Clever leader or flagrant opportunist?
Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi, the 61-year-old former Vice President who joined politics at 33, revels in his love for football and often likens himself to Lionel Messi, the Argentinian star known for his swift passes and agility on the field.
Unlike Messi, who has had a knack for success and making quality passes and goals that leave fans in awe, while playing for the A-star teams, that cannot be said of Mudavadi or Ma-DVD as the street knows him.
His recent move to join Deputy President William Ruto to found the Kenya Kwanza Alliance has tested his strategy, exposing him to a Raila Odinga-led Azimio la Umoja-induced haemorrhage that his seen his Amani National Congress (ANC) a pale shadow of its former self.
For the land economist who was first elected Sabatia MP following the death of his father, Moses Mudamba Mudavadi in 1989, his latest move just adds to what has made him somewhat of a political businessman, creating one coalition after another.
In late 2016, he teamed up with Raila Odinga’s Coalitions for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) to form the National Super Alliance (Nasa).
He would then spend three years complaining of what he said was Mr Odinga’s lack of trust, leading to the eventual death of Nasa, and the formation of the One Kenya Alliance (OKA), whose allies he dumped last month in favour of DP Ruto.
He has fashioned joining Dr Ruto as a means to shrug off an impending betrayal, the same reasons he gave for starting OKA, as well as his presidential run in 2013 when he polled 483,981 votes, coming a distant third.
“I am not a fool and I’m not about to have a leader imposed on us. We know it is at the ballot that a leader is elected,” Mr Mudavadi said last Friday when he hosted a group of Luhya opinion leaders to explain his move to join Dr Ruto.
On President Kenyatta, he said: “Uhuru went to Sagana State Lodge and allocated himself the role of 20 million voters and picked for us a President. This is not acceptable.”
For a man who has fashioned himself as the sober, non-combative ‘safe pair of hand’ in Kenya’s politics, Mr Mudavadi is often accused of being a fence sitter, too laid back, and somewhat uninspiring and indecisive.
Perhaps to shake off this tag, Mr Mudavadi has gone hammer and tongs on President Uhuru Kenyatta after his newfound relationship with the DP, with a singular focus on the Jubilee leader’s management of the economy, which he said had been riddled with debt and had no plan to address what he says is astronomical cost of living.
Mr Mudavadi has curved a niche for himself in the Kenya Kwanza Alliance as the man poking holes in President Kenyatta’s economic track record since he joined the outfit.
The former deputy prime minister has accused President Kenyatta of overburdening the taxpayers because of the unsustainable borrowing of loans from the development partners and the World Bank.
Mr Mudavadi has also trained his guns on Mr Odinga, accusing the opposition chief of betraying his former principals in the Nasa coalition after the famous handshake with President Kenyatta.
While accompanying Dr Ruto on his campaign forays, Mr Mudavadi has accused Mr Odinga as mzigo (burden), referring to the support they gave the opposition chief in his quest for presidency in the 2007, 2013 and the 2017 polls.
“We have grown weary each election year, having to sacrifice our ambitions to back Mr Odinga for presidency and he disappointingly ends up losing the contest. This man (Raila) has become a big burden and we cannot continue supporting him at the expense of the interest of our communities,” said Mr Mudavadi.
On Saturday, Mr Mudavadi and Ford Kenya boss Moses Wetang’ula, who were addressing 5,000 ANC delegates at Mululu in Vihiga County, defended their decision to work with Dr Ruto, hinting at shelving their presidential ambitions in the Kenya Kwanza Alliance.
The two politicians called on the Western region not to demand the presidency. There sentiments could be seen as preparing their supporters for any eventuality when Kenya Kwanza Alliance finally picks its presidential candidate to face the ODM chief Mr Odinga in August.
But for the former vice president, his latest political move is reminiscent of the political events preceding the 2002 presidential polls in which he was prevailed upon by former President Moi to withdraw from the presidential race and run as President Kenyatta’s running mate.
Mr Mudavadi was appointed Vice President, with two month’s left to the presidential election, triggering protests from his supporters. He holds the record for the shortest period one has served as Vice President (November 4, 2002 – January 3, 2003).
Those close to Mr Mudavadi, have described him as a man who carefully thinks over what he says and does not rush into making decisions and public pronouncements, a trait linked to his staunch background as a Quaker.
In his bumpy political journey, Mr Mudavadi has earned the tag of a “safe pair of hands” from his supporters, but which often is cited by those against him as his weakest trait; taking too long to decide and when he does, often at the risk of losing key supporters.
After the devastating loss in the elections in 2002, Mr Mudavadi refused a nomination slot handed to him by Kanu, then led by a novice President Kenyatta.
In 2022, Mr Mudavadi’s move to join Dr Ruto is seen largely as one to spite the president and Mr Odinga, rather than out of conviction to join the DP.
But the man insists his move was a well-calculated one, and was the best for the 2.2. million vote-rich Western.
It is not lost on observers that the move has seen ANC now at its weakest, following the exit of Vihiga senator George Khaniri, as well as MPs Ayub Savula of Lugari, Nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi, Oscar Nabulindo of Matungu, Titus Khamala of Lurambi and Christopher Aseka of Khwisero.
Mr Mudavadi pushes back against viewing these exits as a sign of the death of ANC, saying this was the political season, and citing the exits out of Mr Odinga’s and President Kenyatta’s parties as confirmation.
After his loss in 2002, Mr Mudavadi made a comeback in 2005 and joined the “NO” side which was opposed to the proposed changes to the Constitution and found himself on the same side with Mr Odinga who had formed Liberal Democratic Party in 2002.
After the referendum, Mr Mudavadi joined other politicians who converted the Orange camp that carried the day in the 2005 referendum into the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).
In 2007, Mr Mudavadi was picked as Mr Odinga’s running mate on the ODM ticket. They lost the election to Mr Kibaki and the outcome of the poll was disputed by ODM, triggering the 2007/8 post-election violence that rocked the country.
The ANC leader, whose partnership with the DP has been anchored on the revival of the economy, has in the past had to deal with questions of his role in the Goldenberg scam.
Though Mr Mudavadi was cleared of any wrong doing in the scandal by the Justice Samuel Bosire Commission, his critics chide him for using his tenure in the Finance ministry to prop his economic revival credentials.
In 2010, Mr Mudavadi was in another scandal, facing investigations into the Sh283 million cemetery land fraud in Mavoko Township. The 120-acre land was found by experts to be unsuitable for graves.
Mr Mudavadi said it was unfair for the then Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority to link him to the scandal without giving him a chance to defend himself.
The land was bought by the City Council of Nairobi which was valued at Sh24 million for nearly Sh300 million.
But Mr Mudavadi protested his innocence and said KACC was being unfair by accusing him without giving him a chance to be heard.
“The only motive behind such conduct must be a political scheme to besmirch my character in the eyes of the public who do not have any real facts regarding the matter. It is no wonder it was ignored that the matter is a subject of Parliamentary debate,” said Mr Mudavadi at the time.
In December, 2021, Transport Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Chris Obure dragged Mr Mudavadi into the Sh1.3 billion Anglo-Leasing graft scandal.
At the start of his defence against the alleged economic crimes yesterday, Mr Obure testified that Mr Mudavadi was involved in one of the Anglo leasing projects linked to the procurement of equipment for the Postal Corporation of Kenya (PCK).
“Mudavadi informed me in the letter that it was the government’s intention to develop and upgrade the Postal Corporation of Kenya (PCK),” Mr Obure told senior principal magistrate Anne Mwangi.
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