Dazzled by renewed political attention, ANC leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi is cautious not to drop his guard.
In a country where politics is as fluid as mercury, where no deal is guaranteed until the ballot day, one can understand Musalia’s inclination to caution; in any case he is a victim of broken political deals. And for him, the “once beaten and twice shy” phrase is a reality.
In candid interview with The Standard on Sunday at Riverside home in Nairobi, Mudavadi bared it all – embracing his newfound attention and vowing that he is best placed to deal Jubilee a political death blow.
He was extremely circumspect throughout the interview conducted in the same home where he was handed the reins of Jubilee ticket in 2013 before it was snatched away in unexplained circumstances by the same “dynamic duo” of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto.
Almost four years later, Mudavadi still longs for answers from Kenyatta and Ruto, although he has an idea as to why the two changed their minds about him. He says he has been on a journey to put the betrayal behind him and is resolute that the proverbial stone the builders rejected is about to become the cornerstone.
His newfound political fortunes notwithstanding, the ANC leader is keen to sell himself as the bridge between the antagonistic paths that have always crossed or killed the Kenyan dream.
“Time has come for people to realise that we cannot continuously be looking at politics the way we have always looked at it; simply a question of ethnicity, a game of the abrasive, mistrust and shortchanging each other. People are beginning to appreciate the need for what you could call decency in politics and that’s what I have always stood for,” he told The Standard on Sunday.
He said despite the people and the Jubilee leadership rejecting him in 2013, the awareness of what he stood for has re-emerged and spread wider. He also confirmed ongoing talks with CORD leader Raila Odinga that could lead to a formidable political formation.
In the interview, Mudavadi remained categorical that he will not work with Jubilee. Once beaten twice shy. He said it is possible that CORD leadership and those fascinated by his possible political role in 2017 have finally discovered his political value.
“They are beginning to see that the values I have always advocated for – inclusivity, trust, and decency – in politics are values we have always been ignoring and yet at the end of the day they will determine whether we have good governance or not,” he said.
He openly spoke about a wide range of issues including the ever elusive Luhya unity, Water Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa’s entry into Nairobi politics and the surprise that awaits Jubilee in Western Kenya in 2017.
Below the full interview:
Q: The political class seems fascinated by your candidacy and possible role in turning the tables on Jubilee in 2017. Why is this the case and why now?
A: Well, I think perhaps the time has come for people to realise that we cannot continuously be looking at politics the way we have always looked at it, simply a question of ethnicity, a game of the abrasive, mistrust and shortchanging each other. People are beginning to appreciate the need for what you could call decency in politics and that’s what I have always stood for.
Q: The last time you stood for decency, people rejected you. How do you plan to reinvent decency as a selling point for your campaign?
A: I think it’s the persistency and consistency of the message which is important. If we get people to start to look for the correct value in politics, the correct approach, behaviour and attitude, we will begin to change the whole game. I have been very consistent. I am not trying to ape someone. Unfortunately, for a long time our politics has all been fixated on what you’d call politics of mudslinging, politics of name calling. The reality is that people are beginning to realise that they need to change this attitude. Why do you think we have students of political science? Because they see it as a career that can be nurtured and developed positively and for a common good, the way a medic is trained to be a doctor with ethics. It’s time we infused some ethics, some code of ethics that politicians can be appraised against, by being reasonable and by being sensitive to concerns of the people. It is ridiculous when people think that being disrespectful or by breaking the law, then that’s politics.
Q: There is animated talk about your possible coalition with Raila Odinga and CORD. What’s so magical about that ticket?
A: The election fever is beginning to take grip. In my commentary, I have said, it is possible Kenyans have not seen the final formations in the build up to 2017 elections. The coalitions that exist were put together in 2013. All I can say is that if there are people speculating on the ticket it must be because they realise that I have something to offer. And maybe they are beginning to see that the values that I have always advocated for, inclusivity, trust, and decency in politics are values we have always been ignoring and yet at the end of the day they will determine whether we have good governance or not.
Q: Are you in actual coalition talks with CORD leadership?
A: Let me put it this way, our party is open to coalitions and we have provisions for that. We put that clause there because we thought as we go along we must talk with other Kenyans. We met with Raila in Philadelphia at the Democratic National Convention. We talked primarily about the current events in Kenya and the topical issue was the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). It’s only fair that I put it on record that while there we also had Hon Sakaja, Hon Martha Karua and there was also Hon Laboso. We said conversations should continue when we come back home because dialogue is essential.
Q: And have the conversations continued?
A: I would want to leave that as it is for now.
Q: When I interviewed the CORD leader two weeks ago, he was categorical that his coalition is not yet fully formed, that other big shots are on the line, that he’s willing to leave the presidential ticket to another candidate. Are you that candidate?
A: In all honesty I cannot speak for Raila. All I can say is that I read the interview in The Standard on Sunday. It was a big article. My take is that all parties want to have more members and grow their bases. That’s our strategy as ANC.
Q: What’s your irreducible minimum to enter into coalition with CORD or any other political alliance?
A: The most important thing will be based on level of convergence in terms of essential policy issues. It cannot be a matter of sharing positions. We must converge on fundamental policy issues. We will have to make sure that ANC is not swallowed so that it doesn’t lose direction of the objectives we set out.
Q: In an alliance with Raila, where do you think that will leave your brothers Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetangula?
A: You are trying to get me to answer or speculate about CORD. I cannot speculate about them. It’s a different coalition. They have their own arrangements. They have even said they are working to determine their flag bearer. Assuming we are going to enter into any coalition, these are details that will be negotiated and discussed. And I will not be doing so as Musalia Mudavadi but the full leadership of the party.
Q: In 2013, the people rejected you alongside other presidential aspirants. In mature democracies, once people reject you, that’ about it. You hang your boots and let others try it. Don’t you think we need to encourage that culture in Kenya?
A: I think it depends on the context. And it is part of development of our democracy as well. Our history shows that President Kibaki attempted three times, Uhuru got it on his second attempt. It’s also not limited to Kenya by the way. Abraham Lincoln tried several times and ended becoming a great President. If you come closer down the years, President Reagan too! The point is, it should not be seen in a negative way.
Q: What do you think made the dynamic duo of President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto back off from supporting you in 2013 election?
A: (Long pause)… You know they have never been asked this question. (Another long pause)… The only conclusion I got is that they came under pressure from their own supporters who thought they wouldn’t get elected if they did not hang on their coat tails.
Q: They have never officially gotten back to you on why they pulled out?
A: No. What I got is what I read in the papers, that they came under pressure from their support bases.
Q: Some people, especially within Jubilee, say you are still bitter with events of 2013 and that this is what feeds your ambitions and vigour?
A: I don’t know how they gauge bitterness. What do they expect me to do to show that I am not bitter other than to say I am contesting in 2017? That is not a sign of bitterness. I am not going to dwell on 2013. I have said it before; it’s time to move on. It will not change anything if I focus on 2013. It will not improve my standing. Personally, I have put it behind me. And I think it’s the media that keeps bringing it back but as far as I am concerned, it’s time to move on, and I moved on.
Q: Every time you harshly criticise government, that image of bitterness comes out. Besides, you have also made a categorical statement that you will not enter into a coalition with them again.
A: Let me put it plainly, the Jubilee people are scared of criticism. When they are criticised, instead of seeing how they can correct the situation at hand, all they say is that it’s not genuine criticism. I think that’s a lost cause. They are in government; they are the ones at the forefront. I am in the opposition and one of the roles of the opposition is to poke holes into the government of the day.
Q: But you were in a post-coalition agreement with Jubilee, isn’t this the case?
A: No, not at all, not ANC. Let’s be very clear. ANC is not. After the elections, we moved on and we have re-engineered ourselves and put up ANC as a party. The party that is in association with government and one which has folded up is UDF. This distinction must come out. ANC has no agreement with either UDF or Jubilee.
Q: Well, perhaps the transition from UDF to ANC created this confusion to the point where people still look at you in post-election coalition lenses?
A: I think it is mischievous and contrived confusion because the media has a lot of intelligent people. Somebody is just being mischievous in trying to play this game. ANC is a different political party altogether.
Q: Why are you so categorical that ANC will not enter into coalition with Jubilee yet our politics is very fluid?
A: Right now, the people to unseat are in Jubilee. The moment you say you want the seat; the people you want out are Jubilee. You can’t tell them that you want the seat, but I will be with you. That’s a contradiction.
Q: But last time you attempted a coalition with them and they were in government?
A: We were out. We were not in power. It was a General Election. The person who was the President was Kibaki. These were formations that were taking place, possible formations prior to the election. But when we went to the election we were not together.
Q: What’s your view of the Jubilee parties’ mass merger?
A: It’s their style, but I think it’s an assault on multiparty democracy. If our Constitution has allowed for coalitions why would they be in hurry to merge? The way it has come, it’s like an induced situation, more like an acquisition in the stock market, when you come to think of it. I can see a lot of hiccups because when you see what they are proposing, it’s like they want to put people in silos. And after that their nominations will start reverting to our old Kanu days where there was a retinue of preferred candidates.
Q: All of you in opposition appear determined to topple Jubilee. What is the greatest undoing for Jubilee administration in your opinion?
A: No brainer; Lack of inclusivity in governance, arrogance and a belligerent approach to things. That it’s a government that’s not keen to protect the public purse is manifest in the numerous corruption scandals we have witnessed in a span of three years and the hard economic times we are living in. Unemployment has spiraled to the point where it is possible that seven out of every ten qualified young people are jobless. Over 100 years ago, the Nandis protested at the passing of the iron snake, the railway on their land. Now 100 years later, the Maasais are protesting over the railway construction because they are not involved yet it’s passing through their yards. They know and they can see how people are benefiting and they cannot take it anymore. Over and above that, Jubilee people are sorely insensitive to criticism.
Q: And why do you think you are best suited to turn the tables against Jubilee?
A: Because I come and I offer myself as a person the country can trust. I come with trust. I do not have any cards hidden anywhere under the table. I am for genuine inclusivity of all Kenyans in government and our development process.
Q: You said one of the lessons you learnt in 2013 is that our politics is still ethnic driven. What are you doing to consolidate the hitherto fragmented Western vote?
A: You know, this is really unfortunate and one of the greatest contradictions of our democracy. On one hand, it is true that the Western vote has not been consolidated into one bloc, and you vilify us for that. On the other hand, Western is the only region in the country which has voted for almost everyone, including outside their own bracket. Many of the other communities have not shown the same approach. And they like to see ours as a sign of weakness, not strength. Well, time has come when now the Western region is questioning their approach to national politics. Their approach is likely to change this time round.
Q: Are you involved in shifting the approach?
A: I am one of them. We are doing a lot on the ground. We are telling our people that they should study the national trend and adapt what they feel will elevate them in the sharing of the national cake. We cannot play politics as usual. They also realise that we have entered into an era of partnerships and coalitions. More than ever now, it is important that we solidify our base in line with what the rest of the communities and regions have been doing. The truth is that they have done a better job and used that to leverage on their coalition or partnership negotiations. The sad part of it is that those who have moved fast to solidify their bases are using their advantage to divide and rule the rest, which is unacceptable.
Q: There is a lot of interest in Western amongst the Jubilee. They are pulling all stops to bag it. Will you survive?
A: What I can say is that politics is a competitive process. You need to traverse more, move across the country and the regions to sell yourself. They are most welcome to impress our people. But the way I am reading it, our people are yet to embrace Jubilee. I think surprise awaits Jubilee in Western in 2017.
Q: Your brother and Water CS Eugene Wamalwa has made a dramatic entry into Nairobi politics as part of ongoing moves to impress Western and win its support. Do you think he will make it?
A: That will be determined by voters in Nairobi. What I know is that voters across the board do not like to feel that someone has been imposed on them. You only need to look down our history to affirm that.
Q: What is the one or two defining points of your 2017 campaigns, the few things that you strongly feel for and would want to change?
A: My defining point would be governance. I want to open up the governance structure to make people own the government. I have already identified the need to return Cabinet ministers to Parliament. And this has far reaching implications. The other defining point of my 2017 campaigns is devolution. I will not hesitate to ensure that devolution is given the necessary support and the due respect it deserves. I have many other policies – economic, diplomatic, political and social – which I believe will transform the country.
Q: Based on your 2013 experience, what’s the campaign budget like?
A: I would hesitate putting a figure on it but I can tell you the ones that are being mooted by IEBC are really exaggerated. They also tend to give the impression that politics in this country is going to become a preserve of those who have the money and that the young, intelligent individuals without the money are going to be relegated to the back burner. I am not saying that money doesn’t count in terms of logistics but I think there is a lot of exaggeration in terms of the cost. If we put a lot of emphasis on money, we are going to lose it.
Q: Your message to Kenyans as we hurtle towards the next General Election?
A: I hope the process on IEBC restructuring and reforms will be concluded quickly. Beyond that, I think IEBC needs to come a little bit clearer on some of the fundamental issues of preparation for 2017. For instance, there is a lot of vagueness on the issue of diaspora voting and yet it could become a very serious issue. I would also like to urge that the voter registration exercise be publicised a little bit more. There is a tendency to ignore or to refuse to publicise the continuous registration exercise. The government must do more to issue IDs faster to our citizens. Finally, I want to impress on Kenyans to embrace ANC. We are seeking support of all Kenyans and we are offering inclusivity, justice and fairness for all. We will be offering candidates in all electoral positions contestable in 2017. We are moving ahead as a party even as we seek partners to walk together.