase the same ticket as the opposition rallied against former ruling party Kanu.
In 2007, Gumo was appointed to chair a key ODM-Kenya committee whose major objective was to resolve the thorny issue of deciding the party’s presidential flag bearer with Odinga and his now CORD coalition partner, Kalonzo Musyoka staking a claim for the ticket.
After the party split, Gumo remained with Odinga who duly rewarded him with a Cabinet post when the Government of National Unity was formed in March 2008 having served in the past as the chair of the defunct Nairobi City Commission.
Supporters hail him as a fighter for the masses who was not shy of pushing for their interests especially when opposition mounted against the Moi rule with the introduction of multi parties in 1992. Gumo teamed up with other reform crusaders such as Odinga, James Orengo, Gitobu Imanyara, the late George Anyona, Kiraitu Murungi and Paul Muite among others to press for change.
After ditching Kanu, Gumo was key in the final push that saw the end of Kanu’s 39-year rule when with others in the Narc coalition; he was instrumental in the defeat of Uhuru Kenyatta, Moi’s presumptive successor by the incumbent Mwai Kibaki. His ability to marshal numbers in the capital was invaluable at this stage of his political career, often drawing masses of his supporters to rallies and demonstrations.
His critics accuse him of being a ‘thug’ with a particular dislike for women, having been accused without being formally charged or convicted of assaulting no less than three victims, two at polling centres and one in a city entertainment joint.
It has also been alleged that Gumo was involved in land grabbing and theft although again, these charges have not been proven.