When Kakamega came to standstill as 'King of Mululu' took final salute


Moses Substone Budamba Mudavadi. [File, Standard]

Exactly 35 years today – on February 18, 1989 - Kakamega, indeed the entire Western region, was enveloped in a solemn mood as a political giant, Moses Substone Budamba Mudavadi, was laid to rest at his home in Mululu village.

The powerful cabinet minister in the administration of President Daniel arap Moi had been nicknamed the “King of Mululu’ because he bestrode Western political landscape like a colossus. Besides, he had strong links with State House and massive countrywide influence as minister for Local Government.

In those days of one-party rule, Mudavadi (pictured) was the only leader allowed to host goodwill delegations at his home in Mululu village. At the time Vihiga was part of the larger Kakamega district prior to creation of counties.

But it is Mudavadi role as king-maker that put him in a class above the rest. While working as Education Officer in charge of the Rift Valley in 1950s, he discovered leadership qualities in a young teacher named Daniel Kapkorios Toroitich Moi.

When a chance arose for an African to be nominated to represent Rift Valley in the colonial parliament, Mudavadi who had been picked for the position but declined because he so much loved his job as an educationist, he readily forwarded Moi’s name.

The young teacher too was reluctant to go into politics but Mudavadi persisted.

Thirteen years later, Moi was named independent Kenya’s third Vice President and eleven years later the country’s second President. His rule would be the longest, lasting for 24 years. Under the current Constitution the maximum a president can serve is 10 years.

Mudavadi was a king-maker even in his own house-hold. On his death in February 1989, his 29-year-old son, Musalia, was elected to Parliament and appointed to the Cabinet. Today, he is Prime Cabinet Secretary and a front-line presidential aspirant come 2032.


Though not the best of friends with the media, on his demise the Fourth Estate too, had some good things to say about him as captured in the words of our sister paper The Standard editorial commentary a day after he died. It read:

“Death has yet again robbed Kenyans of an outstanding leader. Moses Mudavadi was a man in his own class. As a politician, he had his friends and foes as is common with all politicians. That notwithstanding, above all he stood as a principled person. It is for this reason that the mark he made will remain in the memory of Kenyans for a long time.

During his political life he became a model of people’s representative; one who would stop literally at nothing for the benefit of his constituents. The rapid development of his constituency (Sabatia) speaks for itself. As a man of principle, he never spoke with his tongue in the cheek. He spoke his mind even if his views drew criticism as they did on many occasions. He didn’t fear criticism.

At times he would be at odds with the media but he didn’t interfere with their operations. There are politicians who would say one thing in the heat and excitement of a public rally but deny it the following day. That was not Mr Mudavadi’s style. If anything, he knew how to handle his crises and challenges.

In politics there is always rivalry but Mr Mudavadi believed that differences in politics should be combined with a give-and-take attitude. There were many who had been his bitter political rivals but they ended up his best friends. As a politician, Mr Mudavadi was a high-spirited man who never dulled and never lulled; May his soul rest in eternal peace.”

                 Born educationist

Mudavadi hailed from what used to be North Maragoli district (now Sabatia) where he was born in 1923. He began schooling at Kima Boy’s School in Western, proceeding to Maseno then Alliance High School. On graduation from high school he joined Leeds University, UK, for a diploma in teaching.

At the time teaching was the highest rung in the career rudder an African could climb. Not surprising the first three Kenyan presidents, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Moi and Mwai Kibaki got their early paychecks from teaching.

On return home Mudavadi was deployed at the Ministry of Education where he rose through the ranks; starting as Assistant Education Officer and rising to District Education Officer then Provincial Inspector of Schools for the Rift Valley province until 1963.

At independence he was appointed the first Provincial Education Officer (PEO) in charge of Nairobi area. At the time, Nairobi area Education Office covered the city, Machakos, Kitui, Kajiado and Limuru. Next he was posted to the ministry headquarters as deputy secretary where he was the third senior most official after the Permanent Secretary Kenneth Matiba and the Chief Inspector of Schools Kyale Mwendwa.

After a stint at the ministry headquarters he thought he could have a feel of the corporate world and got a job as the deputy human resources manager at the Standard Chartered Bank. Even here the blackboard wouldn’t be far from him as he was the officer in charge of training.

               Political bug

Finally politics beckoned. Being the best career role model in the wider Vihiga, his peers convinced him to have a go at an office that would give him and Vihiga national visibility. He resigned from Standard Bank against the best wishes of his European managers who thought he stood a good chance of rising to be first African chief executive at the bank. His bosses reluctantly let him go with a promise they would happily welcome him back just in case things didn’t work out well for him in politics.

As it turned out, political waters proved choppy for Mudavadi in his debutant entry. He lost the contest to a veteran trade unionist by name Peter Kibisu who polled 7,720 against Mudavadi’s 4,953 votes. Not a bad try though for a novice pitted against a seasoned politician.

True to their promise, his Mzungu bosses at the Standard Bank welcomed him back with open hands and just short of telling him: Well, didn’t we tell you not to go that route!

But, apparently, there is something in politics that sticks. And so it happened that when the next elections were called in 1974, Mudavadi resigned his job yet again to have another go at electoral politics.

It would still be him against Kibisu. In a bare-knuckle bristling fight that had tempers flare and fuses blow up, the score was against Mudavadi who polled 10,015 votes against his rival’s 16,420.

But this time round Mudavadi wouldn’t take it kindly. He escalated the battle to the courts by filing a petition.

It turned out his rival had more trouble to reckon with other than the election petition. He was arraigned in court on assault charges, found guilty and sentenced to 15 months imprisonment. The ensuing by-election turned out a walk in the park for Mudavadi and he won with ease.

Nobody was as happy to welcome Mudavadi to politics than the young man who he had persuaded to join politics against his wishes and who by now had risen to be Vice President. Moi had great relish coaching his old mentor how to navigate the tricky political terrain.

The first test was the Kanu elections called a year after Mudavadi was elected MP and where Moi helped the novice MP easily clinch chairmanship of the Kakamega party branch against strong opposition from veteran politicians.

Not long after Moi rose to be the President, which meant the stars would shine even better for his old buddy. In the first Moi government formed in 1979, Mudavadi was appointed Minister for Basic Education. Apparently this teaching thing would follow Mudavadi even to the cabinet.

He would later serve in other ministries but no doubt education was where he belonged and made a lasting impact.

As fate had it, ill health abruptly cut short Mudavadi illustrious career while his old buddy President Moi was outside the country on an official visit to Germany. In a condolence message sent from the German capital Bonn, the President summarised his friend as a man “who served his country tirelessly and in total devotion as an educator and development-minded leader.”

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