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After taking a short break from politics to celebrate the new year, Mudavadi appeared before the media on 5 January to assure Kenyans that all was well at the ANC and his presidential bid was still on course.
“Recently, I have been in the media more about what I did not say than what I said. My focus is clear and nothing has changed,” said Mudavadi, flanked by his co-principals at the One Kenya Alliance (OKA) – a loose coalition of four mid-size political parties, which is currently punching below its weight in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s succession battle.
Mudavadi has been in the limelight because of a widening schism in the ANC and the recent events that took place in his western Kenya home region.
Rumours that ANC legislators were sharply divided over whether he should form a coalition with Ruto or Odinga, the presidential frontrunners, have been circulating for some time.
However, on 31 December, the differences played out in the open, raising questions whether Mudavadi still had the full backing of his party in his bid to become Kenya’s fifth president.
His deputy, Ayub Savula, along with legislators Godfrey Osotsi and Oku Kaunya defied him by attending the Azimio la Umoja rally held in Kakamega’s Bukhungu stadium that endorsed Odinga as the Luyha community’s preferred presidential candidate. Mudavadi had earlier turned down an invitation and dismissed the rally as inconsequential.
The meeting was organised by key Luhya leaders, including Central Organisation of Trade Unions secretary general Francis Atwoli, Kakamega governor Wycliffe Oparanya, defence cabinet secretary Eugene Wamalwa, community elders and former politicians from the western region.
‘It’s a two-horse race’
“There are two horses in the coming presidential election. One is Baba [Odinga] the other is William Ruto. I have officially joined the Azimio la Umoja movement. From today I have left that stupid outfit called One Kenya Alliance,” said Savula, the ANC deputy party leader, amid cheers from the crowd.
The ANC party leader suffered a double blow after Osotsi and Kaunya defected to the ODM, citing lack of effective leadership.
“I am one of the people who formed ANC but because it lacks proper leadership I decided to work with Baba (Odinga). I want to play in Baba’s team. I have officially joined ODM,” Osotsi said.
For his part, Kaunya said though he was an ANC legislator, Ruto welcomed him in his Azimio la Umoja house with open arms, adding that he will run for his seat on an ODM ticket.
The Luhya leaders were not done with Mudavadi. They stripped him of the community spokesperson post and appointed Oparanya. The Kakamega governor was also mandated to negotiate with Odinga on behalf of the community.
At Mumias Sports Complex, about 40km away, Kakamega senator Cleophas Malala, the self-declared ‘number-one foot soldier for Mudavadi’ was busy hosting Ruto at a football tournament organised to counter the Bukhungu meeting.
Two days earlier, Malala had announced on Twitter that Mudavadi would be the chief guest, and would be accompanied by the Forum for Restoration of Democracy Kenya (Ford Kenya) party leader, Moses Wetangula, also an OKA principal.
However, to the surprise of many it turned out that Ruto, whose chopper landed a few minutes after 4pm, was actually the chief guest. Both Mudavadi and Wetangula were absent.
Though the Kakamega senator expressed surprise at Ruto’s attendance, saying he had no prior information, many argued he had a hand in it – with Mudavadi’s approval.
“Deputy president, you did not tell me you are coming. When you are coming to somebody’s turf, at least tell him. Anyway, you are very welcome,” Malala said cheekily.
In reply, the deputy president said Mudavadi had granted him permission to grace the occasion.
“I received permission to attend this tournament from your boss, Musalia Mudavadi, who plays in a bigger league compared to yours,” Ruto replied.
The remarks left tongues wagging that Mudavadi was working secretly with Ruto. In fact, the match was also attended by some of Mudavadi’s closest allies in the ANC. A few days later, the deputy president’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party announced that it had formally invited Mudavadi and Wetangula for coalition talks.
‘ANC not in coalition talks’
At the 5 January press conference, the ANC party leader denied he was in the process of forming a coalition with Ruto.
“No formal invitation has come to me yet. If it comes, we shall deal with it. When I meet somebody, I will tell you. I will not make it a secret meeting,” he said.
Savula had earlier told the media that the latest behaviours of Mudavadi’s allies suggested there were talks ongoing between his party leader and the deputy president.
“Some OKA principals are moles of Ruto. I am principled. I cannot be party to that. Because of what transpired on Friday [31 December], I suspect that there are talks underway and I am not involved and I will never be involved,” he said referring to Malala’s hosting of the deputy president.
‘Mudavadi free to negotiate with anybody’
Despite the furore his football tournament has caused, Malala maintains that he and Mudavadi are free to negotiate with any politician, including Ruto.
…We should wake up to the fact that your enemy is not necessarily my enemy and your supporter is not necessarily my supporter.
Malala attended UDA’s mega rally in Uasin Gishu on 8 January, organised to endorse Ruto’s presidential bid, saying he went to not only reciprocate the deputy president’s gesture but also represent the Luyha community.
ANC party leader Mudavadi has been gravitating towards the deputy president, not only defending him but also training his guns on Kenyatta and Odinga.
Last year, for example, when Kenyatta stressed the importance of age in leadership, likening the race to occupy the top seat to a marathon and not a sprint, in a thinly veiled attack on the deputy president, Mudavadi was quick to defend Ruto.
“If people are worried that the young people are running fast, then they should realise that young people are tired of us going too slowly,” he said.
On the issue of coalitions, Mudavadi’s thinking is in line with Malala’s. In a recent interview with Citizen Television, the ANC party leader said he was free to work with any politician.
“Let people not choose friends for others. I will make my decision, and nothing is impossible as long as it is constitutional. We should wake up to the fact that your enemy is not necessarily my enemy and your supporter is not necessarily my supporter.”
Threats to quit the ANC
However, Savula has threatened to quit the party if it forms a coalition with UDA.
“I don’t want to beat around the bush. I’m still in ANC until the time when they will formally announce a coalition with UDA, I will quit and stand on Azimio la Umoja. Azimio is a wave and I don’t want to play with fire,” Savula argued.
Mudavadi’s running mate from the 2013 presidential election, Jeremiah Kioni, urges him to be wary of Ruto’s enticements.
“If he allows himself to be swallowed by the Ruto team, then he’d go into political oblivion. His side should be Azimio la Umoja,” says Kioni, a member of parliament for Ndaragwa.
A third way?
Political analyst John Charo, argues that Mudavadi and his OKA co-principals are keen on creating a third force in the presidential race with the hope of denying Ruto and Odinga a first-round win.
“I think Mudavadi believes by running for president he will deny the top two contenders a first-round win and then cut a deal with either of them with the belief that he will be a hot cake,” says Charo.
However, the analyst warns that the option comes with its own risks.
“If either Odinga or Ruto wins in the first round, then Mudavadi’s political future will be history since some leaders from western Kenya will have already bulldozed their way to the high table.”
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