Kill or keep our parties? The dilemma facing Mudavadi and Wetang'ula

Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and Speaker of the National Assembly Moses Wetangula during a thanksgiving function held at Friends school Silungai in Malava Sub-county on April 1, 2023. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Whether to dissolve their political parties or merge is a matter that weighs heavily on the shoulders of National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula and Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi. 

Wetang’ula is the leader of Ford-K while Mudavadi is a member of the Amani National Congress, parties under the Kenya Kwanza ruling coalition, of which President William Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) is the dominant party.

Until October 2022 when Lamu Governor Issa Timamy took over in acting capacity, Mudavadi was the ANC leader. His appointment to the Prime Cabinet Secretary position necessitated his relinquishing the party’s leadership in accordance with Article 77 (2) of the Constitution. 

Last year, UDA Secretary General Cleophas Malala started calls for dissolution of ANC and Ford-K. During a fundraiser presided over by Wetang’ula in Sisokhe village Navakholo, Kakamega County, Malala’s seemingly innocuous question: “Is it possible that we dissolve our parties and form one strong party?’’ laid the ground for pressure to be exerted on Mudavadi and Wetang’ula.

Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya and former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, who is the ODM deputy party leader, have recently stepped up calls for the disbandment of the two parties in favour of a single outfit that would unite the Western region.

During the homecoming party for Lugari MP Nabii Nabwera last month, Oparanya claimed he sought an audience with Mudavadi and Wetang’ula to create a single party for the region, but they declined.

“Towards the last elections I approached my brothers Wetang’ula and Musalia with the suggestion they fold the parties and I on my part leave ODM so that we form another party that would help our course towards the presidency of the country but they flatly refused,” he said.

Go back to cocoons

“We must come together. Nobody should tell you that Luhya’s are different, we are one,” Natembeya said and asked, “Who says some of us should be in DAP-K, ANC and others in FORD-Kenya? Our leaders only talk of Luhya unity when it comes to elections and after that, they go back to their cocoons.”

Natembeya says late Vice President Wamalwa Kijana almost succeeded in uniting the Luhya. “I want to pick up from where he left. I don’t have to be the leader if there is a better person, as long as it is not Wetang’ula or Mudavadi. You cannot teach an old dog new tricks”. 

Political analyst Prof Gitule Naituli says: “The Luhya are the second most populous tribe in Kenya, if not actually the most populous. Why then is Mudavadi not the president?” he asks. “Mudavadi does not want to lead. He is comfortable following others and the people are disappointed. That is why young leaders like Natembeya are getting frustrated.”

The emergence of the ‘Tawe’ movement spearheaded by Natembeya adds to the pressure being piled on Mudavadi and Wetang’ula. Natembeya says the duo’s leadership has had no impact on the region, and it is time they left the scene to other leaders. 

Drawing parallels with the leadership of Jesus, he said: “After only three years, Jesus left an indelible mark. Longevity in politics is not a measure of anything. These characters have been there for more than 40 years. What legacy can they leave for their people?”

Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi believes that ANC and Ford-K miscalculated by joining Kenya Kwanza, a union he believes has not brought any benefits to the people of Western Kenya. 

“You promised 30 per cent jobs in government, 1,000 kilometres of roads, the revival of the sugar sub-sector yet nothing has been forthcoming. No wonder you are getting complaints, which you call noise. People like  Natembeya echo what the majority of Luhyas are asking. What have you brought us from the Kenya Kwanza administration that should make us wait until 2032?” posed Osotsi. 

Mudavadi and Wetang’ula have indicated they will back Ruto’s re-election in 2027. 

In an apparent reaction to Natembeya’s Tawe movement, 15 MPs who attended a community empowerment programme at Masaba Secondary School in Kiminini constituency last month declared Wetang’ula the Luhya Kingpin. They branded Natembeya a project. 

But Natembeya scoffed at the claims: “If I am a project, then I am the people’s project. I have not been sent by anyone. I am my own man.”

Many leaders and political analysts believe that despite its numerical strength, Western Kenya will continue to play second fiddle to other regions unless its leaders read from the same page.

Political analyst Kennedy Echesa blames what he calls ‘It must be me syndrome’ for failed past unity efforts.

“They have failed to appreciate the fact that there must be one leader at a time,” he observes.

Maendeleo Progressive Party leader Alfred Mangula accuses the region’s leaders of placing personal interests ahead of the community’s.

Former Tongaren MP Eseli Simiyu agrees: “Leaders from Western are busy chasing selfish interests. None is selfless enough to say let me forgo this for the sake of development.”

Mangula, Echesa and Eseli have accused Malala for interfering in the affairs of parties to which he does not belong.

“Malala lacks political jurisdiction over Ford-Kenya and ANC. The decision to dissolve the two parties or not lies with their established structures,” Echesa says.

“There is no justification in calling for the dissolution of ANC and Ford-K since the move will expose the region politically,” says Mangula. 

But Eseli says ANC and Ford-K have outlived their usefulness. “Whether they dissolve or not, we are getting rid of them.”

Speculation that Mudavadi could soon join UDA was put paid after a proposal to create three deputy party leader positions to accommodate him hit a brick wall. Last week, the UDA National Executive Committee amended the party constitution to create a single post of deputy party leader.