The Presidential Series

Musalia Mudavadi


Slow But Sure, Safe and Steady

Musalia Mudavadi’s Blessing and Drawback


You’ll catch a glimpse of them if you went to watch a game of rugby at the Kenya Rugby Union grounds on Ngong Road. They’re usually in their 50s or 60s, well built (some with a belly, the sloshing takes a toll) and maintaining a gentlemanly mien, always spotting a fedora. They keep to themselves and talk less, and when they speak, they only say the absolute necessary, always in good cheer. But when you inquire, you’ll be told oh that’s so and so, the rugby legend of the ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s. Musalia Mudavadi belongs to this category, only that he’s in politics. For the uninitiated, he’s a softie. But for those who know Phantom, he’s the truest representation of the brawler on the pitch and gentleman off the pitch. As the British say, rugby is a sport for hooligans played by gentlemen and football is a sport for gentlemen played by hooligans. It may be this gentleman-playing-a-hooligan’s-sport maxim that defines Mudavadi’s approach to politics. Since hanging his rugby boots in the mid ‘80s, Mudavadi has been singing one song; economy! Will he go low like the good rugby player he once was and tackle Kenya’s debt and other recurring economic aggravations? But wait, he first has to become President.

By Isaac Otidi Amuke
@IsaacOtidiAmuke

Part 1: Enter the Patcherian


Moses Sabstone Mudamba Mudavadi wasn’t just an accomplished educationist, strict disciplinarian and later on a powerful cabinet minister, but he was also a traditional African man who believed in raising his children a certain way. They had to find their own path in life and not ride on his name, and had to spend as much time in the village as possible, where for his political and social stature, Mudamba Madavadi was christened the King of Mululu. Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi, his eldest son, lived to tell the tales.

‘‘From primary school,’’ Mudavadi says when we speak at his Musalia Mudavadi Center office, a souped up old bungalow located in a gated community at the tailend of Riverside Drive, ‘‘my father’s rule was that exactly two days after closing day, I was whisked away to Mululu on either Taifa Bus or Nairobi Bus Union, where I would stay until just two days before schools reopened, when I would make the trip back to Nairobi. This happened in first term, second term and third term without fail, until my university years. Over time, one gets used to the practice and starts seeing it as taking a much needed break from the city. You start looking forward to it.’’

Moses Sabstone Mudamba Mudavadi
Moses Sabstone Mudamba Mudavadi

Mudavadi’s mother, Hannah, lived in Mululu, alongside her co-wife Rosebella. Between his two wives, Mudamba Mudavadi sired 13 children - seven with Hannah and six with Rosebella. Mudavadi was Hannah’s fifth born, a follower of four girls and followed by another two girls. I ask Mudavadi whether he was favoured being the only son in his mother’s house. ‘‘I was more like a minority,’’ he says and laughs. In the highly patriarchal traditional Luhya setup, it goes without saying that Mudavadi received extra attention, even if his folks didn’t show it openly.

‘‘Mothers have their own ways of parenting,’’ Mudavadi says when I ask him what influence his mother had on him. ‘‘Under her watchful eye, I got the opportunity to learn the language, since a lot of my childhood friends in the village did not attend urban schools and did not necessarily converse in English. I also learnt a lot of aspects of the culture, what is taboo, what isn’t taboo.’’

It is out of this Nairobi-boy-moonlighting-as-a-villager dynamic, coupled with Mudamba Mudavadi’s strong Quaker roots which insist on absolute humility and pacifism, that Mudavadi became grounded. ‘‘If someone didn’t know me personally,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘then they wouldn't guess who my father was because my father was a very different man. He made it clear to us that that (being minister) was his job and taught us to never invoke his name under any circumstances. His instruction was simple, follow the rules of the institution you’re in.’’

And so unfolded the life of a minister’s son minus concomitant privileges. By the time Musalia Mudavadi was of school going age, his father had been transferred to Nairobi from his Kabarnet station, which is where Mudavadi was born on 21 September 1960.

In Kabarnet, Mudamba Mudavadi - who was educated at Maseno School and Alliance High School before obtaining a diploma in education from Leeds University - worked as a District Education Officer in charge of Baringo, Koibatek, West Pokot and Elgeyo Marakwet. Once in Nairobi, five year old Mudavadi enrolled at Kileleshwa Nursery School, run by the Nairobi City Council (NCC). A year later in 1967, he joined Nairobi Primary School, yet another NCC institution.

‘‘In those younger days we were all day scholars, much as the school had a boarding facility,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘I doubled in all manner of sports - hockey, cricket, soccer and swimming, because much as these were public schools, the City Council had invested heavily in amenities.’’ After doing seven years at Nairobi Primary, otherwise known as Patch Primo, Mudavadi proceeded to the real Patch, Nairobi School, in 1974, where he did six years covering his O and A Levels.

Musalia Mudavadi at Nairobi School
Musalia Mudavadi at Nairobi School

‘‘Those were very memorable six years of my life,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘I really enjoyed playing sports, going out on tours with the rugby team or to events at schools such as Limuru Girls, Alliance Girls, Moi Nairobi Girls, Kenya High and all the others. It was a moment when as young people we were being given an opportunity to have the world open to us, and I can say the foundation at Nairobi School taught me to be independent in thought and as a person. We learnt how to communicate, aspects of etiquette, and just how to be a proper well rounded individual.’’

Those school events, otherwise known as funkies, were intertwined with those communication lessons, since during interactions with girls schools, boys from Nairobi School weren’t expected to do one thing, to breeze, which was an inability to express oneself when mingling with their female counterparts. Further, considering that Mudavadi was a Head of House, what in other places was called a House Captain, it meant he over time became an enforcer of what it meant to be a Patcherian - always stay clean, always respect your seniors, never step on grass, never share a path with your seniors, always be punctual, and know the rules of the game even if you won’t play it. The game was rugby, a mini-religion at the school. Those had to be memorable six years.

While playing for Patch Machine, Nairobi School’s rugby side, Mudavadi was either a winger or back row - being one of three positions in the scrum, either the eighth man or one of the two flankers, positions which required one to not only be fast on their feet but swift and accurate with the ball. I take a look at Mudavadi’s full frame today and ask him whether he could entertain the idea of a rugby game, and his answer is a vehement no. ‘‘I wouldn’t dare,’’ he says, and laughs.

Musalia Mudavadi the Sportsman

‘‘That’s where I got my nickname Phantom,’’ Mudavadi says, reminiscing about his Patch years, ‘‘because of how fast I was both on the pitch and on track, where I stood out in the 100 and 200 meter races. In rugby, speed is everything, and being fast played well to my advantage.’’

Looking at Mudavadi’s I-can’t-harm-a-fly-demeanor, I wonder how rough a player he was.

‘‘Rugby is a rough sport because you have to tackle someone hard, or someone will give you a bodycheck,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘and so we were trained and conditioned for it, because it is extremely physical. Once you’re on the pitch you have to bring it out, and be rough because the game asks for it, but once you’re off the pitch you don’t engage in any physical confrontation.’’

And what lesson did he pick from playing rugby?

‘‘Team work,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘You learn to coalesce together and be your brother’s keeper, because being a rough sport the only way for you to survive is to make sure you operate in a coordinated manner as a unit, otherwise you suffer serious individual and collective injuries.’’

Clearly, it was a hooligan’s sport played by gentlemen.

It was while Mudavadi was in form three at Nairobi School that his father was first elected MP for Vihiga in 1976. At the time, President Jomo Kenyatta was almost making his mortal exit, and there was a push by some Kenyatta insiders to change the constitution so as to block Vice President Daniel arap Moi from ascending to power were something to happen to Kenyatta, as it did in 1978. From his parliamentary debut until his death in 1989, Mudamba Mudavadi became one of Moi’s closest confidants if not the man with the final say, a brotherhood which had its roots in Kabarnet.

When Mudamba Mudavadi was working as a District Education Officer in Baringo, it so happened that one of the P4 teachers who was on his radar was a lanky Bible-wiedling fellow from Sacho, a young Moi, who Mudavadi recommended for further training at Kagumo Teachers Training College, so that Moi could be promoted to become a P3 teacher. After the training, Mudavadi recommended Moi’s to head Kabarnet Intermediate School, which was followed by a third recommendation, which changed Moi’s life.

During the 1955 Legislative Council (Legco) election, Baringo District Commissioner H.J. Simpson approached Mudamba Mudavadi asking him to run as Rift Valley’s representative. There were undertones that the incumbent, John ole Tameno, was having one drink too many. Being Luhya, Mudavadi declined the offer to stand in Kalenjin land, pointing Simpson to Moi’s direction. Moi too was hesitant, saying he was keen on keeping his teaching job. Mudavadi assured Moi that were he to lose the vote, he wouldn’t lose his slot as a teacher. Moi agreed, ran and won.

The Mudavadis and the Mois became family.

I ask Mudavadi whether his father becoming an MP changed his life in any way. ‘‘Not at all,’’ he says. This was around the time the old man read the riot act to his children, to never invoke his name anywhere. Mudavadi also shares that his father had lost two elections, in 1964 and 1969 - during which out-of-work phase he was employed by the Standard Chartered Bank - before he won the 1976 by-election, and so Mudamba Mudavadi didn’t want power to get into his offspring’s heads because he knew it was fleeting. Today you have it. Tomorrow you don’t. And when Kenyatta died in 1978 and Moi became president, Moi immediately appointed Mudamba Mudavadi minister. Again, Mudavadi says nothing much changed. His father stuck to his guns.

And indeed, nothing changed.

When Mudavadi was admitted to the University of Nairobi in 1980 to study for a three year Bachelor of Arts degree in Land Economics, he received his share of the student loan just like every other student, and stayed in the university’s halls of residence for the entire duration of his course. Still, holidays were reserved for that trip back to the village, and by public transport. But when the 1982 attempted coup unravelled, Mudavadi really wondered whether his father was not only a cabinet minister but a close friend to the President, because of what he had to endure.

‘‘Back then the University of Nairobi was the only university around, and so that was the place to be for anyone who made the cut,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘I am happy I joined the University of Nairobi because apart from enjoying the sporting and academic bits, I got to understand Kenya better through the people I met there. I’d have lost a lot if I had gone elsewhere for university.’’

At the University of Nairobi, Mudavadi carried on with his rugby playing ways, turning out for Mean Machine, the university’s revered rugby side which was simply referred to as Machine or Esichuma Absolutely - esichuma being Luhya for metal. Interestingly, Mean Machine had borrowed half of its name from Nairobi School’s Patch Machine, which Mudavadi had played for. It had been the case that Nairobi School and Lenana School commanded the high school rugby circuit back in the day, such that when players from the two rival schools met at the University of Nairobi, they dominated the rugby squad and reached a compromise, to borrow from Nairobi School’s Patch Machine and Lenana School’s Mean Maroon and name the university side Mean Machine. Mudavadi therefore played for two Machines; Patch and Mean Machine.

It was while Mudavadi was a final year at the university that the institution was closed as part of President Moi’s response to the attempted coup. All students were ordered to retreat back to their rural homes, from where they were to report to their local chiefs once a week. Mudamba Mudavadi, the minister, didn’t excuse his son. Worse still, when a swoop was done on suspected coup sympathizers by Moi’s secret police, the Special Branch, the dragnet caught Mudavadi.

“I was picked up from Mululu then taken to the cells in Kakamega, then subsequently the cells in Webuye, then Nakuru Railway Police Station and finally I was brought to Nairobi where I was taken to the General Service Unit headquarters,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘where I stayed for some weeks facing interrogation to see whether I was part of the coup plotters or not.’’

Among those arrested with Mudavadi whose fathers were either in business or public service were Kitutu Chache MP Richard Onyonka, Jubilee Party Vice Chairman David Murathe and lawyer Philip Murgor, while those picked up for being student leaders were the likes of Tito Adungosi, who died in prison, Mwandawiro Mghanga, Paddy Onyango and Oduor Ongwen. The father did not intervene. The son had to clear his name, without invoking the father’s.

‘‘I did not get too entangled in student politics,’’ Mudavadi says when I ask him why he thinks he was arrested. ‘‘Of course you would attend meetings convened by the student body from time to time, but I never took up any leadership roles. But that does not mean I wasn't political, because we had pretty political professors on campus, and the National Theatre was next door, where even though you’d be studying a science course or economics, you’d always find yourself going to listen to professors from the Literature Department, the likes of Micere Mugo and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, whose plays had political undertones. You wouldn’t want to miss them.’’

Mudavadi survived and rejoined the university after a year of its closure. Upon graduating, Mudavadi’s a-minister’s-but-not-a-minister’s-son’s reality kept manifesting. For starters, he started life living in a studio - that’s if you’re West of Uhuru Highway, or a bedsitter, if you’re East of Uhuru Highway.

After graduating in 1984, Mudavadi didn’t meet the expectations of someone of his family’s background, who’d either be shipped abroad for further studies or be gallivanting about town with one of those old model old-money-doesn’t-shout Mercedes Benzes or beat up but still in pristine-ish condition back-leaning Range Rovers. For Mudavadi, moving back home for a few months as he sought a job was the natural thing to do, because he was kinda broke. There was no more student loan or free meals at the student cafeteria.

Luckily for him, an interview at the National Housing Corporation (NHC) came back positive.

‘‘The NHC had houses in almost every major town in Kenya - Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, you name it,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘And so part of my job entailed liaising with architects to develop new units, managing existing NHC rentals and selling off units which needed selling.’’

It was around this time that Mudavadi moved out to the studio along Ngong Road.

Besides being his father’s son, Mudavadi’s other claim to fame - which he equally didn’t exploit - was supposed to be that he’d spent three years turning out for Mean Machine, and earlier on Patch Machine, street credibility which counted for something within rugby circles. But as Mudavadi’s mates did the things rugby boys do and carried on playing club rugby, Mudavadi’s schedule at the NHC wouldn’t allow him to double in the game post-Mean Machine. And so he resigned himself to being one of the guys on the terraces, reminiscing about the good old days at Patch and Mean Machine. It was around this time that Mudavadi’s father looked at his eldest son with some leniency.

‘‘Possibly conceding that I had suffered enough,’’ Mudavadi says and laughs, ‘‘my father supported me in buying a Datsun 120Y, which cost about 70 thousand shillings back then.’’

After working for the NHC for about a year, in 1986 Mudavadi moved to the private sector after landing a job with Tysons Limited, where he did a lot of valuation of properties and assessment of investment in real estate. The salary at Tysons was much better, and so Mudavadi moved to a City Council house in Woodley Estate. It was around this time, as things were starting to look up for Mudavadi, that Mudamba Mudavadi rocked his son’s world.

“I had campaigned for my father during the 1988 general election, and he had recaptured his seat,” Mudavadi says with a pensiveness lingering in his eyes. “But then in February 1989, he suddenly passed on and I was asked to defend his seat during the April 1989 by-election.”

For the first time, the son could invoke the father’s name, posthumously.

Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi was 28 years old.

In his wisdom, Mudamba Mudavadi may have thought him ripe for the next phase.

Mudavadi Thrown into the Deepest End

Part 2: Thrown into the Deepest End


There’s a story that former Lugari MP Cyrus Jirongo likes to tell. In January 1993, just after Jirongo’s Youth for KANU (YK92) had almost single handedly delivered Kenya’s second multiparty election to President Daniel arap Moi by literally making it rain, in street lingo, Jirongo decided that as his reward for a job well done, Moi needed to appoint a Luhya as Vice President. That way, Jirongo would show his Western Kenya folk that the effort to campaign for Moi was worth it, and that he was still an influential player in Moi’s holy of holies.

Musalia Mudavadi
And so Jirongo lined up a group of 32 Luhya political and business leaders and took them to see Moi at State House Nairobi, in a bid to make a bargain. But then there was a problem. When Moses Sabstone Mudamba Mudavadi was still alive, he strode through Western Kenya politics like a colossus, but once he exited the stage in February 1989, his 28 year old son Musalia Mudavadi was forced to quickly step into his giant shoes. There was little time to acclimatize.


‘‘My father’s brothers and friends held my hand,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘but I received the biggest support from my mother, who encouraged me to step into the role, being the eldest son in the home. Politically, there was President Moi, who was a family friend and the leader of KANU.’’

Then there was the wise counsel from the likes of Burudi Nabwera and Elijah Mwangale, the senior-most politicians from Western Kenya. Unfortunately, as Moi got re-elected in 1992, both Nabwera and Mwangale lost their seats. This meant that for Jirongo’s meeting at State House, there was no elected Luhya political heavyweight in KANU weightier than Musalia Mudavadi. And yet Mudavadi was under 35, meaning he didn’t meet the constitutional requirement for one to become Vice President. But Jirongo pushed, and says the next available slot was that of Minister of Finance, which then went to Mudavadi. I ask Mudavadi whether this version of events is true.

‘‘I was under 35, so the question of the vice presidency was neither here nor there,’’ Mudavadi says, holding that no matter the circumstances, he doesn’t believe anyone forced Moi’s hand fundamentally. Jirongo says from that point onwards, other KANU powerbrokers led by George Saitoti and Nicholas Biwott who got wind of the meeting came after him, forcing him to run for parliament in 1997 as a way of seeking protection. And by becoming Minister of Finance, Mudavadi quickly transitioned from boy to man, a bigger transition than the one he had made five years earlier.

‘‘Losing a parent is devastating, and losing a father as the eldest son isn’t only devastating but pressuring,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘Culturally, when the patriarch exits all the responsibility falls on your shoulders. I have two brothers from my step mother, but they were younger, and so all of a sudden I was supposed to be the father of the home. It had a major impact on my life.’’

Mudavadi says he could no longer behave like the average 28 year old because all eyes were on him; from the family, the constituency and the country. And when the April 1989 by-election happened, Mudavadi was elected unopposed, his father’s and Moi’s influence coming to bear.

‘‘Moi was very supportive of the family, and as leader of KANU, he had a soft spot for me,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘He and my father had been friends and neighbours in Baringo, and my father had played a key role in his political career, and so when Moi became President in 1978, he appointed my father to Cabinet. And when I was elected in 1989, I only stayed in the backbench for about a month and a half because he also appointed me to Cabinet.’’

On 1 May 1989, Mudavadi was appointed Minister for Supplies and Marketing, becoming the youngest member of Moi’s Cabinet. I ask Mudavadi how he navigated this new role as a rookie.

‘‘I kept an open mind,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘You always have to learn, and that’s where I worked with my Permanent Secretary to develop Cabinet memos when need arose. And of course when you went to Cabinet meetings as a newcomer, you’d sit at the far end of the table and maybe slowly, depending on how you perform, keep moving towards the head of the table.’’

Musalia Mudavadi Minister For Supplies Musalia Mudavadi At A Harambee In Aic Church Kosirai June 1989

And did he play any role advising President Moi?

‘‘I cannot say that at that early age I was playing any role advising the President,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘in fact, I can say the reverse was true because it is we who were looking up to him to give us guidance because as the 1992 general election approached, there was a lot of agitation for opening up of political space, to move from a one party state to a multiparty democracy.’’

Mudavadi concedes that there was anxiety within the KANU ranks because traditionally, Kenyan presidents were almost always elected unopposed, and now Moi had to face competition. Then there was the mysterious killing of Dr. Robert Ouko, Moi’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, a murder most foul which heightened tension in the country. But speaking in political terms, KANU’s and Moi’s biggest headache was the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD).

‘‘The first FORD rally in Kamukunji grounds was so massive,’’ Mudavadi recollects, ‘‘and we said to Moi how on earth do we defeat this juggernaut as it were. But Moi told us, ‘‘You people should not panic. By the time we get to the election, it will not be one FORD. It will split.’’

And true to Moi’s word, FORD split right in the middle, yielding FORD Kenya and FORD Asili. This is when Cyrus Jirongo performed his multi-billion magic and got Moi re-elected, at which point Jirongo insists he pushed for a Luhya vice presidency, and Mudavadi says he wasn’t of age. In January 1993, Musalia Mudavadi was appointed Minister of Finance aged 33.

Musalia Mudavadi President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi, Chris Obure, Musalia Mudavadi and Kipkalya Kones

‘‘The challenge at the Treasury was huge’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘It was akin to being thrown into the deep end of a pool, and you have to learn how to swim very fast, otherwise you’ll drown.’’ But did Mudavadi feel he was up to the task, or was he simply winging it? ‘‘I will tell you something,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘When Moi appointed me, he told me, ‘‘Don’t panic, I will give you all my support. I will be here.’’ That’s one thing he said to me on the side.’’ And with that, Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi was off to the Treasury for a five year stint.

How were the books? I ask Mudavadi.

‘‘There are some ministries where once you are appointed, you get to really appreciate how government works, and get to understand the breadth of the country’s challenges,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘At Treasury, you have a bird’s eye view of government, and it was a serious eye opener for me. But if you were to ask me, yes, it is then that I discovered that we were broke as a country.’’

How broke?

‘‘Very broke,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘When I took over, in terms of foreign exchange reserves, we had about $40 million, which was just about one or two consignments of petroleum. So there was no foreign exchange. Inflation was running high at over 50%, banks were literally on their knees, there were a lot of government controls that weren’t working and revenue collection was low.’’

The first thing Mudavadi and the team at Treasury did - that team included Joseph Kinyua, Njeru Kirira, Prof. Terry Ryan, and Micah Cheserem at the CBK, among others - was to figure out how to bring donors (who had bolted) back, because it was almost impossible for Kenya to bounce back without external assistance. Among Mudavadi’s first interventions - and here he asks me whether this rings a bell - was to renegotiate with international lenders, since Kenya was heavily indebted and wasn’t in a position to service its loans.

This was then followed by the infamous Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), which resulted in privatization, retrenchment, and other biting austerity measures. Thereafter, the Export Compensation Scheme (ECS) and the Pre-shipment Financing - both of which had been abused by agents of the Goldenberg Scandal - were scrapped. Also in the long list of interventions was the removal of foreign exchange licenses, the unification of the foreign exchange rate - there were two exchange rates, an official and a non-official one. Lastly, Mudavadi amended the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Act to put term limits for the bank’s governors, and brought a bill to create the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA).

‘‘The spiraling effect of all these measures was so serious because the economy was correcting itself,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘Prices of goods went through the roof very rapidly because they had been artificially suppressed through price controls. However, inflation eventually came down, foreign reserves started growing again and donors were fully back on board.’’

Even if that ship stabilized, the repercussions of that epoch would stay with Kenya forever.

I ask Mudavadi if these were all conditionalities from the Bretton Woods Institutions.

‘‘Part of them were,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘but majority were things we were supposed to do and had even committed to doing but hadn’t done. I was simply an enforcer who had little choice.’’

Further, Mudavadi says he consulted widely with industry players through entities such as the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) and the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI), and also did intra-governmental consultations, where he got support in some quarters and unmitigated backlash in others.

‘‘You’d consult and come to the realization that there were genuine concerns that needed addressing,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘so it wasn’t all about the donors and the lenders. Insights came from practitioners themselves, who asked for policy adjustments because they were stuck.’’

In terms of resistance both within and without government, Mudavadi came face to face with what would today be termed cartels, which had created little fiefdoms in different sectors of the economy, such that tampering with the status quo meant stepping on powerful toes. Even Moi wasn’t always happy.

‘‘There were times when it got tough with the President,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘and I remember him telling me at one time, ‘‘Even if a bull is strong, it cannot service 50 heifers simultaneously,” basically saying some of the reforms I was pushing were too fast too soon, affecting all manner of vested interests.’’

Moi’s Cabinet quickly took cue.
‘‘Closer to the 1997 general election, I wasn’t very popular within Cabinet'’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘I recall one Cabinet session where I came under serious attack from all quarters, to the extent that that evening after the Cabinet meeting word went round that I was going to resign because of the hostility, because people did not want change especially in sectors where certain individuals had serious personal vested interests. That session was literally a lycnhing for me.’’

It was little wonder that Mudavadi didn’t go back to the Treasury after the 1997 general election.

‘‘What made me happy was that after that period,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘some of those who had been critical of me were now wearing my shoes. They told me they may have misunderstood me. My tenure at the Treasury has to be my most torturous phase in government.’’

Seeing how troubling it all was, I ask Mudavadi why he felt he needed to do it - be the Minister of Finance and face all the fire that was being thrown in his direction.

‘‘It’s public duty, and I’m a patriot, my friend,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘and I knew that Kenya needed to get out of a difficult situation, and that desire to salvage Kenya was my sole motivation.’’

As Kenya wallows in debt today and it’s economy leaks, it is all a deja vu moment for Mudavadi, as if we are back to 1993 and Moi is about to appoint him Minister of Finance; only that now he wants to be President. Is the nudge for public duty still present? Yes. Will Kenyans let him serve? Maybe.

Musalia Mudavadi

Part 3: It’s Never that Serious, But It’s Serious


There is a second story that former Lugari MP Cyrus Jirongo likes telling, which is that as the 2002 general election was approaching, he visited the home of the then Eldoret North MP William Ruto in the company of former Malava MP the late Soita Shitanda. Once at Ruto’s, Jirongo says he found a cross section of politicians, including Raila Odinga, who was the then Secretary General of New KANU. The meeting was plotting the next political steps post-Moi.

President Daniel arap Moi, who was finalizing his second and final five year term since the reintroduction of multipartism in 1992 and was winding up his 24 year rule, had kept everyone guessing over who he would endorse for the presidency.

There was no one in the meeting from Western Kenya, and Jirongo says he picked up the phone and called Musalia Mudavadi, informing him that a post-Moi Kenya was being discussed and there was no one at the table looking out for Luhya interests. In Jirongo’s narration, he and Mudavadi had a little chat, in which Mudavadi wondered whether Moi would leave them in the cold if they stuck it out with him. That is how both Jirongo and Mudavadi lost their seats in 2002. To Jirongo, he did his duty by informing Mudavadi of the goings on at Ruto’s, because to him, Mudavadi was Western Kenya’s best bet.

‘‘It was a difficult time because everyone had now come to appreciate that Moi wasn’t going to be around beyond 2002,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘and the challenge now was which way, how was he going to handle succession, and would KANU survive or would the opposition unite and take over.’’

But as everyone was plotting, on 14 October 2002, Moi pulled the rug from under their feet by endorsing Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor. New KANU splintered, with Raila Odinga leading a walk out into the opposition through his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). To prevent Mudavadi from joining the walkout, Moi appointed him Vice President on 4 November 2002.

The question on everyone’s mind was, would Mudavadi leave or would he stay put in KANU.

‘‘I always tell people that sometimes when you have strong ties with someone, ties similar to what my family had with former President Moi, and also considering the long period of time I served under him,’’ Mudavadi says of his rock-and-hard-place scenario in 2002, ‘‘you find that it can be very difficult to walk out on somebody like that, someone who is almost family. And so it wasn’t an easy decision for me to make. Nevertheless, I stood my ground and supported his decision, as controversial as it was, and campaigned for Uhuru Kenyatta.’’

Does Mudavadi regret not walking out of KANU?

‘‘Sometimes you don’t want to go too much into hindsight,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘because these are decisions you make influenced by the circumstances of the day. I let bygones be bygones.’’

It was that decision of choosing not to walk out on Moi like everyone else was doing, and opting to instead support Uhuru Kenyatta, that cost Mudavadi his parliamentary seat. By all indications, Mudavadi had made peace with his choice, right or wrong, and did not begrudge the people of Sabatia for voting him out for the first time since he took over as MP in April 1989 following his father’s demise.

Musalia Mudavadi Vice President Musalia Mudavadi Addressing Kanu Supporters In Sabatia December 2002

‘‘Because of the backlash following my decision to stick with Moi and Uhuru, I lost my seat in Sabatia, and had to start redeeming myself,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘And so when KANU nominated me to Parliament, I declined. I said if the people of Sabatia have given me a sabbatical, then let me respect their wishes and not take up a position in Parliament. Because to me, I had to atone for my sins. I had annoyed them. My conscience couldn’t allow me to now take leadership through the back door as a nominated MP when the people had said no to me at the ballot.’’

After serving as Minister of Finance from 1992 to 1997, Mudavadi was moved to the Ministry of Agriculture, where he served for two years. He then became Minister for Information, Transport and Communication for a year, after which the ministry was split, leaving him as Minister for Information and Communication for another two years.

But after Uhuru Kenyatta lost to Mwai Kibaki and Mudavadi too lost his seat to the unstoppable opposition wave, the man had a lot of free time in his hand. I ask Mudavadi what he got up to between 2002 and the next general election in 2007.

‘‘I tried to make the best out of it,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘I grew my businesses, concentrated more on family and travelled a lot between Nairobi and the village. I also learnt how to play golf.’’ You deserted rugby? I ask Mudavadi in jest. ‘‘You can’t think of rugby at this point,’’ Mudavadi says with a laugh. ‘‘There are a lot of young men who are very well built and extremely fit, and remember it is a confrontational game that requires body contact. You wouldn’t withstand a body check from a youngman today.’’

But it wasn’t long before Mudavadi found his way back into politics. In September 2003, Moody Awori, a longtime KANU ally of Mudavadi’s was appointed Mwai Kibaki’s Vice President following the passing on of Michael Kijana Wamalwa. It was during a homecoming party at Awori’s Busia home that Mudavadi made the decision to leave KANU and follow his erstwhile comrades. Moi was already out of the political picture, and Mudavadi was now at ease to make his own choices.

‘‘A lot of the people with whom I had been with in KANU had used the LDP as the window to join the opposition,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘and so it was only natural that I took the same route.’’

In a matter of two years, Mudavadi would find himself back in campaign mode as he joined those opposing the draft constitution during the 2005 referendum. Out of this, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party was formed, following the Orange Team’s win against the Kibaki-backed draft constitution. Mudavadi, alongside Raila Odinga, William Ruto, Najib Balala and Joe Nyaga emerged as the new party’s presidential aspirants and constituted its Pentagon.

‘‘We had been in Cabinet together,’’ Mudavadi says of his relationship with Raila Odinga, ‘‘and interacted during negotiations for the KANU-NDP merger where I was part of the committee.’’

To Mudavadi, these weren’t new people, only new working arrangements, much as they had been on opposite sides of the political spectrum for the longest time. While presenting his budget speech as Minister of Finance in 1996, some of his new party-mates like James Orengo had attempted to grab the parliamentary mace and render the sitting redundant, while others had made a go at Mudavadi’s speech.

Musalia Mudavadi Musalia Mudavadi and Raila Odinga

‘‘That day I learnt that it is imperative to always carry a backup speech, in case someone takes off with the one you are reading,’’ Mudavadi says. All of that was now history, and the KANU and lifelong opposition boys were now together.

‘‘I think my refusing the 2002 nomination to Parliament and my consequent political choices earned me a lot of respect from the electorate,’’ Mudavadi says of his 2007 political comeback as MP for Sabatia, ‘‘because they came to vote literally to the last man in my support.’’

But as Mudavadi was bouncing back, Kenya started burning following the disputed 2007 presidential election. Mudavadi was seconded by the Raila Odinga side as part of the negotiation team at the Nairobi Serena, mediated by Koffi Annan assisted by Benjamin Mkapa and Graca Machel.

‘‘It was a very sad and dark moment, and I hope we never get back there,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘I have been a little worried when I see signs of political intolerance in our politics today, people beginning to disturb the peace, and I hope these incidents can be nipped in the bud.’’

Mudavadi recalls hospital and morgue visits, where they witnessed bodies of people who had either been shot or killed using crude weapons, including children, being offloaded from trucks. Those are 42 days - the duration of the Serena Mediation Talks - which Mudavadi says he won’t forget, his only wish being that Kenyans too don’t forget the painful lessons from that dark chapter.

‘‘The grand coalition government started off well, but sometimes old habits die hard,’’ Mudavadi says regarding the post mediation Kibaki-Raila government, in which he was Deputy Prime Minister, and in which the dishonesty of the post-2003 Kibaki-Raila partnership were witnessed, ‘‘because within no time, vested interests and partisan positions started rearing their heads, so after some time the functioning of the setup wasn’t as smooth as it should have been.’’

As an example, Mudavadi cites that certain government functions were supposed to be handled by subcommittees chaired by Raila Odinga as Prime Minister, or one of his two deputies in Raila’s absence. But according to Mudavadi, the subcommittee model collapsed sooner than later, and ministers retreated back to their masters.

‘‘As much as there was peace and stability in the country,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘things within government weren’t rosey at all.’’

I ask Mudavadi what kind of leader Kibaki was.

‘‘He listened a lot,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘and he would allow the free flow of debate in Cabinet. I had also been in Cabinet with him during Moi’s time, and found him very brilliant and focused as a person. He was pretty knowledgeable on many matters.’’

Aside from serving as one of two Deputy Prime Ministers, Mudavadi doubled as Minister for Local Government, a ministry which placed him at the center of midwifing devolution as enshrined in the August 2010 Constitution. This meant drafting bills and pushing them through Parliament, and working closely with the Transitional Authority to ensure county governments found soft landing after the 2013 general election. As part of these preparations, the former local authorities and municipalities would yield their staff and infrastructure to the incoming governors.

But as Mudavadi was being devolution’s air controller, he was also making moves. Functionaries within the Mwai Kibaki government - and supposedly Kibaki himself - had a soft spot for Mudavadi, considering Uhuru Kenyatta, Kibaki’s godson and a presidential hopeful was facing crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court.

Mudavadi doesn’t speak about it, but the said pro-Mudavadi officials started laying ground for Mudavadi’s presidential bid. As this was unfolding, Mudavadi officially parted ways with Raila Odinga, his 2007 collaborator. And as if it was Mudavadi O’clock, Uhuru Kenyatta too relinquished his presidential bid for a hot minute in favor of Mudavadi, and made the concession public, only for him to turn around and say it had all been abracadabra, the work of some dark forces. It was spectacularly absurd.

‘‘For me, all these things point to the fact that people know I am dependable, that I keep my word once I make a commitment,’’ Mudavadi says when I ask him why the various political players found him attractive as a potential president in 2013.

But in the end, Mudavadi faced the electorate solo.

‘‘‘We all take risks,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘I made my decision, I ran, I didn’t win, but through that act I made it clear to Kenyans that I am available to serve as their President.’’

I ask Mudavadi what his biggest takeaway from that presidential run was, and he gives me two. ‘‘To run for president in Kenya is very expensive,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘but more importantly, we need to find time and build consensus some time in future, and do a proper audit of the electoral system. The cost of supervising elections is expensive, and the cost of campaigns prohibitive.’’

Throughout my conversation with Mudavadi, one thing is clear. He doesn’t want to come across as if his political future is dependent on his past alliances, and he doesn’t really want to revisit them in any meaningful way. There is also a sense that much as he may not hold grudges out of how he was (mis)treated by some of his erstwhile collaborators, he just feels it’s good to move on. I take cue and let bygones be bygones, as Mudavadi would say.

Whatever else stands out is the fact that much as Mudavadi wants to serve, he doesn’t want to do so at all costs. It is this ‘‘si lazima’’ approach to politics that saw him decline the 2003 nomination to Parliament, and more recently his cold treatment of overtures for him to join President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government.

‘‘If I didn’t campaign for a political party,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘and that party wins power and goes ahead to form government, it would be completely disingenuous of me to then turn around and say I want to be part of that government, because I didn’t believe in it in the first place. It is like being part of a government then starting to criticize it without tendering in your resignation.’’

For certain, few Kenyan politicians would pass on an opportunity to be in government, which makes Mudavadi a sort of odd ball in town. Is this also why his critics think he is too soft for Kenyan politics? ‘‘It is a question of style,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘How would you describe Moi in his early days? Or Kibaki? They certainly weren’t rubble rousers. Even when I was at the Treasury I wasn’t shouting from the rooftops but I was rattling a lot of people. I prefer to move steadily.’’

And yet in 2017 Kenyans witnessed unprecedented zeal and gusto from Mudavadi as he pushed the National Super Alliance (NASA) agenda. What had changed?

‘‘Sometimes when you believe in something the best of you comes out,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘plus the fact that I was the originator of the idea of a national super alliance.’’

But unfortunately for Mudavadi and his collaborators, NASA didn’t take power and now they are all back to the electoral drawing board. Mudavadi concedes that the biggest challenge at hand is coalition building, since the Kenyan model of coalitions is purely pegged on the idea of winning elections and not necessarily on what coalitions and their constituent parties stand for long term.

‘‘I hope in the long run our politics grows so that we have parties coming together because of what they believe in and not purely because of who needs to be the candidate,’’ Mudavadi says, while not excusing his One Kenya Alliance (OKA). And why would he be best suited to lead Kenya, and not any of his OKA partners?

‘‘If there is a politician who has been cautioning about our spiralling public debt, then it’s me,’’ Mudavadi says, ‘‘and I have been at it since 2015. Today, 70% of our revenue goes to servicing debt, leaving little for development. These challenges can only be addressed by a serious leadership.’’

And here Mudavadi draws from the past.

‘‘I have been tested in this kind of territory before,’’ Mudavadi says. ‘‘We need to take a break from politicking and focus on fixing Kenya. At the end of the day, when an economy is thriving, you are most likely to find a peaceful nation. That is why I spend little time talking about individuals and focusing on issues.’’

For Mudavadi, his pitch is simple.

We are back to 1993, and he’s the guy who fixed the economy.

Will Kenyans let him do it one more time, as President?



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