Musalia Mudavadi – Dynamo with nonchalant mien


Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi was part of Kenya’s first power-sharing government, which was unveiled in April 2008 and headed by President Mwai Kibaki. He was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Local Government, making him the most powerful Opposition leader in Parliament and the second-highest ranking official in government after his party leader, Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

For the second time in less than 10 years, Mudavadi was finding himself in a high- profile government position that he had not been elected to. In 2002, Kibaki’s predecessor, President Daniel arap Moi, had surprisingly appointed him Vice President. And years earlier, at the tender age of 29 years, he had been picked to replace his father as MP for Sabatia Constituency before being appointed to the Cabinet. By the time he became Deputy PM, the perception was that this was a man cloaked in luck, who did not have to work for leadership as it always seemed to find him wherever he was.

Mudavadi’s appointment was one of the outcomes of the power-sharing pact that created the coalition government established following the violent aftermath of the disputed 2007 General Election. The unwieldy coalition government was a necessary crisis management innovation if the political stalemate that hit the country in early 2008 was going to be unlocked. Power sharing was seen as the logical means to ending a vicious power struggle that had precipitated political turbulence following claims by Kenya’s two main political parties at the time – the Party of National Unity (PNU) and the Orange Democratic Party (ODM) – that each had won the presidential election.

Although certainly the most violent, this turbulence was not an isolated case as the country had experienced violence in nearly all elections since the re-introduction of multiparty democracy in the early 1990s. In the years preceding the 2007 election, there had been a steady increase of tensions between different political parties in the country. By 2002, Kenyans were raring for a change from Moi’s administration under the Kenya African National Union (KANU) party, which had set the country on a largely downward trajectory for decades. To remove Moi and KANU from power, the Opposition parties came together to form the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC)
and fronted Kibaki as the preferred presidential candidate.

The anti-Moi wave was so strong that even his closest allies were having second thoughts. One such ally was Mudavadi, who crossed over to the Opposition in a short- lived act of political adventurism – almost as soon as he had defected, he had a change of heart and returned to KANU. Just ahead of the General Election, Moi appointed Mudavadi Kenya’s seventh Vice President. When Moi named Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor, bypassing a long line of more experienced hopefuls, several KANU loyalists protested by ditching the party.
Perhaps sensing the disappointment, Moi made sure Mudavadi was Kenyatta’s running mate in the 2002 elections. But the Kenyatta-Mudavadi ticket lost and Mudavadi’s stint as VP came to an abrupt end. He had served for only 90 days. In addition, he lost his Sabatia parliamentary seat to Rev. Moses Akaranga, a political greenhorn. That aside, NARC’s resounding win against KANU, which had been in
power for 39 years, also ended Moi’s 24-year rule.

But there was trouble ahead for the coalition that had carried the day. Member parties of NARC had signed a memorandum of understanding that became the object of dissention when the commitments agreed on were not honoured. The coalition partners – the National Alliance Party of Kenya and the Liberal Democratic Party – finally broke up in 2005. In an attempt to make a comeback to the political scene, an isolated Mudavadi aligned himself with Odinga, who had formed ODM after he led a majority ‘No’ side that rejected a government-backed referendum to change the Constitution in 2005. This was the beginning of an Odinga-Mudavadi political alliance.

The December 2007 elections marked Kenya’s tenth since independence and fourth since the re-adoption of multipartism in 1991. They were also the most disputed elections in Kenya, with claims of widespread irregularities, including sale of voter identification cards. The trend of early presidential results put Odinga and his running mate, Mudavadi, in the lead, raising expectations among ODM supporters that the party was well-placed to win. But a delay in announcing the official results changed those expectations to tension and before long, there were pockets of unrest countrywide. By the time the Electoral Commission of Kenya declared Kibaki the winner, a deadly crisis was
unfolding. Meanwhile, ODM supporters led by Odinga, who was the Leader of Opposition, disputed the results.

Moi made sure Mudavadi was Kenyatta’s running mate in the 2002 elections. But the Kenyatta Mudavadi ticket lost and Mudavadi’s stint as VP came to an abrupt end The unrest sparked into violence that left at least 1,300 people dead, thousands of others displaced and property of unknown value destroyed. It was one of the lowest moments the country had lived through since the Mau Mau struggle for independence. It took a team of eminent African personalities led by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to broker peace negotiations to end the chaos. Mudavadi was part of the four-member ODM team that, together with a team from Kibaki’s PNU, played a key role in the mediation process that culminated in the signing of a National Accord, as the return-to-peace formula was called.

The new government ascended to power with a basket of promises, key among them the ratification of a new Constitution to replace the independence one that had numerous flaws. Other promises included a much-needed revival of the economy, streamlining of government, eliminating corruption and reforming the Judiciary. Mudavadi was at the forefront in pushing for judicial reforms. He admitted that the State was struggling to set up systems for the reforms as desired by Kenyans in various spheres of society. On 5 April 2009, at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on reforming the Judiciary, he openly acknowledged the slow efforts being made. “The
Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation team promised a new Constitution within a year of the formation of the coalition government. The government is in its second year and struggling to set up review structures,” he said.

These sentiments were backed by Martha Karua, the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, who claimed to have been frustrated in her efforts to bring about changes that would set the Judiciary on the right path. She ended up resigning on 6 April 2009. Mudavadi’s mandate at the Ministry of Local Government was partly to oversee a system of county and municipal councils. The ministry was beset by challenges, chief among them the fact that the local authorities were not providing efficient services due to lethargy and corruption as well as lack of adequate capacity and legal empowerment. Local government institutions were also experiencing difficulties in sustaining themselves financially.

For example, in December 2008, workers at the Kisumu Municipal Council downed their tools and vowed not to go back to work until their salary arrears dating back to 2002 and amounting to KES 165 million had been paid. Meanwhile, at the Nairobi City Council, extra councillors had been appointed. Mudavadi was set on doing away with them and announced his intentions. “The law requires that a maximum of one- third of the elected councillors should be nominated. We have cases where more than the stipulated one-third were nominated,” he said before releasing a Kenya Gazette notice in 2009 in which he sent 65 councillors home. And he was just getting started.

He then presented a report to the Cabinet calling for the merger of 67 local authorities in Nyanza, which elicited a strong reaction from the local authorities in the province. But he was determined to clean up local authorities despite the resistance. In October 2009, during the release of the Sub-National Doing Business in Kenya report 2010, he warned local authorities that they risked perishing if they failed to reform. “We must bite the bullet and fold some of the local authorities that have failed to meet their obligations. It is a politically explosive issue and even as you resist there is no option. Some surgery will have to come through the boundaries review commission because local authorities also fall there,” he said.

Despite what seemed like an eternity, the new Constitution was finally promulgated on 27 August 2010. Following this, a two-tier system of government was introduced in Kenya comprising the national government and county governments. This gave Kenyans an opportunity to establish more participatory governance. In a move aimed at protecting local council assets and inculcating a culture of transparency and accountability, Mudavadi stopped the sale of local authorities’ assets ahead of their transformation into county governments. During a launch of the new strategic plan for the Local Authorities Provident Fund, he warned that any government officer found disposing of property belonging to local authorities would face the full force of the law. The assets belonged to Kenyans and government officials were only trustees, he said.

As chairman of the Task Force on Devolved Government (TFDG) set up in 2011, Mudavadi was at the centre of the transition from councils to county governments, and can be credited with establishing the foundation for what Kenyans currently enjoy today as devolution. A key achievement was setting up guidelines for the transition and overseeing the initial steps of that transition. Among others measures, the TFGD proposed laws that stipulated the powers and functions of county governments and qualifications for Members of the County Assembly.

Mudavadi is one of the longest-serving Members of Parliament for Sabatia, from 1989 to 2002 and from 2008 to 2013. He had an easy ride to Parliament following the death of his father, Moses Mudavadi, in 1989. The young Musalia was plucked from his job as a land economist to replace his father. Upon winning the by-election, he was immediately appointed Minister for Supplies and Marketing. In this position, he revealed his neo-liberal bent by arguing that Kenya should be a market-driven economy. He went on to influence the Cabinet to scrap restrictions on the movement of grains and cereals, and opened up other aspects of hitherto restricted trade as part of the implementation of the World Bank-sponsored Structural Adjustment Programmes.

In 1993, he was appointed Minister for Finance to replace Prof. George Saitoti, only to get caught up in the Goldenberg scandal in which the government lost more than KES 80 billion through a fraudulent export compensation scheme involving fake gold. Although the scheme had started before he joined the National Treasury, Mudavadi found himself being accused of culpability in the scandal. He was only able to shake off the Goldenberg stink when his name was cleared by a Commission of Inquiry into the scandal chaired by Justice Samuel Bosire. Agreeing that Mudavadi was a whistleblower, the commission concluded that the scandal was stopped during his tenure as Minister for Finance after he almost single-handedly opposed payments worth KES 2.1 billion.

As Minister for Finance, Mudavadi had to deal with the funding of the 1997 General Election, which drained the national economy, depleted foreign exchange and caused high inflation. International aid reduced to a trickle as donor states and multilateral agencies exerted pressure on the Moi regime to open up politics and relinquish power. He also served as Minister for Transport and Communication between 1999 and 2002. In March 2010 his name would feature in yet another scandal when the Kenya Anti- Corruption Commission (KACC) started investigating him over fraud involving KES 283 million and cemetery land in Nairobi. The investigators said they wanted to know if Mudavadi was party to the fraud in which the City Council of Nairobi lost money after buying land valued at only KES 24 million. Mudavadi protested his innocence again, saying KACC should have given him a chance to be heard. Ten years down the
line, the matter has never been resolved. Mudavadi was born on 21 September 1960 in Sabatia, Vihiga District (now Vihiga County). Between 1980 and 1984, he studied land economics at the University of Nairobi where he also played rugby for the university team, Mean Machine. Thereafter he worked for the National Housing Corporation from 1984 to 1985 after which he joined the private sector just before his debut into politics in 1989.

For someone who has made tremendous contributions in government, Mudavadi does a poor job of tooting his own horn. Neither has he received much recognition or appreciation, at least not publicly. Indeed, he has been taunted for his reserved, laid- back, non confrontational demeanour, which is interpreted as lacking the spine to make tough political decisions. Some analysts have blamed his religious background for this – he was raised as a staunch Quaker, whose adherents are known for pacificism, blunt honesty and plain dressing. The image of an amiable, hands-off, non-controversial leader however appears to have worked well for him and may be responsible for the numerous positions he has held in government.

In 2013, he contested the presidency as flag bearer of the United Democratic Party and came third. He is the current party leader of Amani National Congress, which he founded in 2015.

Share this post

Comment on post

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *