Musalia Mudavadi exploited tribe factor to gain popularity

ANC Party leader Musalia Mudavadi.

To me, the ‘earthquake’ that Mudavadi promised Kenyans was not the announcement of a merger between ANC and UDA parties, but the announcement that he is a Kalenjin. He affirmed he was born in Eldama Ravine contrary to the belief that he was born in Sabatia.

The revelation was a little troubling because Mudavadi had never said that before and secondly, he said it while on a campaign trail in the company of DP William Ruto. This raises questions on the significance of ethnicity in voter mobilisation in Kenya and the quest for identity politics. We all know Mudavadi is a Luhya, but very few people know that he has Kalenjin ethnological links.

The announcement that he, too, is a Kalenjin sounds trendy politically speaking, especially during the current political campaign momentum. In politics, anyone can justify belonging anywhere or association with any other. Ethnicity is certainly a springboard upon which politicians draw legitimacy.

The Mudavadi episode teaches us that ethnicity is increasingly becoming a seductively useful frame in Kenyan politics. In other words, the politicisation of ethnic identities in Kenya has become a fashionable tool for voter mobilisation. Talk of Kamatusa, Gema, Luhya or Kalenjin, these are all ethno-engineering terminologies that bring together some ethnic communities for political bond and expediency.

The decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to charge William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta translated into a bond of two ethnic groups upon which Kenyatta became president and Ruto his deputy. Curiously, the case shifted quickly from the sins of two individuals to a communal affront against the Kalenjin and Kikuyu ethnic communities.

Koitalel arap Samoei

This is not the first time Mudavadi has attempted to link himself with the Kalenjin community. In July 2012, he sought ritual blessings and endorsements from the Nandi Laibons who endorsed his presidential bid at the legendary Koitalel arap Samoei’s grave. This little episode did not pass through our ears because most probably it was not an earth-shaking political act then.

The link goes further than this. Mudavadi’s father, Moses Mudavadi, worked among the Kalenjin and to be specific, President Moi owed his success to Mudavadi’s father whom he met in Baringo in the 1950s. Mudavadi used his position as a school inspector to recommend Moi, then a P4 teacher, for an in-service course at Kagumo Teachers Training College, a course that earned Moi promotion to a P3 teacher.

The relationship between Musalia and Moi was three-fold: Socially, the would-be step brothers and sisters of Musalia Mudavadi were a factor of Moses Mudavadi marrying mama Rosabella Cherono. The rural Kalenjin addressed Moses Mudavadi as ‘lemenyei’,  meaning married from the same house. On the other hand, Moses Mudavadi often referred to mzee Moi as his ‘vasanji’ – Maragoli for in–law.

Though seemingly incongruous and stubbornly stuck together as a community, the Luhya have for years acquired a certain level of political legitimacy and a claim to western Kenya political space.

Dr Chacha teaches at Laikipia University.