Musalia Mudavadi and William Ruto

ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi (left) and DP William Ruto during the UDA-ANC-Ford Kenya rally in Nakuru on January 26, 2022.

| Cheboite Kigen | Nation Media Group

Betrayal in the city: 24 hours of drama that dealt OKA final blow

On the night of Saturday, January 22, former vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka received a call from then his co-principal in the One Kenya Alliance (OKA), Musalia Mudavadi. It was the eve of the Amani National Congress’ National Delegates Conference (NDC) and, according to people close to Mr Musyoka, he thought this was just an ordinary call from his ‘brother’ to update him on the following day’s events and confirm that he would be attending.

Instead, the ANC leader was calling to break some news: Deputy President William Ruto would be attending the NDC, and he didn’t want Mr Musyoka to be caught unawares by the presence of the man about whom the Wiper leader had been saying some not-so-nice things.

Mr Musyoka was not amused by the news and wondered why that communication was coming in that late in the day, and also what the other principals were expected to do. There had not been any formal meeting of OKA principals where a decision had been communicated that the Deputy President would be gracing Mr Mudavadi’s big day, and it appeared to them that the ANC leader had either taken them for granted, or had been arm-twisted to.

Shortly before Mr Mudavadi called the Wiper leader, Mr Cyrus Jirongo, another OKA principal, had requested to be furnished with the details of the programme of the Amani NDC and the list of the expected speakers following rumours that Dr Ruto would be attending. Until that time, and all the way to Sunday mid-morning, the party had not released the programme, which was suspicious, according to those close to Mr Jirongo.

At 8.30am on the D-day, Mr Mudavadi called Mr Jirongo to inform him that his highly priced and unlikely guest would be attending. And with that late revelation all hell broke loose.

Bolt out

A source familiar with events surrounding the big fallout told the Nation that Mr Musyoka and Mr Gideon Moi, of Kanu, did not want to be seen to have boycotted the event, so a decision was quickly made that they attend but bolt out once DP Ruto was in the vicinity. Sources within the alliance claimed that had they not made that appearance, Mr Mudavadi and his handlers had a ready script to explain the Ruto presence: they had only invited the Deputy President after Mudavadi’s OKA colleagues deserted him at the eleventh hour.

In the middle of this chaos, and as Mr Musyoka and Mr Moi stormed out of the chaotic theatre at Bomas, Mr Mudavadi pumped out his chest and made the declaration that he was going to break away from the bonds of OKA. He wanted to be taken seriously from now on, he declared, even though as he broke away, he was not going to stand alone but would be propped up by William Ruto, the man sitting behind him.

A source at the centre of the planning told the Nation that Senator Wetang’ula’s brief was to keep Mr Musyoka and Mr Moi busy until the Deputy President arrived, but the presence of the advance UDA battalion betrayed him, and thus the walkout was inevitable. But Mr Mudavadi’s spokesman, Mr Kibisu Kabatesi, said that by deciding to work with Mr Ruto, Mr Mudavadi had smartly pulled a fast one on his OKA colleagues, whom he claimed were already negotiating with the Deputy President on the sides.

“Even Kalonzo Musyoka has been engaging with Ruto,” said Mr Kabatesi.

“This is a case of Mudavadi going ahead of the others, just like Raila went ahead of the Nasa principals and shook hands with Uhuru. Everybody else wanted to have talks with Ruto. It is the nature of politics, and in this case Musalia went ahead of them.”

Not resting easy

Signs that Mr Mudavadi was not resting easy in OKA had emerged as far back as late last year. In fact, Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr says they got wind that the ANC leader was planning to bolt out of OKA in December, soon after President Uhuru Kenyatta started dropping hints that Mr Odinga would be his choice successor. Mr Mudavadi’s jitters were made worse by rumours that Mr Musyoka was sympathetic to the former Prime Minister, and that it was just a matter of time before he crossed over to Azimio.

“So when Raila attended the Wiper NDC on November 24 he appeared to confirm Mr Mudavadi’s worst fears,” Mr Kilonzo Jnr said.

“It is at this point that they started direct and bold engagements with UDA.”

Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala was at the centre of the talks with Ruto, and on the eve of the NDC was in the Karen official residence of the Deputy President for ‘logistical arrangements’ of Mudavadi’s ‘earthquake’ moment.

Although Wiper and Kanu leaders say they had prior information that the DP and Mr Mudavadi were onto something, it appears they were not expecting the two to strike a deal that fast, and so the late night call to inform them of the presence of Ruto jolted them from their comfort zones. Musalia Mudavadi, with whom they had painstakingly built a coalition, had jumped ship. And he had no apologies to make.

Of the political parties making up OKA at the time, Kanu, Ford-Kenya and Wiper had all held their national delegates conferences while ANC had yet to. In all these NDCs, all the OKA principals had either attended in person or sent representatives. The principals had also attended the launch of Mr Musyoka’s SKM Command Centre in Karen earlier in 2021.

“We therefore saw it as an obligation to return that good gesture, irrespective of who his guest was going to be,” said Kitui Senator Enock Wambua, attempting to explain the uneasy presence of Kalonzo Musyoka at Bomas.

“Our party leader attended with a delegation of Wiper Party representatives and fulfilled his obligation to witness his brother being installed as a presidential candidate of ANC.”

Behind-the-scenes meetings

Mr Wambua said that the other OKA principals decided to attend the ANC meeting “despite earlier on Saturday having gotten wind that the DP was going to attend”. What they did not know at the time was that the late night calls were just part of a series of behind-the-scenes events and meetings designed to cut them to size and disrupt OKA.

“All intelligence briefings point to the fact that Musalia and Ruto had been talking almost daily for a number of weeks,” said former ANC deputy party leader and Lugari MP Ayub Savula, who has since decamped to the Democratic Action Party-Kenya.

“The defection to UDA thus did not surprise us. Ruto even financed the NDC, and that’s the reason he spoke last yet this was supposed to be an ANC gathering. Musalia has mortgaged himself.”

On Sunday morning, now certain that Mr Mudavadi had abandoned the sinking OKA ship but unsure of what that move meant for the coalition, Mr Musyoka, Mr Moi and Mr Jirongo reached out to each other on what to do. While Mr Musyoka and Mr Moi agreed to go to Bomas of Kenya and stay there until after the NDC endorsed Mr Mudavadi, Mr Jirongo did not want to be seen anywhere within the vicinity of Bomas. He did not attend the event.

Other sources also say that after Mr Mudavadi learnt that Mr Musyoka and Mr Moi would be leaving, he reached out to Dr Ruto to ask him to delay his and his UDA brigade’s arrival at Bomas until after the delegates had endorsed him. Dr Ruto, it is further claimed, agreed. Mr Musyoka and Mr Moi, joined by businessman Jimi Wanjigi, were to leave immediately after the delegates passed the resolution.

While reports that all was not well in OKA had been circulating for months the principals and their allies kept denying the existence of any rifts. In fact, they took every opportunity to reiterate their commitment to stay together all the way to the ballot. This messaging was reinforced by well-calculated photo-ops, with their social media managers sharing photos of them meeting in hotels, homesteads and offices, seemingly having the good time and happy to be part of the coalition.

Now Mr Wambua, the Wiper Kitui Senator, says the reason they were denying the existence of disunity and bad blood in the coalition was that “until the last minute there was commitment on the part of the principals that they were going to stick together no matter what happened”.

But even as OKA leaders at the time refuted reports of rifts within the formation, internally, Mr Mudavadi had been fuming at the permutations by the OKA technical committee, where his party ANC was equally represented. OKA insiders say all the permutations put Mr Musyoka at the head of the ticket, with Mr Mudavadi’s best chance being a running mate.

But the latest permutations before the OKA break-up were even bleaker for the ANC party leader as Narc-Kenya’s Martha Karua had emerged as a better running mate to Mr Musyoka than Mr Mudavadi.

‘Not betrayed anyone’

On Saturday, Mr Kabatesi told the Nation that by choosing to work with the second-in-command without consulting his OKA colleagues, Mr Mudavadi had not betrayed anyone.

“As a matter of fact,” said Mr Kabatesi, “it is one of those fellows who actually betrayed Musalia by buying off his MPs under instructions from Azimio. He has been the paymaster for the MPs who have been leaving. This is something that was simmering underground.”

“Number two,” continued Mr Kabatesi, “this same principal, in conjunction with another principal, tried to buy off the technical committee in Naivasha so that they could do what was not in their mandate — to announce who is the presidential candidate. The committee’s job was to give a way to reach a decision on who the flagbearer should be. Already, it had been agreed that the decision would be by consensus and the committee’s mandate was to develop tools for consensus, but these people tried to buy them off so that they could announce Kalonzo as the best candidate.”

He added that it had become “obvious” that there was a delaying tactic to make OKA a holding ground for Azimio.

“That is, take time until it is impossible to register OKA as a coalition. Why would one stick to the instruments of OKA and not want this thing registered? So it became very clear that OKA had become a holding ground to ensure that time runs out for Musalia and he will have nowhere to go.”

He said that is what precipitated the disintegration.

“The mistrust had been generated to that level and these are facts. I am not creating anything. You remember Musalia was talking every other day about a deficit of trust. Lately it was not about Raila but these OKA fellows because they were not genuine and they didn’t want OKA to move forward. So in all this, the person who was seriously betrayed was Musalia.”

On whether Mr Mudavadi informed other principals in advance of his partnership with the DP and UDA, Mr Kabatesi said: “All these people had held their NDCs. They did not give Musalia an advance list of the people they had invited. And Musalia, too, was under no obligation to give them a list of those he had invited. So whether they had known earlier or later does not matter. The fact of the matter is that they came to the NDC. What they boycotted or pretended to boycott is Musalia’s acceptance speech, but the important thing to note is that Musalia did not owe all these people a list of people he had invited, just like he never demanded any from them when they held their NDCs.”

Negotiations with UDA

As it was, ANC had planned to have its NDC last December but it was delayed to pave the way for negotiations with UDA in the hope that it could accommodate Dr Ruto’s attendance.

On January 5, OKA held a press conference at Hermosa Hotel in Karen, Nairobi. The statement was read by Mr Jirongo, and in it they urged Kenyans to disregard reports that some of the alliance members had joined other political formations, describing such claims as rumours.

“As a matter of fact, OKA is growing and continues to attract other stakeholders and political parties,” they said as they cited the Mt Kenya Unity Forum.

Asked by journalists whether they had been approached by the DP, Mr Wetang’ula gave an outright denial while Mr Mudavadi was ambiguous, saying “I am free to meet anybody but where I do meet such a person I will not shy away from telling Kenyans”, and that “I will speak to them freely and in the open”.

‘Earthquake’ moment

Two weeks later, Mr Mudavadi skipped the Naivasha retreat in which the OKA leaders met the technical committee and received its report on the suitability of each of them to contest the presidency. In the background, away from the glare of cameras and the disapproving gazes of his colleagues, he was planning his ‘earthquake’ moment.

In the meantime, after firming up the deal with ANC, DP Ruto mobilised all Tangatanga MPs and asked them converge at his Karen home, ready to storm the event in a show of might.

OKA, the coalition that had appeared rudderless, clueless, visionless and pointless, had been dealt a deadly blow.

In the words of the Maragoli author Francis Imbuga, this was betrayal in the city, and with it came a string of accusations and counter-accusations about who was to blame.

Mr Mudavadi is now painted by his former co-principals as a shameless politician who went to cavort with the same Ruto he had castigated just weeks earlier, but the ANC leader is sitting pretty in the Ruto camp, and retorts that the kettles in OKA have no business pointing to his blackness.

Additional reporting by Ibrahim Oruko