Mudavadi's clout gets bigger, but will it help turn Western yellow?

Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi speaking in Nairobi during the unveiling of the TSC 2023 -2027 strategic plan on July 6, 2023. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

President William Ruto’s move to reshuffle his Cabinet on Wednesday has given Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi a bigger clout both locally and internationally. 

In his first changes to the Cabinet he set up in September last year, President Ruto assigned Mudavadi the substantive portfolio of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs, a position hitherto held by Alfred Mutua, who was moved to the ministry of Tourism.

Political analysts, and leaders from the larger western regionhave expressed different views on the reshuffle.

Former Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa says Musalia’s additional responsibilities are welcome, but adds that the appointment is Ruto’s way of trying to live up to his 30 per cent promise of government share to western during last year’s campaigns.

“As leaders from western, we know Ruto is determined to change the region from blue (ODM) to yellow (UDA), but we believe he short-changed Western from the beginning. This tokenism will not sway us,” Wamalwa says.

He adds: “We welcome the changes because what Mudavadi and (Moses) Wetang’ula were given was not even 10 percent. Wetang’ula drove a hard bargain and got the only two substantive positions in government for his party Ford-K, which are the Health Ministry and Speaker of National Assembly that he holds. Mudavadi was short-changed.”

Wamalwa noted that the post of Prime CS is not yet embedded in law.

“We are still trying to see whether we can have it entrenched through the ongoing bipartisan talks. While Mudavadi’s new substantive position elevates him to a CS, he will be reporting to Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua who chairs Cabinet sub-committees.”

He says Gachagua has been opposed to the bipartisan talks since he does not want the office of the Prime CS to be recognised. 

Lawyer and political analyst Kennedy Echesa says the centrality of the bipartisan talks to the 2027 elections is the reason Mudavadi and Gachagua are reading from different scripts. 

“The success of the talks will most probably weaken the Central Kenya and Gachagua shareholding in the Kenya Kwanza administration. Once political hostility against William Ruto reduces, many of the  KK political apologists will begin to lose relevance. That’s why people like Gachagua want the talks to collapse,” opines Echesa.

Pundits believe there has been a silent supremacy battle between the two, which first emerged in May when Gachagua disparaged Mudavadi’s foreign trips after netizens pointed out that Ruto preferred to have Mudavadi represent him on foreign assignments over him. 

“I cannot leave the country just to go and see a new President being sworn in. I do not need that,” Gachagua said.

However, Mudavadi denied the existence of bad blood or supremacy wars between him and Gachagua. 

Perfect opportunity

“My job is to assist the President and his deputy among other things. We are friends and I get along well with the DP,” he said.

As CS Foreign Affairs, however, Mudavadi has the perfect opportunity to represent the president in international meetings without raising hackles.

Kakamega Deputy Governor Ayub Savula says Mudavadi’s new post is important for western region and agrees with sentiments expressed by Wamalwa.

Savula says that as CS Foreign Affairs, Mudavadi will have the opportunity to interact with the president on a daily basis.

“Foreign Affairs is a serious docket that will see Mudavadi report daily to the President. More importantly, being close to the president will give him the opportunity to push for more development for western Kenya,”  Savula says. Former Tongaren MP Simiyu Eseli believes Ruto has realised he is running out of time and has decided to rely on his only bankable area of competency, the people he believes are capable.

“Ruto complained publicly that his Cabinet is incompetent. He realises he is presiding over a kakistocracy and is running out of time. He must therefore use the few competent fellows he has in his government to deliver. Mudavadi is capable and competent to represent Kenya in the volatile international arena.”

Political analyst Martin Oloo shares Eseli’s view.

“Musalia is the greatest beneficiary of the reshuffle. Besides being the coordinator of the legislative agenda and supervisor of the CSs, he now handles the Foreign Affairs docket with its huge outlay of contacts and foreign dignitaries. Musalia is a strong partner in Kenya Kwanza and his experience of public service is an asset. As to winning over Western, Ruto has a strategy which is to build political structures in western directly.”

Centre for Good Governance Bungoma County Representative Philip Wanyonyi Wekesa, however, believes the elevation of Mudavadi is a clever way through which Ruto seeks to win western. 

“That’s a strategy to win Western Kenya and have it remain firmly in KK. It’s also about the abilities of Mudavadi with his experience in government.  KK is focusing on re-election in 2027 and it’s one of Ruto’s political strategies to win that election by reducing Raila’s political influence in Western.”