Giant UDA: Why Ford Kenya and ANC could fall by the wayside

"We are committed to helping President William Ruto achieve his agenda," tweeted Malala with a picture capturing their meeting.

He had earlier told journalists that part of his brief is to talk to other parties and build a perpetual party like ANC of South Africa.

Some analysts argue that President Ruto could be focusing on having all affiliate parties fold and join UDA or regenerate it into Kenya Kwanza party under his control at a delegate's conference later in the year. Others fear it could spell doom on multi-party politics in the country that is still struggling to strengthen its democratic structures and fundamental freedoms like human rights and free press.

Constitutional law expert Stanislus Murunga says the move could end up like past attempts to create big parties, which ended up with bitter fallouts after such vehicles were only used by politicians to get to power.

He traced the story to shortly after independence, when President Jomo Kenyatta succeeded in merging Kanu and Kadu leading to simmering tensions that created dictatorship, descent and opposition.

"Many people were detained while others lost lives through torture and assassination just because they opposed the big party Kanu created at the time," says Murunga. Celebration of the National Rainbow Alliance Coalition (Narc) party victory was also short lived in 2003 when leaders in the party differed after president Kibaki won elections.

In 2013, many parties folded to form Jubilee but many later regretted in 2016 when they were left in the cold as leaders jostled for nomination in the limited space to contest for the 2017 elections.

Many party leaders claimed they were forced to sign off their parties under duress just like those who joined Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Alliance in 2022 would later complain that they did not know what they signed.

Murunga argues that collapsing parties into one also squeezes the number of voters because many do not participate when choices are limited to few people as opposed to a coalition.

In Kwale County for example, voter turnout was fairly good because the four MPs elected in 2022 were from different parties, all belonging to the Kenya Kwanza coalition.

What is required therefore is very strong parties working together to attract strong candidates which in turn increases votes for the presidential candidate in the coalition.

Otherwise weak parties will find it expensive and unnecessary to waste resources fighting against a monolithic party whose candidates are predetermined in nomination exercise dictated by the party leader or senior officials.

Prof Gitile Naituli of Multi-Media University's is certain that Ruto wants all affiliates parties to operate within UDA command structures as he streamlines the party agenda and re-election campaign.

"He wants to finish those parties so that everybody can concentrate on UDA in whatever format but they need to ask themselves what happened to Jubilee. Did it become a happy house when all parties were merged?

Jubilee obstacles

He argues that Ruto should reflect that when he had folded URP into Jubilee, he resurrected it in the form of UDA when President Uhuru Kenyatta's side attempted to create obstacles for him in Jubilee. The flipside is that had Uhuru gone into the second election still in a distinct partnership with URP, he could probably not have found the leeway to mishandle Ruto through the handshake.

What is not in doubt though, is that by creating a monolithic UDA party, Ruto will eliminate competition within his political space as he focuses on dealing with the opposition in next elections. But once he manages to cripple Kenya Kwanza affiliates, the other so called principals will have to stick in the coalition because they don't have a house of their own.

"I would resist it, if I was either Ford Kenya or ANC because from Ruto's perspective, he needs to mess them up and stifle their ability to organise themselves," says Naituli.

But the problem in ANC could be bigger than just losing Malala and it may have stemmed from Mudavadi's own insecure position given that he sits on a very weak grassroots political base.

Prof Naituli argues that he may be thinking about building grassroots support in western using Ruto and UDA and if possible inherit the president's countrywide base in the 2032 presidential polls.

Own profile

That may, however, not necessarily work, because he can be seen as a weak leader depending on outsiders to develop his own profile and that could also complicate matters for him at national level.

What is clear now is that Mudavadi appears to be very comfortable within the UDA ranks, especially after the President created an office for his wife.

Prof Naituli cautions that such offices could work against UDA and unless something dramatic happens to change Kenya Kwanza fortunes, public reaction against it could mirror Jubilee's in the last election.

"It is not an intelligent decision because MCAs and MPs will soon also demand to open offices for their spouses. It is the eating season with no regard to the drought and other challenges facing Kenyans," he says.

Political analyst Martin Andati describes Ruto as a student of Kanu politics who stills believes in one major strong party having the command and control principle.

He says ANC was crippled when Mudavadi resigned as party leader and handed over to Lamu Governor Issa Timamy, followed by the departure of strong pillars like Malala.

"ANC is dying a natural death because Timamy wields very little political influence, yet his deputy Kassim Tandaza is also from coast, while the current Secretary General Gakuru is shortlisted for Chief Administrative Secretary," says Andati.

So all that Ruto needs to do is give Gikuru a CAS job, appoint ANC chairman Kevin Lunani in a parastatal and then make the party a lifeless coastal region affair.

Focus will then shift to Wetangula who as a public servant cannot also continue rearing his head as the Ford Kenya party leader, even if he chooses to operate from behind the scenes.

Matters are further complicated by the fact Ford Kenya Secretary General Wamalawa is also lobbying to be made CAS after the humbling defeat by Governor George Natembeya in the Trans Nzoia gubernatorial race.

So with Ford Kenya and ANC out of the way, Ruto will have a clear field, because Alfred Mutua's Chap Chap is almost non-existent now while Moses Kuria appears to have jumped ship long time ago. They will have Mwangi Kiunjuri to contend with but with only two MPs from hia party, he cannot do much and may be ordered to be part of UDA or ship out if he refuses to wind it up.

International relations and political science expert Macharia Munene also thinks Mudavadi is seeking for more relevance through Ruto's support, which may gradually make him a key player. He, however, questions what happens to the relationship between Wetang'ula and Mudavadi especially if the latter manages to get more support through Ruto in the greater Kakamega region that also includes Vihiga.

He argues that by making Malala secretary general, Ruto knows what kind of arrangement he has made with ANC within UDA with Wetang'ula so far expressing no opposition.

"They have 10 years to play with because Ruto is lining them up for 2032 by helping Mudavadi build a reputation, so that with time the voters in greater Kakamega see him in a more positive light," says Munene.

He, however, cautions that it may boomerang on UDA if the party rushes to swallow ANC through Malala's exuberance and eagerness of uniting the parties as he pointed out last week.

Prof Munene cautions that swallowing the two parties will strengthen ODM in the region but if UDA joins forces with ANC, it will weaken ODM in Kakamega, which should be the political end game. He therefore advises that Mudavadi focuses on weakening ODM and not winding up his party, failure to which, his chances of convincing not only his grassroots support but the larger population will be slim.

Last year, former Agriculture Minister Kipruto Kirwa who was UDA vice chairman hailed the move by ANC and Ford Kenya to join.

"It became a bigger house and I thought the image of Kenya Kwanza would improve because it was no longer going to be a one man show," said Kirwa after quitting his position.

He, however, sympathised with Mudavadi's position in Kenya Kwanza; "he is a man of tremendous reputation and I don't know how his future will be because is a faithful man whose word is his deed." Kirwa described Wetang'ula as a shrewd player, and a survivor who can bolt out or negotiate his position in any situation, given that he a very serious schemer.

ANC deputy party leader Kassim Tandaza, MP Matuga is, however, optimistic that multi-party politics will be allowed to thrive in the country.

"The three parties entered into a coalition and so they can sit down to harmonise their manifestos, because President Ruto, Mudavadi and Wetang'ula's parties have different manifestoes," says Tandaza.

To him, Malala moving to UDA does not mean he left with the party, it only means they share the same vision and not that they are folding ANC.

He said there are processes and party organs that must be consulted to merge the party but even if they were to fold, the name could be UDA, ANC or Kenya Kwanza or any other.

"But I maintain that this country still needs many parties to grow our democracy because one party will create high voter apathy," he added.