As he was to President Mwai Kibaki’s handlers in 2013, Amani National Congress party leader Musalia Mudavadi remains a man to watch in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s succession game plan if political banter in the corridors of power is anything to go by.
At a time when central Kenya is beginning to suggest that it could back a candidate from outside the region in the post-Kenyatta days, the ANC leader is positioning himself to square it out with, among others, Deputy President William Ruto.
Mr Ruto recently made overtures to Mr Mudavadi to join his camp, but the ANC leader turned them down.
This week, he told the Saturday Nation that the decision to reject the offer so spectacularly was quite easy.
“The economic crisis ravaging the country today has been authored by the Jubilee administration, of which Ruto is a part,” explained Mr Mudavadi.
He added: “He cannot offer anything new, and so accepting to work with him would allow the continuation of the current ills and miscalculations. He is thus being cheeky and mischievous to ask that we work together. He cannot be the solution of problems manufactured by the administration he is part of.”
It is not yet clear whether Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga will seek to succeed his new ally, Mr Kenyatta.
Should he, Mr Mudavadi will have yet another mountain to climb, besides Mr Ruto’s candidacy.
However, he knows that these are uncertain times in Mr Kenyatta’s backyard, and the emergence of the Kieleweke and Tangatanga teams, one supporting Mr Kenyatta and the other his DP Ruto, respectively, presents him with an opportunity to make inroads.
At the same time, the Mount Kenya Foundation, a group of wealthy central Kenya businessmen, is seeking to secure a stake in the next government by building the political profile and sponsoring the campaigns of President Kenyatta’s successor or his deputy.
Can Mr Mudavadi be that person? Does he have the pedigree and the right kind of support?
In an interview with the Saturday Nation this week, he downplayed the idea that he could be the preferred candidate of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), a product of the Uhuru-Raila political truce that is shaping the 2022 succession discourse.
Instead, he said his focus is on revamping ANC in preparation for the big race in the 2022 General Election.
“I want to strengthen ANC and expand our networks within the country and beyond, then focus on an agenda that’s beneficial to Kenyans, such as how to reduce the ballooning public debt, taming corruption and ensuring the economy works,” he said.
To him, every vote counts and Mr Kenyatta’s backing, should he get it, would be a godsend.
“Were he to support my bid, I’d thank him. May I also commend him for rejecting the bill that would have seen MPs circumvent the Salaries and Remuneration Commission in their salary and allowance demands,” Mr Mudavadi said.
While some of the President’s strategists could be looking at him as a compromise candidate, the politician chooses to look at it differently.
Mr Mudavadi says, “Kenyans should not be looking for a compromise candidate but the right candidate.”
“And I am the one,” he argues. “We want to put in place a listening and understanding government.”
Mr Mudavadi and Mr Kenyatta, just like the DP, are among the few politicians who stuck with President Daniel arap Moi in 2002 after Mr Odinga, who had earlier basked in the glory of a Kanu-NDP merger, led a mass exodus from the independence party.
Other than Mr Mudavadi, Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr Odinga and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya have been proposed by high-ranking bureaucrats in the Kenyatta government as possible partners or flag-bearers in the next polls.
“I am for a stable economy and respect for the rule of law,” said Mr Mudavadi, reviving his 2013 campaign slogan of a “Safe Pair of Hands”.
“We must allow entrepreneurship to thrive, not the prevailing circumstances where almost every company is downsizing because of poor government policies.”
While central Kenya appears to be warming up to Mr Odinga after his truce with Mr Kenyatta, the battle for its soul has not been won yet.
Both the President and the ODM leader would need to do more to undo the damage wrought on Mr Odinga by 20 years of negative politics during which his name has been used quite successfully as a scarecrow to mobilise the region to vote, almost to a man in the last three presidential elections, against him.
Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua accuses former Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe of being on a mission to introduce Mr Mudavadi to central Kenya as a possible Kenyatta successor.
“Jubilee should hold elections as soon as possible. Besides, Murathe does not speak on behalf of the party since he has no mandate,” Mr Gachagua said.
Mr Murathe is fiercely opposed to the idea of the DP taking over from Mr Kenyatta and vows to lead a “Stop Ruto” movement in the mountain region.
That Mr Kenyatta may still play an active role in politics after his term in office expires, mostly because age is on his side, has meant that potential heirs are reluctant to come out and seize the moment.
They fear the President might train his arsenal on them to their own detriment.
DP Ruto on Thursday joined the raging debate on why central Kenya needs to support another community for the top seat.
Responding to Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, who had suggested that it was time the community looked beyond its borders, the DP said that, just as it was in 2013 when they backed Mr Kenyatta, tribe should never be the deciding factor, but competence.
“We supported and voted for Uhuru to succeed (retired President Mwai) Kibaki, not because of ethnicity, but competence.
“He is not the leader of any ethnic community, but of Jubilee, the largest political party with MCAs, MPs and governors in 41 out of 47 counties,” he tweeted.
The DP, who has staged regular vote-hunting forays into western Kenya this year, is betting big on the Luhya vote in the next elections.
And Mr Mudavadi is not amused. While he acknowledges that the support of his Rift Valley homeground will be key in giving him a head-start over his opponents, the former vice-president says he does not support zoning in politics.
On the clamour to change the Constitution through a referendum to create a premier’s position and foment other changes, he urges the country to wait for the report of the BBI if it wants to speak from an informed point of view.
“Let’s give them the benefit of doubt and wait,” he said.
Mr Mudavadi is among those rooting for the Bomas draft, produced by the Bomas of Kenya Delegates’ Conference in 2005 under the guidance of law Prof Yash Pal Ghai.
The delegates proposed that Kenya get a President, Deputy President, Prime Minister, and several ministers.
The Prime Minister, who had to be the leader of the largest political party or coalition in the National Assembly, would be appointed by the President from among MPs with the approval of Parliament.
The PM would be the head of a Cabinet comprising two deputy premiers, a maximum of 20 and a minimum of 15 ministers, and an equal number of deputy ministers.
The ministers, the document proposed, would be appointed by the President upon nomination by the Prime Minister from among members of the National Assembly, and subject to the approval of the Senate.
Mr Mudavadi also opened up on the kind of pressure he faced before unveiling Mr Eliud Owalo as the ANC flag-bearer in the Kibra parliamentary by-election slated for November 7.
Some of his handlers, he regretted, preferred a Luhya candidate. He overruled them.
“We have fielded a strong candidate and we urge the people of Kibra to be peaceful as they exercise their democratic right. They should come out in large numbers and vote since a lot is at stake. Owalo is our best bet. Kibra is not looking for a tribe but a leader who will serve them, and Owalo fits the bill” he said.