No Luhya can fit into Moses Mudavadi’s shoes

By Dominic Odipo

Kenya: Among his fellow Luhya members of Parliament, he was undoubtedly the First among unequals. If the new constitution had existed in his time, he would almost certainly have been elected either the first senator or the first governor for Vihiga County.

Somehow, the late Substone Moses Budamba (SMB) Mudavadi seemed to have outgrown the National Assembly by the time he passed away in 1989. It is not easy to see who among his political colleagues from Vihiga county would have stopped him.

Coming second on the list of Luhya political Titans, SMB, as he was fondly known by his friends, matured just after Masinde Muliro had exited the political stage, blazing the trail for the next two: Michael Wamalwa Kijana and his own son Wycliffe Musalia. Probably more than any of his Luhya brothers, he had a rare flare for political power play, and never had any lingering or recurring doubts about where his Southern Cross lay in the political skies.

Depth of loss

A whole quarter century after his death, the Luhya community from which he sprang still does not appear to fully appreciate the extent or depth of his loss.

There are at least three important political messages that the Luhya community needs to extract from the relatively short political life of the late SMB Mudavadi.

The first and most important of these messages is: Abaluhya, seek ye first the political kingdom, and the rest will fall into place. And, following directly from this is the second message: From among yourselves, pick one champion, whom you should all rally behind, and through whose voice you should all speak.

National level

The third message that old SMB, who would have been 90 this year, left behind for the Luhya, is this: Remember that that final and most important push into the political kingdom may have to come from a member of another community.

Therefore, do not ever prematurely shut all your political doors. Remember also that the Luhya community stands on the same pedestal at the national level as all the other so called big tribes. Therefore, do not ever look upon yourselves as in any way being inferior to any other community.

No Luhya politician before SMB had managed to raise the profile and esteem of the ordinary Luhya the way he did, even though the ordinary Luhya, even in his own native Vihiga county, never quite got this message when he was alive.

Just as former president Daniel arap Moi raised the self esteem of his native Kalenjins tremendously, so did SMB raise the profile and esteem of the Abaluhya people to levels they had not even dreamt about.

It is almost impossible to calibrate the value of this message to the people of Mulembe, thousands of whom today walk in the streets anywhere in Kenya with their heads held high, not knowing they are walking in the shadow of SMB. It was perhaps no surprise that SMB’s closest political friend was none other than President Moi.

By the time SMB passed away, he had certainly outgrown his native Luhyaland, which he bestrode like a Colossus. What messages, if any, did he leave behind for the rest of the country? At least three.

First, SMB demonstrated, for every Kenyan to see, that enduring personal and political linkages could be built between members of different communities in this country for the benefit of both sides — a message which needs to be amplified even more today.

Secondly, SMB demonstrated, for the whole country to see, that political power could be deftly and beneficially deployed in the service of one’s people.

Whenever he got the opportunity, he used his power fully in the service of his Abaluhya people, breaking no law, but following faithfully in the tradition of many others from other regions who had come before him. To SMB, power was nothing if it was not deployed in the service of his people. In this regard, he was very different from the ordinary Luhya politician, who tends to shy away from power.

SMB saw power as an instrument of, not just the development, but also the emancipation of his people from perpetual poverty. Leading from the front, he held his people’s hands, urging them on like no other Luhya leader had done before him. In this sense, he was probably a greater leader than Masinde Muliro, who dealt mostly in the realm of ideas.

Political power

Third, and probably most important, SMB, through his actions in the different ministries he headed, passed the message to all Kenyans that political power is not a finite commodity which depletes as it is deployed. On the contrary, he repeatedly demonstrated that, in fact, political power grows even as it is deployed.

In other words, the more one deploys political power, the more his power base grows. And, conversely, the less one uses it, the less it grows.

The writer is a lecturer and consultant in Nairobi.

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