The jinx of wrong place, wrong time, wrong allies for Mudavadi

Veros Kinetu and Rhoda Kinetu during the launch of Mudavadi's Presidential at Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi on January 23, 2022. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]


On the day the military attempted to overthrow the government on August 1, 1982, Musalia Mudavadi was a student at the University of Nairobi.


Like many others, he ventured into the streets to see what was happening. In the process, he was arrested by loyal forces. He would spend days in police cells. His mistake? He happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and in the wrong company.

Fast forward to early this week when former Speaker of the National Assembly Kenneth Marende described Musalia as a good man but struck with the misfortune of wrong timing, wrong place and wrong (political) company. He was referring to the newly minted political formation, Kenya Kwanza Alliance (KKA), fronted by Deputy President William Ruto and Mudavadi.

Last Sunday, we woke up to media headlines that Mudavadi was set to make an ‘earthquake’ announcement at the Bomas of Kenya. We waited with bated breath.

I happened to study mathematics, physics and chemistry in high school so I have an idea about earthquakes and the Richter scale. In the wake of the August 1998 Nairobi terrorist bombing, I also had an extensive interview with a geology professor at the University of Nairobi. He explained to me how more catastrophic it would have been had the bomb exploded in the basement of the US Embassy building, which is what the terrorists had intended but were stopped by a hawk-eyed guard.

Had the bomb exploded underground, the professor told me, the impact would have been equivalent to an earthquake of magnitude 6 on the Richter scale (in the scale of 1-9) and caused up to tenfold the damage it did!

Mudavadi’s ‘major earthquake’ at the Bomas never came – but it was a zero on the political Richter scale. Did you feel it where you were? The function had the numbers, yes, and was well organised. But there is something presidential aspirant and National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi said early in the week; the crowd and organisation at Bomas was the work of Ruto, not Mudavadi. He didn’t elaborate.

Something similar happened in the 2007 presidential race. When emissaries of President Mwai Kibaki failed to convince Kalonzo Musyoka to shelve his ambitions and become Kibaki’s running-mate, the next strategy was to clandestinely help Kalonzo spoil as much for Raila Odinga, who was the bigger threat to Kibaki.

So when Kalonzo held a rally at Uhuru Park, the Kibaki campaign facilitated city politician Maina Kamanda to ensure Uhuru Park was packed to capacity. Thinking the crowd was his, Kalonzo went ahead to utter his famous line, nitapitia katikati yao! Meaning he would outsmart Kibaki and Raila to win State House. It never happened. However, it earned him the vice presidency but at a deadly (literally) cost to the country.

The other anti-climax in Mudavadi’s Sunday parade was his speech. He went back and forth on this and that, and everything.

Flashback: Mudavadi joined politics in 1989 at the age of 29 when he was handpicked to fill the vacuum caused by the death of his larger-than-life father, Moses Mudavadi.

It was in 1993 when he finally walked out of his father’s shadow with his appointment to the plum position of Finance minister. Ordinarily, that would have been a great boost to his budding career. But the timing was awful. His posting to the Treasury came when the Goldenberg scandal exploded. Kenya had also come from an election where worthless banknotes had been put in circulation and compounded an already precarious situation created by Goldenberg.

The youthful and inexperienced Mudavadi was tossed into the mess with a brief to clean it. The tragedy was, the ‘mop up’ couldn’t be done without creating an even bigger mess. This clearly comes out in the report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry on Goldenberg which found that it was during Mudavadi’s tenure at the Treasury that the largest payments in the heist were made.

According to the report, Mudavadi was hardly three months in office when his Permanent Secretary, Dr Wilfred Koinange, wrote three letters instructing the Central Bank of Kenya to make the first biggest payment ever to Goldenberg International Limited — Sh5.8 billion — and paid in three tranches vide Treasury letters of April 19, June 28 and July 7, 1993.

Meanwhile, Goldenberg key architect Kamlesh Pattni came up with a new fraudulent scheme known as cheque-kitting and through which he would fleece taxpayers of a cool Sh13.5 billion!

The inquiry report says the amounts paid by CBK in that fraudulent scheme were credited to the account of GIL (Goldenberg) at the then Exchange Bank, another conduit of fraud, on June 30, 1993, in respect of $110 million and on July 9, 1993, in respect of $100 million. The total paid was Sh13.5 billion.

To cover the hole created by the fraudulent payments, the Cabinet approved a Supplementary budget that was rubber-stamped by the Kanu-dominated Parliament.

Instructively, the inquiry did not find Mudavadi personally culpable. However, as the minister in charge at the Treasury when it happened, there is political responsibility he cannot escape.

Wrong political choices and company would be the next fate of Mudavadi beginning with the 2002 election. That year, his political star was shining and everybody thought he had good prospects. The mood in the country was that the ruling party Kanu be sent packing. Once again, Mudavadi ignored wise counsel and stuck with Kanu, where he was rewarded with an appointment as vice president. He lost his parliamentary seat and carries the unflattering reputation of being the first vice president to be rejected by voters at his home.

He is also the shortest-serving VP, having occupied the perch for only three months.

Ten years later, in the 2012 election, he made yet another distinction as the most ‘played on’ presidential aspirant. First, he complained ODM party had denied him a fair chance to compete to be its flag-bearer. Then he dodged a possible pact with two other aspirants – Peter Kenneth and Raphael Tuju – in what was called the Eagle Coalition. It turned out he had been courted by another coalition, Jubilee, and promised the flag-bearer slot only to be suddenly dropped.

In 2022, Mudavadi is in the same spot. First, he was whispered to be President Uhuru Kenyatta’s preferred successor, more so when the President attended his mother’s burial and said the presidency was not a preserve of only two communities. Then he was said to be favourite flagbearer for the One Kenya Alliance. And, phew, he is now in another outfit called Kenya Kwanza Alliance, with a slim probability that he will be a flag-bearer.

Raila campaign will gain

Whatever sideshows between now and April when coalitions must deposit their pre-election pacts with the IEBC, it is predictable as night follows day what route the Ruto/Mudavadi dalliance will take. Mudavadi will most probably be Ruto’s running-mate.

That way, the Raila campaign will gain two ways and smile all the way to the ballot. One, Ruto’s golden calf is Mt Kenya region on the assumption he will ‘return the hand’ in picking a running-mate from there. If that doesn’t happen and Raila picks a running-mate from there, Ruto’s goose will be cooked.

In the absence of Mudavadi’s name on the ballot, western region becomes a free-for-all, with Raila and Ruto splitting the vote down the middle.

The less likely scenario is where Mudavadi goes to the ballot presumably to deny Raila the western vote and causes a run-off between Ruto and Raila. But that as usual leaves Mudavadi stranded at the traffic lights as rules won’t allow Ruto pick a different running-mate in the run-off. Tough math, tough choices for the man from Mululu!.