By Barack Muluka
On August 8, the name Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi will for the first time in 28 years not appear on any ballot paper in Kenya’s General Elections. Mudavadi came to Kenya’s political scene in early 1989, following the death of his father, Moses Subston Budamba Mudavadi. The elder Mudavadi died as one of the most influential and powerful people in President Daniel Arap Moi’s Government, and Member of Parliament for Sabatia Constituency.
It came as no surprise that the senior Mudavadi’s eldest son, Wycliffe, should ascend to the Sabatia seat. The younger Mudavadi has since had an exciting political career with mixed blessings. He has served in several key State positions, including two months as Vice President under Moi and for five years as Deputy Prime Minister in the Mwai Kibaki Raila Odinga Grand Coalition Government. Throughout this time, he has participated in five General Elections and one by-election. He has been locked out twice. This time round, he has voluntarily stayed out of the race, to give “a better placed teammate the opportunity to score,” as he puts it.
That Mudavadi is the foremost political leader from the Luhya community is not in contention. He towers head and shoulder above everyone else in the land of Mulembe. What should his ceding of space to Raila Odinga mean for the doyen of one of Kenya’s foremost political families and certainly the most prominent politician among the Abaluhya?
Mudavadi is leading the ‘Raila for President’ campaign. In a country that sees everything through ethnic lenses, the populous Abaluhya can be said not to be in contention for anything big in this election. Yet is it possible that Mudavadi has made a tactful political retreat that could pay after the August polls, or at a later moment in 2022? Should he have insisted on being on the presidential ballot paper in the August poll? What would have been the wisdom?
At the height of the struggle for the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM)’s presidential ticket for the 2013 General Elections, then Mbita Member of Parliament, Gerald Otieno Kajwang, proclaimed that Raila Odinga and ODM were synonymous. Two others of Raila’s acolytes would soon echo the sentiments. Then MP for Gem, Jakoyo Midiwo, and his then Ugenya counterpart, James Orengo, told off those trying to run against Raila for the ticket, saying that they were daydreaming. These repellent remarks were hugely understood to have been aimed at Mudavadi, then serving as Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy ODM.
Mudavadi had actively demonstrated interest in the ODM ticket. He had gone a long way to mobilise significant following around the country. Raila’s men were concerned that the suave and affable senior politician from the populous Luhya community would upset the Odinga political applecart. Orengo, the foremost political legal mind around Raila, appeared to gerrymander with the party’s constitution and nomination rules to ensure that Raila, the party leader, would be the undisputed presidential flag bearer. And so it was that in mid 2012 Mudavadi left ODM in an acrimonious parting of political friends. It was a tragic moment for Raila. Despite his much-touted party ownership, one friend after the other had dropped him like a hot brick over a four-year period.
Five years later, the erstwhile friends turned political foes are back in the same stable. Raila Odinga is the National Super Alliance (NASA) presidential flag bearer and Mudavadi his foremost campaigner. Kalonzo Musyoka, a political outsider in the Raila-Mudavadi nexus during the 2012 events, is Raila’s running mate. The question many have asked is: where does this leave Mudavadi’s political future? At the gathering where Raila was crowned the NASA skipper, the Pentagon that also brings on board Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula announced futuristic positions that would seek to redistribute political power in the team. Within the proposed arrangement, Mudavadi would be a Chief Minister, while the Governor and Senator would each be Deputy Chief Minister.
Their detractors in Jubilee have laughed off the proposal, terming it unconstitutional. In a curious development, Jubilee operatives who have so far excluded all but two of Kenya’s communities in State appointments even dragged in an ethnic dimension. Deputy President, William Ruto, and his hatchet men, Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen and Garissa MP Aden Duale, told the Abaluhya that they had received a raw deal. They said the Mulembe people had been promised non-existent positions. Never mind that philosophically all promises are futuristic and therefore hypothetical, for a promise is just that – a promise. What is promised certainly does not exist in the present. The Jubilee taunting of NASA over possible future positions is therefore a philosophical non sequitur.
Conversely, Mudavadi’s keen supporters have sought to reaffirm his re-emergence and supremacy as the Luhya political kingpin and the man to watch in the post Jubilee dispensation. Lugari MP, Ayub Sabula, has wondered aloud how President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy could lament that the Abaluhya have been served a cold dish in the NASA deal when the Jubilee Government has all but marginalised this community, alongside the rest of the country. “They have the power and the positions today. But what have they given us? We are better off living on hope for a better future than relishing sympathy from those who have marginalised us,” Savula recently told a gathering in his home turf.
The debate in Luhyaland is at once about Mudavadi and the destiny of the community. In a hugely tribalised country such as Kenya, it is normal for communities to ask themselves where they are going and about the fate of their political giants in the national agenda. It is within this prism that the discourse around Mudavadi plays itself among his people. Used to contributing significant numbers in the Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki cabinets in the past, the Luhya have gone through an anxious and agonising season under Jubilee, judging by pronouncements at public gatherings. Seeming to have given up on the Uhuru Kenyatta Government, there is now a common mantra on the ground, “Jubilee tawe,” which is to say, “We cannot touch Jubilee.”
Behind this background, many desired that Mudavadi should be the joint opposition presidential candidate. This was especially so after COTU Secretary General, Francis Atwoli, led a significant gathering of Luhya leaders to install Mudavadi as the Luhya spokesperson. Coming in the wake of Mudavadi’s campaign for a joint Opposition under the NASA banner, the 31 December 2016 coronation considerably boosted Mudavadi’s rating both among his own people and elsewhere in the country. It had been anticipated that a joint ticket that would place him together with Kalonzo would be exciting on account of its freshness. Mudavadi is also seen to be a pleasant individual around whom it is easy to rally even communities that consider that they should always vote for leaders from their own tribes. In his own words, he is a safe pair of hands.
But Mudavadi is not going to be on the presidential ballot paper this year, or any other ballot paper, for that matter. Alone among the five members of the NASA Pentagon, he is not running for anything. Wetang’ula is running for the Senate in Bungoma while Ruto is defending his governor’s seat in Bomet. If Wiper Leader and NASA running mate, Kalonzo, has been adept at talking about making political sacrifices, it is Mudavadi who has demonstrated the full meaning of making a political sacrifice. If, in 2012, ODM was Raila and Raila ODM, in 2017 NASA is Mudavadi and Mudavadi NASA. Yet the big difference between 2017 and 2013 is that the “owner” of the vessel is not – this time – insisting on running, just because he is concurrently the owner of the vessel and vessel, too.
Looked at differently, Mudavadi is paying his political debts. There are those who have claimed that he has previously had easy rides, although closer examination of his family story and political history shows otherwise. His father, the elder Mudavadi, was orphaned in early childhood in the 1930s. The story of the family after the passing on of Budamba Imbiyoi Mudavadi, in 1934, is a perfect portrait of strife against adversity, penury and indigence. Through a hybrid of struggle, fate and fortune, the Mudavadis rose to national fame – with attendant benefits and liabilities. Pundits have, however, tended to be more focused on the benefits and quick wins, ignoring the hard parts.
Significantly, Mudavadi the elder launched President Moi on his path to power politics. In 1955, he paved the way for Moi to join the Legislative Council. The colonial authorities had approached Mudavadi, then an education officer in the North Rift, attempting to interest him to be appointed to the Legislative Council to represent the Kalenjin. The move was under a plan mooted by the British Colonial Secretary Oliver Lyttleton. Both Mudavadi and his wife, Hannah Atsianzale, strongly felt that the right person to represent the Kalenjin in the Legco should be a Kalenjin. That was how Mudavadi ushered his next-door neighbour in Kabarnet from teaching into politics. This background explains the soft spot that Moi had for the Mudavadi family and Musalia’s support for Moi’s Uhuru Project in 2002, when filial loyalty overrode political common sense and self-preservation.
The Mudavadi’s have hence previously played the role of kingmakers, even as they have also been made kings. One great question remains, will Raila Odinga and his family someday repay the sacrifice that Mudavadi has made this time? It requires a lot of selflessness in the muddy Kenyan politics for a leader to step down and elect, instead, to campaign for another one – without even running for any other office. This is a profile that Mudavadi may want to build upon in the future, regardless of what happens on August 8. For, this is the profile of a true statesman, as opposed to your regular self-seeking –run-of–the mill politician. Whether the NASA dream comes to fruition in the next two months, Mudavadi will have to build on this personal profile. Whatever the case, he will also do well to keep the NASA vessel alive and well oiled, and the dream and vision crystalline for future assignments.
Writer is a political commentator