Nasa prepares for lift-off
On a cool evening in the garden of one of Mombasa’s plushest hotels, Musalia Mudavadi poses for selfies with several young fans. The long-time leader of the Amani National Congress is in town to hold rallies ahead of general elections slated for 8 August.
Mudavadi, a former vice-president and finance minister, is a popular politician who has emerged as a key dealmaker among the country’s high-level opposition leaders. He is the founder of Kenya’s new opposition coalition, the National Super Alliance (Nasa), which launched this February. Along with Mudavadi, Nasa’s principal members are Kalonzo Musyoka, leader of the Wiper Democratic Movement; Raila Odinga, leader of the Orange Democratic Movement; and Moses Wetangula, leader of Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-Kenya.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party, with its sizeable campaign war chest and the wide support of two of Kenya’s largest and most influential ethnic groups, is widely expected to win the vote. Kenyatta won 50.5% of the votes in the 2013 election.
But that does not deter Mudavadi. He bats away suggestions that his coalition has suffered setbacks in the 2017 voter registration drive (see map) – which attracted just 3.8 million new voters out of a target of six million. “We could be at about 55% of the vote,” he tells The Africa Report as he sips a cup of tea.
In with nasa, out with cord
In the last election, in 2013, Mudavadi ran against Kenyatta and Odinga, who headed the opposition umbrella group known as the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (Cord). The agreement for the major opposition parties to unite through Nasa in February includes provisions for the dissolution of Cord.
Mudavadi won 4% of the vote in the 2013 presidential election, and his support base will significantly boost the opposition, says Michael Chege, a professor of politics at the University of Nairobi. “He adds one more pillar to Cord. His presence is legitimising for the coalition.”
Mudavadi says Nasa should not be ruled out of the race yet because of the party’s inclusive approach. “Nasa is keen on making sure that we can have a government that reflects genuine national integration,” he says. “There are 43 [ethnic] communities in this country. Nasa is about seeking and getting power democratically, and we are also for sharing that power.”
Mudavadi is trying to create a party for Kenyans of all backgrounds who are frustrated with the governing party. The elder statesman paints a portrait of the Kenyatta administration as one obsessed with consolidating power at all costs, and one that, in doing so, has created enemies across the political spectrum. “What you have now is an executive that is totally excluded from other institutions that would require [it to be held accountable],” he says, pointing to the Jubilee Alliance’s recent efforts to discredit Edward Ouko, Kenya’s auditor general.
Then there is the issue of corruption, a topic that Mudavadi knows a thing or two about because of his participation in the government of former President Daniel arap Moi, who is estimated to have misappropriated as much as $1.2bn of public money during his 24 years in power. Mudavadi says the current administration is giving Moi a run for his money. “[Kenyatta’s administration] has been in power for three-and-a-half years, and [Moi] was in power for 24 years. But when you take into account what seems to have been misappropriated within the four years, it’s making a mockery of Moi’s 24 years.”
Capitalising on frustration spreading throughout Kenya’s private sector presents a major opportunity for Nasa, Mudavadi says. Signed last year, Kenya’s cap on commercial lending interest rates has hit banks’ bottom lines. KCB, the region’s biggest lender by assets, projects a 2% decline in pre-tax profit this year because of the cap. Experts say the lack of credit in Kenya’s economy is stifling growth. “The President has been a minister of finance, and he knows very well that interest rates reflect the cost of money,” says Mudavadi. “How could he, as a former minister of finance […] how would he be so eager to append his signature to cap the interest rates? It was a populist ploy, but at the end of the day, it’s now beginning to haunt us.”
Nasa is facing problems of its own. There are widespread concerns that the coalition could fall apart if some of its member parties reject the presidential candidate. Professor Chege says: “They fear that naming a candidate, any candidate, will break up the alliance. At least one candidate, and not necessarily Kalonzo [Musyoka], will bolt out. In vain, they keep saying a technical team will solve the problem. But how?
Odinga, who has run for office unsuccessfully three times before, is widely expected to lead the Nasa ticket. “Whether it’s Raila or myself or Kalonzo or Wetangula, we have made a commitment that we will stick together,” Mudavadi says. Nasa will name a candidate for the election “any time between now and 15 May, when the statutory deadline expires,” Mudavadi’s spokesman, Kibisu Kabatesi, tells The Africa Report.
Mudavadi deploys a metaphor of traffic lights to indicate the level of support that Nasa has across the country. Nasa’s “green light areas”, where support is strong, are in western Kenya as well as “parts of eastern, parts of the Coastal region, parts of the Nyanza region”, he says. The “amber areas” that will decide the election are in the Rift Valley, including Narok, Kajiado and Samburu, he says. “These guys are thinking differently as we speak. It’s no longer what you’d call an outright victory for Jubilee in those areas any more.”
Kenya’s “dark history” of vote rigging and electoral violence is in danger of resurfacing if the main actors in this election do not behave transparently, Mudavadi says. “The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission [IEBC] should look at this election as a national security issue, and therefore they should make sure they do everything within their power so that no rigging is allowed to proceed,” he says.
The opposition has made no secret of its disdain for the IEBC because of its perceived bias in favour of the governing party. Cord led weekly protests against the IEBC last year. In response, Kenyatta’s administration appointed a new chairman and six new commissioners, who took office in January (see TAR88, March 2017).
Like other leading opposition figures, Mudavadi says these new appointments do not amount to genuine reform. “The individuals at the top of the IEBC have changed, the commissioners have changed, but there are still a lot of fellows […] who are still intact,” he says.
The potential for manipulation of biometric voter registration and identification as well as the transmission of results are Mudavadi’s biggest concerns. “We must have technology that is proven,” he says. “[The IEBC] have not procured all the systems that they ought to have procured. They have not tested them. In the last election, they brought in equipment at the last minute and some of it never worked. Those are the areas that we want to watch because if they fail Kenyans again, then it could be dangerous.”
From the April 2017 print edition
Photo credit: Another day, another deal: Raila (C) signs up with Mudavadi (L) and Kalonzo (R) . All rights reserved