Musalia's knack for diplomacy puts him a cut above Cabinet colleagues

Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and Foreign & Diaspora Affairs Minister during interview at his office on December 21, 2023. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

President William Ruto’s government is weak and at times looks like that of President Warren Harding in post-World War I United States. Some of Harding's Cabinet secretaries were administrative disasters and so crooked that they ended up in jail. A few, however, were outstanding as Cabinet secretaries and gave the government a positive image.

In his desire to return America to ‘normalcy’, Harding had stressed the virtues of healing over heroism as what the fatigued Americans needed.

His deputy, Calvin Coolidge, sure he could not get into trouble because of anything he never said, chose to say little and sleep a lot. In the election of 1924, voters kept ‘cool with Coolidge’ and voted ‘Silent Cal’ president.

About 100 years later in 2024 in Kenya, which tends to copy the United States, Cabinet secretaries and other top government officials appear to be so questionable that Ruto admitted they were incompetent.

Their conspicuous consumption sprees imply high level corruption, which affects service delivery even as Kenyans cry over intensified and seemingly targeted poverty creation. Debates on which branch of government leads in corruption and declarations to ignore court orders cast doubts on critical national institutions.

To compound the situation, the country seemingly lost ‘independence’ to such external and de-bordering forces as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and foreign powers. These make Kenya look like a diplomatic surrogate of Western powers in Africa and dictate to the government. They reduce the size of the Kenyan ‘middle class’ and the productive sector.

Impervious to the realities of political economy, in theory and practice, and geopolitical dynamics, officials misguidedly over-tax wealth creators and promote disinvestment which siphons wealth from the productive sector and individuals. Consequently, officials boast of imaginary ‘achievements’ as vital national sectors like education and health run bankrupt.

In the midst of growing sense of national helplessness, however, a sense of sobering common sense flickers in some well performing Cabinet secretaries. Although the number of ministers who appear to perform satisfactorily is limited, a few stand out as sober in trying to redeem their colleagues.

Among them is Musalia Mudavadi, the Prime Cabinet Secretary with a dynastic heritage. His father Moses Substone Mudamba Mudavadi, alias ‘King of Mululu’, was a power house in the 1980s, helping Daniel arap Moi to rule Kenya and even threatened to abolish ‘freedom of worship’ if the clergy continued to criticise Moi’s governance.

Moi made Musalia Minister for Finance and also vice-president in 2002. He was in Raila’s 2007 Pentagon after which he became deputy prime minister, benefited with a UDF co-founder Jeremiah Kioni, his potential deputy, as presidential candidate in 2013.

He baptised himself ‘Macharia’ and ‘Earthquake’ in 2022 while looking for Mount Kenya votes and ended up cutting a winning deal with Ruto in Kenya Kwanza. In contrast to some Cabinet colleagues, Musalia gives the impression of being ‘cool’, polite, focused, and a quiet achiever.

Like Mwai Kibaki in the 1990s, Musalia is the second choice for everyone if the first does not do. He is dynasty with a sense of noblesse that does not threaten. He tends to unite while likely competitors split people with insensitive utterances.

Although he is not alone in making sense in a disjointed Cabinet that works at cross purposes to supposed objectives, Musalia seizes available opportunities to stand out and sound mature.

He has an assuring presence which others lack. He shows competence in fighting diplomatic fires that other Cabinet secretaries would have started. He, for instance, dealt with the spat with Tanzania over aeroplanes' landing in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam by simply calling his Tanzanian counterpart and the issue fizzled out.

As his Cabinet colleagues soil their reputations with questionable deals, he keeps cool and projects the image of cleanliness amidst corruption. While they lose their heads in negative imaging and boastful proclamations, Musalia has sobering effect in the country.