Musalia Mudavadi, the overlooked gentleman

Musalia Mudavadi

Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Mr Mudavadi, not unlike several of his fellow presidential aspirants, was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
  • Mr Mudavadi’s chances have dwindled because Mr Kenyatta has refused to “point at” him as the preferred heir.

If – and that’s a big “if” – Amani’s Musalia Mudavadi were ever to make it to State House, I would sleep easy. I wanted to write “sleep like a baby” but then I remembered that babies don’t sleep that well. The fact is, though, that Mr Mudavadi will likely never be a tenant at the “House on the Hill”. Reason – the son of Mulembe is simply “too nice”. Don’t forget the old saying that “nice guys finish last”.

Let me give myself some wiggle room – Mr Mudavadi has a chance, no matter how infinitesimal, to ascend to the top of the state. But several miracles would have to happen. And right now there are no signs of even one mini-miracle.

Mr Mudavadi, not unlike several of his fellow presidential aspirants, was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. But unlike ODM’s Raila Odinga, he has never known hardship, or penury. Mr Odinga is Kenya’s living longest-serving political detainee. He clocked nearly a decade in detention without trial under the dictator Daniel arap Moi. For some of that time, Mr Mudavadi was minister in the Kanu regime while Mr Odinga was cooling his heels in the dungeons of Shimo la Tewa.

So, when people lump some of the presumptive presidential aspirants under the “dynasty” tag, there’s deliberate amnesia about the cost Mr Odinga has paid for Kenya. None of the other top candidates, including Mr Mudavadi, has spent a day in detention.

Extremities of state

This isn’t a knock on Mr Mudavadi. One doesn’t have to be robbed of freedom by a dictator to run for the top seat. But having suffered gives one a reality check about the tyranny of the state up close and personal. It’s an experience that humanises most people.

DP William Ruto, another key aspirant, jumped straight from selling chickens on the roadside to Mr Moi’s bosom. He has never looked back. Since then, he has been suckling the sweet extremities of the state. And now, the man from Sugoi is literally a heartbeat away from the presidency. You can be born poor, but through deft, cunning, and guile ascend to power. And that too isn’t a crime. 

Mr Mudavadi is none of the above. The man from Vihiga doesn’t have peasant cunning, or the streetwise sleight of hand. In fact, he’s an open book. He’s the kind of man you’d want atop the state were it not a snake pit. Fact is in 2013, Mr Mudavadi came within a whisker of succeeding President Mwai Kibaki.

Then TNA’s Uhuru Kenyatta and URP’s Ruto pulled the rug from under him. He was double-crossed. But rather than cry bloody murder and demand someone’s head on a platter, Mr Mudavadi took the betrayal in his stride. He seems to have made peace with it, and let bygones be bygones. If it were me, I would never forgive, or forget. 

Join a winning horse

That’s Mr Mudavadi’s problem. He’s too much of a gentleman, if such a thing exists. He faces other obstacles. He holds the rather comical record of being the shortest serving VP – a meagre 60 days. He failed to stand up to Mr Moi when it would’ve counted and as a result, was sent to political oblivion for a long time. His folks in Sabatia even ejected him as MP in 2002. The Narc wave sent him packing. He’s been unable to corral the Luhya, from whom he comes, to back his presidential bid. The Luhya have kept him in political purgatory like a groom who can never quite get the girl. Mr Odinga has eaten his lunch every election.

Mr Mudavadi’s fortunes have sunk so low that he can’t separate himself from the Luhya pack. In Kenya, one has to emerge as an ethnic kingpin to be taken seriously. In Mr Mudavadi’s case, he’s barely punching above Ford-Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula. Even former UNCTAD boss Mukhisa Kituyi is nipping at his heels.

On the national stage, Cotu’s Francis Atwoli seems to have more panache. Mr Mudavadi would’ve to bring all these smaller kingpins under his suzerainty to crow like a rooster. His failure to do so has left the impression the Luhya don’t have a plausible presidential contender. Many Kenyans have concluded Mr Mudavadi doesn’t have the stomach – the oomph – for a fight. That’s unfair, but it’s political reality.

Mr Mudavadi’s chances have dwindled because Mr Kenyatta has refused to “point at” him as the preferred heir. Methinks he was hoping to use the One Kenya Alliance with Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka, Kanu’s Gideon Moi, and Mr Wetang’ula to force Mr Kenyatta’s hand to anoint him. Obviously, that’s not happening. In any case, with OKA, Mr Mudavadi is second fiddle to Mr Musyoka. OKA was always Mr Musyoka’s vehicle, and no one else’s. If Mr Mudavadi doesn’t know this, then he’s in deep political doo-doo. I feel for Mr Mudavadi, the overlooked gentleman. His best option now is to join a winning horse and live to fight in 2027.

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School. He’s chair of KHRC. @makaumutua