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Kalonzo, Mudavadi on the horns of dilemma

POLITICS
By Special Correspondent | October 24th 2021

One Kenya Alliance OKA principals Moses Wetangula, Musalia Mudavadi and Kalonzo Musyoka. [Standard]

As the plot thickens around Raila Odinga and William Ruto, the fate of the rest of the principal political notables is beginning to hang in the balance.

Amani National Congress party leader Musalia Mudavadi best epitomises the emerging concerns and dilemma in the political elite club, outside the central ring that has ODM leader, Raila and his nemesis, Ruto. Mudavadi has complained that the media is giving the two far too much limelight, and keeping the rest in the shadows.

He has also been cited in the daily press as saying that he will ask President Uhuru Kenyatta whether it is true, as Ruto says, that Raila is a State project. The bigger question, however, is what happens to the rest of the Big Six?

 

What happens to Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka of Wiper Democratic Party, Kanu’s Gideon Moi and Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula? Into the mix could also be thrown Speaker Justin Muturi and a welter of retiring governors.

Kalonzo and Mudavadi, especially, have been in the political cold for two seasons. They were last in Parliament and Government in 2007-2013 when they served in the grand coalition government of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The arrival of the Jubilee government, under a new Constitution, jettisoned them into the gutters, from where they have tried to make a comeback. 

Having served as vice presidents in the old dispensation, both Mudavadi and Kalonzo naturally have cast their sights higher. They have twice hoped and twice failed to ascend to the ultimate office. Kalonzo was part of the Raila Cord ticket that lost to Uhuru Kenyatta and Ruto in 2013, after running in 2007 and coming third. Mudavadi sought the House of the Hill in his own right, on the ticket of the defunct Amani Coalition.

He came a distant third, behind Uhuru and Raila. In 2017, he surrendered the Nasa ticket to Raila, with Kalonzo as the running mate, once again. Mudavadi served as the chief campaign manager, with his tame ambitions trained on unknown brighter things in the future.

While Kalonzo and Mudavadi have continued to hope and dream, Raila and Ruto have hoped and schemed. They already got off the blocks and are virtually impossible to catch up with. The unfolding drama in the political arena brings to memory the words of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ‘The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.’

Political galaxies

Raila and Ruto have toiled upward in the political night, to the extent that the starry political galaxies are assembling around them. When Ruto roved around the country in 2007 in search of the ODM presidential ticket, there were those who wondered what he was up to. He was a political upstart, groping his way out of the Kanu shells, and out of President Moi’s long shadow. He looked like an ambitious young joker. 

Fifteen years later, it is clear that Ruto had his sights on the future. He has raced on a chequered political track, kicking up just about every controversy that he could, along the way. He has been bold and even appeared reckless at times. He speaks his mind bluntly, regardless of the forum and on whose toes he steps — including those of his bosses. As a member of ODM and a Cabinet minister appointed in the grand coalition government by Raila, Ruto did not hesitate to hector his boss.

Nor has he hesitated in casting innuendo and veiled invective towards President Uhuru Kenyatta. In the process, he has come to increasingly resemble Raila in previous times. It is a political character that has now placed him at the front with Raila. 

With Raila and Ruto in the early stages of what promises to be an epic titanic political showdown all the way to August 9, the rest of the giants are precariously perched on the horns of a dilemma. Difficult choices stare them in the eye, regardless of where they look. Should they get their names on the ballot paper, or should they not? If they do, what are the likely outcomes, and can they live with them beyond August next year?

Their language so far has echoed Raila’s. They have talked about national unity and the war against corruption. This is essentially Raila’s mantra and thematic thrust against Ruto, whom he has defined as his competitor. Even when the rest have thrown barbs in his direction, Raila has played them down, like someone who knows that he could still need their support.

Both Kalonzo and Mudavadi have publicly suggested that Raila owes them a moral debt for past support. While they have formally dissolved Nasa because of disenchantment with Raila, they still keep the door open for future cooperation with him provided, in their words, ‘that this time he will support them.’

Mudavadi and Kalonzo have each vowed to go all the way to the wire, suggesting that they will not step down for anybody else. For his part, Raila is upping his game everywhere in the country, while waiting for the One Kenya Alliance (OKA) leaders to ‘see the light’ and come off their high horses. With the support and endorsement he has been ratcheting across the country, what remains is getting OKA back in the stable, and he should be ready for the final showdown with Ruto. Yet, for their part, going back to Raila could be suicidal. The common language in the street in the five Luhya counties of Kakamega, Busia, Bungoma, Vihiga and Trans Nzoia is that if Mudavadi does not run, the votes will go to Ruto. It is the same in Ukambani. 

There is a Raila fatigue in the two nations, despite spirited efforts by Cotu secretary general, Francis Atwoli and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, to shoo him up in Western and unhinged trials in Ukambani. If Mudavadi and Wetang’ula close the ranks with Raila in Western, the outcome is likely to be counterproductive for the whole team. The crystal ball shows both apathy and voter migration towards Ruto, who already has some foothold in Bungoma and Teso. Busia, outside the Teso, however, appears to remain firmly under Raila’s command. He does not need Mudavadi or Wetang’ula to help him.

Faded influence

Teso, on the other hand, is under Ruto’s command. So, too, is Mt Elgon and significant swathes of Trans Nzoia. Kakamega and Bungoma are torn between Mudavadi and Ruto, with Raila’s influence exceedingly faded. Raila is unlikely to regain Shinyalu and Mumias East, the only two ODM constituencies in Kakamega. Vihiga, on the other hand, is under the command of both Mudavadi and Raila, with Mudavadi enjoying a clear edge over Raila. Both Luanda and Emuhaya constituencies, however, could complicate matters for Mudavadi, because of the dual Luo and Nyore factors. 

The Luo and Nyore communities in the two constituencies have nursed historical disquiet ever since Vihiga was hived off the old Kakamega District in the 1980s, to become Vihiga District, at the behest of the late Moses Mudavadi.

The Nyore people have felt subordinated by their more populous Maragoli cousins, as have been the Tiriki. Mudavadi must manage these demographics delicately, regardless that he gets to the wire or not. If he does not get there, he could very well have to count them – and the whole of Vihiga –  as lost. The disenchantment of the Nyore and Tiriki with Mudavadi and the Maragoli expresses itself in bold verbal assaults by the former ANC Secretary General, Godfrey Osotsi (a Munyore with maternal roots in Maragoli). Osotsi purposes to run for the Senate on an ODM ticket. Governor Wilber Ottichilo, also from Bunyore, and Senator George Khaniri (Tiriki), are also estranged from Mudavadi. He needs to mend fences with them, even as he ventures outside his home county. 

Will Mudavadi become Kenya’s fifth president? His diehard supporters and sundry opportunists, who are flying on his coattails, believe that he will. Even as he has not made robust excursions across the country, they believe that President Kenyatta has a soft spot for the former vice president and deputy premier, and that he will anoint him as his successor.

Unfortunately, it is not a straight affair. For, as Mudavadi himself has acknowledged, anointment by a departing president can be the poisoned chalice in the lap. Yet, beyond that, Uhuru seems to have already settled on Raila. All indications are that he will not have another candidate, unless he is up to some political sleight of hand that the rest of the country is unable to read through.

With, or without endorsement by the president, Mudavadi is likely to be number three or four in the presidential election, depending on who else runs and who doesn’t. If he runs against Ruto, Raila and Kalonzo, his competition will be against Kalonzo, for the third perch and whatever good that it could bring. This is to say that Kalonzo is also sitting precariously. He has trouble at home in Ukambani as was manifest in last week’s Wiper defeat in a by-election in Masumba Ward in Machakos. Despite marshalling the entire OKA powerhouse behind Wiper in a show of might, the Wiper candidate, and Kalonzo, emerged a distant third. This should worry Kalonzo.

Beyond Machakos, Kalonzo has serious challenges in Makueni and Kitui counties. The three Ukambani governors, Alfred Mutua (Machakos), Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) and Charity Niglu (Kitui), long lost faith in Kalonzo. He steps out of Ukambani a lonely man at the top. Worse still, Kalonzo has no memorable message. He cuts the image of a lonely shadow boxer, who throws his blows in a dark ring at night. 

But Kalonzo, like Mudavadi, appears to be waiting for anointment and endorsement by Uhuru. The pair makes for a curious political opposition that anticipates endorsement by the sitting president. Separately, Gideon Moi and Kanu would seem to be casting their sights on rebuilding the party and marking time into the future. While Gideon has launched his campaign for President, he appears more like someone who is marshalling his troops and building his military for a convincing future onslaught. He enjoys the one comfort that Mudavadi and Kalonzo don’t – that he could survive to fight some other day.

For Mudavadi and Kalonzo, it is now or never, given their age, their previous attempts and voter fatigue. If they do not make it this time, they will most probably have to make way for new generations, the same as ODM’s Raila.

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