Gachagua vs Mudavadi: Is Ruto's big political gamble paying off?

Musalia Mudavadi and Rigathi Gachagua

Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi (left) and Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua. The two, the kingpins of Mt Kenya and Western regions respectively, might have become a political headache for President Ruto.

Photo credit: Nation Media Group

Had President William Ruto not made certain moves to assuage the many centres of power in his Kenya Kwanza Alliance, he would easily have been held hostage by bigwigs in the ruling coalition.

The entry of the Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi when he was Amani National Congress (ANC) leader into Dr Ruto's camp early this year had rubbed the likes of now-Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua the wrong way, because the latter was positioning himself as the second-in-command, forcing the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) leader to make a deliberate political move so as to manage the situation that could have cost his coalition the August 9 General Election.

At some point, political rivalry escalated between Mr Gachagua and Mr Mudavadi as the former pointed out that when ANC and Ford-Kenya joined Kenya Kwanza, it had already been agreed that Dr Ruto’s running mate was to come from the Mt Kenya region. This did not go down well with ANC.

“As far as I am concerned, Ruto is the presidential candidate, and the running mate will come from the Mountain at an appropriate time. Mr Mudavadi’s position is subject to discussion. He will not be the running mate and that I can confirm,” said Mr Gachagua in February.

“When they (ANC and Ford-Kenya) came for discussion, we had had many discussions, and we were forthright with them because we are honest people,” he added.

“They were told already we have had our own discussions and we have agreed that the running mate is for the Mountain and so as you come, it is good that you know.”

With Mr Gachagua now the country's second-in-command and Mr Mudavadi the Prime Cabinet Secretary, the President may have settled political scores between the two leaders, but the decision to give them clear responsibilities was a master stroke.

If the President had not spelt out the roles of Mr Gachagua and Mr Mudavadi, the country would probably be witnessing a supremacy war between them now.

According to political pundits, Mr Gachagua and Mr Mudavadi, the kingpins of Mt Kenya and Western regions respectively, might have become a political headache for President Ruto.

Now, the offices they hold will be used by their strongholds to judge their performance. For instance, Mount Kenya people are waiting to see how Mr Gachagua will use his position to benefit his region more than during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s regime, and the same applies to the former Vice-President in his Western backyard where he made many promises.

Prof Masibo Lumala of Moi University argues that the President has adopted a divide-and-rule tactic to manage his deputy and the Prime Cabinet Secretary, with both feeling that they each have Dr Ruto's ear. He cited the Head of State's tour to the United States where Mr Mudavadi accompanied him, while Mr Gachagua was left behind to run the country.

"Mr Gachagua and Mr Mudavadi are in the same government working under Dr Ruto, hence the President has succeeded to manage their differences now, but it is too early to make such a conclusion. We have not seen Gachagua and Mudavadi together as many times as we have seen the two leaders with the President separately. The President is someone who enjoys divisive politics or divide-and-rule tactics. When he is with Gachagua, Gachagua will feel that he enjoys the President's attention, same to Mudavadi," he said.

He argues that both leaders have an eye on the presidency in the future. "With their offices, their ambitions have been reignited, because Gachagua now sees that he is not far from being the President — heir to the throne, while Mudavadi now sees that he has a chance of being a president perhaps in 2027 or 2032. They will want to use their positions to rebrand and redeem themselves and succeed Ruto," Prof Lumala argued.

"Having Mr Mudavadi reporting to Mr Gachagua is just to contain the rivalry between the two leaders by making them understand that they are not equals, but the reality of the matter is that, Mudavadi's position is not recognised by the Constitution and that of Gachagua is, but they both report to President Ruto directly, unlike what the Executive Order says,” he said.

According to the roles announced by President Ruto in September, Mr Mudavadi will assist the President and the Deputy President in the coordination and supervision of government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), work in liaison with the Interior and National Administration ministry, and oversee the implementation of national government policies, programmes and projects.

The DP, as per the Constitution, deputises the President in the execution of his functions and the roles announced by the President that sought to bring clarity to Mr Gachagua's office will see him chair Cabinet meetings and oversee implementation of Cabinet decisions across all government MDAs.

While Mr Gachagua has his office at Harambee House Annex, Mr Mudavadi is housed at Kenya Railways headquarters on Haile Selassie Avenue.

The move to the railways headquarters took the former Vice-President and Deputy Prime Minister far from Harambee Avenue, which plays host to some of the most powerful offices in the land.

Yesterday, allies of President Ruto — Nyaribari Chache MP Zaheer Jhanda and his Kesses counterpart Julius Ruto, said conflict among leaders usually occurs where there is no clarity on roles, something they said the Head of State had cured.

Mr Jhanda said that with all leaders understanding what they are supposed to do, the Kenya Kwanza administration can work on its campaign pledges with ease.

"The President is a man of his word. He made it clear how he wants things done and everyone in government knows their roles. For instance, he signed for Gachagua a performance contract for the portfolio. Mudavadi is equally working without any issues," said the Nyaribari Chache MP.

"Giving Gachagua and Mudavadi clear roles has enabled the President manage the political differences between the two. Conflicts always arise where there is confusion," said the Kesses MP.

However, Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi is of the view that Mr Mudavadi has been shortchanged since what he was promised in the Kenya Kwanza pact has not been fulfilled.

Mr Osotsi yesterday said Mr Mudavadi’s position is yet to be aligned with the law.

"Musalia has been shortchanged. When will the President introduce a legislation in Parliament to anchor the prime cabinet secretary position in the law? He was promised 30 per cent of government, we have not seen that with the appointments that have taken place," said Mr Osotsi.

The creation of the prime cabinet secretary position is in line with the Kenya Kwanza coalition agreement that was signed by 15 political parties ahead of the elections.

Article 21 (k) of the Kenya Kwanza Alliance agreement on the sharing of national government responsibilities provides how Mr Mudavadi’s responsibilities will be created in the new government.

“Within 30 days following the general election, the coalition shall introduce in Parliament legislation that shall provide greater legal clarity on the position, roles and functions of prime cabinet secretary,” the coalition agreement says.

“The legislation so introduced shall amend the National Government Coordination (NGC) Act to include the Office of the Prime Cabinet Secretary and incorporate and align the functions of the prime cabinet secretary as proposed herein to the existing structures under the aforesaid Act,” it adds.

The NGC Act, which is set for amendment, establishes an administrative and institutional framework for coordination of national government functions at the national and county levels of governance.

According to Mr Osotsi, Mr Mudavadi should ensure the promises contained in the agreement between President Ruto, National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula of Ford-Kenya and himself are fully implemented.

“I think the major challenge for Mudavadi is to ensure full implementation of the promises documented in the Kenya Kwanza coalition pact with UDA and other partner parties including ANC,” he said.

“In the pact, they made ambitious promises, for example construction of 1,000 kilometre of tarmac in the region, at least one manufacturing plant in every county, revival of sugar factories, among other things. Luhyas want to see him push KKA to implement these projects within the stipulated time. He will be judged on these promises and not mere political posturing and rhetoric. What is going on now in Mumias Sugar is because of Raila (opposition leader Raila Odinga) which he lobbied for during the handshake, not the current government,” said Mr Osotsi.