Sunday, September 14, 2008



September 14, 2008
By Oscar Obonyo
Sunday Standard

Political activity is intensifying right under the nose of Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi within the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and in his Western Province backyard.

But in his characteristic gentleman-mien, the Sabatia MP is impassive and unmoved.

Curiously, the vocal players inflicting the most lethal damage are "home-boys" from his very own political base. They include Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba, Ikolomani MP Bonny Khalwale and Lugari MP, who is also Kaddu Chairman, Cyrus Jirongo.

Pointedly, the trio have teamed up with ODM allied MPs mainly from South Rift under the aegis of the grand opposition coalition. The Rift Valley MPs are now pushing for the elevation of Agriculture Minister William Ruto, to a senior party post — a patch above Mudavadi, who is regarded as the ODM deputy captain.

Is the DPM unmoved by the possible shift of power in ODM? What of the emerging political force in his backyard engineered by proponents of the grand opposition? And is the Western Province voter-base slipping through his fingers?

Responds Jirongo, his former buddy-cum-political nemesis: "Those are questions for him to determine. Otherwise everyone has a political style and strategy. Mudavadi is known for a non-intrusive approach and it has all along worked for him except when he missed out in the Ninth Parliament."

taming mps

"My ambition is not to tame any MP to toe my line. It is perfectly under their (western Kenya MPs) democratic right to choose a political path of their choice. This is my style and I will not depart from it," says Mudavadi.

Despite the apparent panic among some ODM supporters over what they consider the DPM’s lukewarm approach, the politician casts a rather relaxed image that screams; "Why the panic — all is well!"

"The ODM house is secure, particularly in Western Province where we just reclaimed the Emuhaya parliamentary seat in the recent by-election," reassures Mudavadi.

Nonetheless, political pundits opine Mudavadi failed to quickly capitalise on the political goodwill following the massive support accorded to him and his party in last elections. It is this vacuum that his political opponents are trying to exploit.

Other than the grand opposition crusaders, Ford-Kenya Chairman Musikari Kombo is progressively emerging from the ashes of the elections last year, following lacklustre performance to reposition the party.

Also making slow inroads in the region is Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister and Narc-Kenya chairperson Martha Karua.

The Gichugu MP, who has declared interest in the presidency in 2012, was a surprise guest at Jirongo’s homecoming party last month. She was among the three ministers who attended, and the only one from central Kenya.

But Jirongo denies there is a possible political marriage with Karua. But there is no denying the existence of a political chemistry between Karua and some western Kenya MPs.

It is, for instance, Namwamba and Khalwale who spearheaded the "roasting" of former Finance Minister, Amos Kimunya on the floor of the House, eventually leading to his resignation.

It is unclear whether they partly executed the plot at the behest of Karua. What is clear, though, is that Karua and Kimunya have a frosty relationship and when the Motion came up for debate, Karua, who doubles up as deputy leader of Government Business, retreated to the backbench where she stayed mum throughout the stormy session.

And as if to cement the newfound political marriage, Karua seems to have climbed down on her tough stand on a grand opposition. She pronounced in Lugari "we are not afraid of opposition".

While Mudavadi has been visible at the national stage executing his ministerial responsibilities, he seems to have been absent on the political radar.

everything under control

Says the former Vice-President: "There is no need for alarm as this Government is only five months old and it is therefore too early to start politicking. My strategy is to accord MPs a year to get a foothold of their constituencies and constituents before I engage them politically."

In the meantime, he maintains, "Everything is under control". The DPM further allays fears of a frosty relationship and power struggle with Ruto, as largely portrayed by the ODM fraternity.

"What is happening is that there is some degree of anxiety and misplaced suspicion among politicians. This has particularly heightened because of the impending party grassroots elections," he states.

Already, a section of Rift Valley MPs are pushing for Ruto to occupy the slot of deputy party leader, arguing the populous province gave ODM about two million votes in the presidential election.

While Mudavadi’s key allies appreciate ODM supporters in Rift Valley staged, perhaps the most spirited protests against the "stolen election", eventually compelling President Kibaki to engage their leaders in dialogue, they dismiss the claims of superior voting figures is fallacious.

Former ODM campaign Communications Director, Kibisu Kabatesi, observes there is need to separate provincial figures from tribal ones. If tribe were the basis for demanding the deputy party leader’s slot, he argues, then it should be noted that a big proportion of the Luhya reside in the expansive Rift Valley, "not to mention the Maasai, Samburu and Luo who voted for ODM".

"And what would one say of the voting patterns in say Nairobi Province, where ODM claimed victory in Lang’ata, Westlands, Starehe, Kasarani and Embakasi, courtesy of two western Kenya communities?" poses Kabatesi.

But Musalia describes such arithmetic — for or against him and Ruto — as "unfortunate, mistaken and mischievous" arguments that could breed divisions in the party.

Away from hard politics, Mudavadi appears to have settled well in Government. His first major hurdle at the Local Government Ministry involved the revocation of councillors illegally nominated by his predecessor and fellow DPM, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta.

Although a potentially volatile assignment, he eventually sorted out the mess.

A good leader

Mr Njeru Githae, an Assistant minister in his office, says Mudavadi is a good leader.

Noting that they have a "very good and smooth" working relationship, Githae points out that they have set clear boundaries between party politics and duty.

Githae recalls an incident at a public rally in western Kenya where Musalia came to his aid. The Coalition Government had just been put in place and the debate for the release of the so-called ODM youth from captivity was raging.

"Speakers lambasted central Kenya politicians, and in particular President Kibaki, on the matter. But because of my presence, he (Mudavadi) grabbed the microphone and dissuaded subsequent speakers against turning the event into a PNU-ODM duel," recalls the Ndia MP.

But much as he is trying to keep off it, it looks like this PNU-ODM tussle will not just go away. It is the prime source of discontent among some MPs in the shared Government.

More like in the Rift Valley where members of Kalenjin community belong to eight sub-tribes, dishing out of ministerial slots to members of the Luhya community who belong to 18 sub-tribes is even more complex.

In his delicate balancing act, the PM attempted to reward key sub-tribes but left out — by design or mistake — representatives of communities occupying the former wider Kakamega District.

The oversight has apparently given Jirongo, Shitanda, and Khalwale – who come from the so-called ‘capital city’ of Luhyaland — an opportunity to exploit.

But again, Musalia points out, this is the consequence of the proverbial half-a-loaf arrangement.