With all the heavyweight Opposition politicians moving in droves to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s camp following the March 9 handshake with ODM leader Raila Odinga, ANC party boss Musalia Mudavadi maintains he will be the last man left standing to put the government in check.
The former Deputy Prime Minister told the Sunday Nation that he will be more useful to the nation by offering an alternative voice than joining the bandwagon.
“You know when you join government, you are gagged. There are things you may not be happy about like soaring public debt, plight of maize and sugar farmers but because of collective responsibility, you cannot freely speak about them,” he said.
Mr Kenyatta has since won the support of Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka in what has effectively weakened the opposition further.
Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula, who is the other key component in the moribund opposition coalition Nasa, has gone quiet amid reports that he was now rooting for Deputy President William Ruto to succeed Mr Kenyatta.
The ANC leader says it is not a crime to be in the opposition.
“People seem to have forgotten that even Uhuru (Mr Kenyatta) was once an opposition leader. By choosing to remain in the opposition, it does not mean that I am unpatriotic. I’m not disloyal to my country in so doing but keen to provide alternatives to what the government of the day has to offer, this is how we can grow our democracy,” Mr Mudavadi said.
Mr Kenyatta was the leader of the opposition following his loss to President Mwai Kibaki in 2002 before later closing ranks with the Narc government.
The ANC leader said it was possible to be in the opposition without advocating violence.
Mr Mudavadi’s remarks come in the backdrop of reports that he had been offered a State job by Mr Kenyatta but turned it down. His recent meeting with Mr David Murathe, Kenyatta’s confidante and vice-chairman of the ruling party, has helped fuel the speculation.
“I have known Murathe since our days in school. We always meet, in fact this was not the first time we were meeting this year. And the President, too, is a friend,” he said.
He also described the current political tranquillity in the country as “a false calm hiding in a devastating storm”.
While appreciating the peace being experienced courtesy of the ‘handshake’, the Amani National Congress leader warns the opposition may be playing in the net of the Jubilee administration.
“The fact that we are being rail-loaded into a single de jure party system at will is worrying. All indication is that this is the bigger picture — kill the Opposition. Secondly, to fiddle around with the notion of removing presidential term limits. The story about amending the executive to make it inclusive is just a smokescreen,” Mr Mudavadi told the Sunday Nation.
And reiterating that Nasa is bigger than any one single party, principal or personal interests of all the principals put together, Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua similarly pointed out the need for the opposition to reflect soberly on the latest developments: “And this is why we need to urgently convene a Nasa PG (parliamentary group) meeting to chart the way forward in the context of our new reality. It is the most decent thing to do.”
The Wiper party-allied senator was referring to latest appointments of Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga by the African Union as High Representative for Infrastructure Development and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka’s nomination by President Kenyatta as a special envoy to the South Sudan peace process.
There have been mummers in political circles to the effect that the appointment of the two senior opposition figures — flagbearers of the main opposition presidential ticket in 2013 and last year’s polls — was not coincidental but strategic, aimed at killing the opposition ahead of the 2022 polls.
An insider within Mr Mudavadi’s camp further confided to the Sunday Nation that the former Vice-President had also been offered a Cabinet Secretary position but declined to take it up. And recently, he was also given the economic adviser's role, which he also turned down.
Confronted over the same, Mr Mudavadi casually brushed it aside indicating one could not rule out being propositioned through proxies.
Without specifying from whom, he nonetheless acknowledged getting “the usual fishing overtures”, but clarified he had not been ensnared: “I will remain a better adviser as Opposition rather than becoming part of the yes-boss crowd.”
However, last month, more than 20 MPs allied to Deputy President William Ruto, who gathered in Eldoret town for a fundraiser a day after Mashujaa Day fete, appeared to give credence to the alleged scheme. The MPs celebrated Mr Odinga’s AU appointment and declared that Mr Ruto’s journey to the seat of power was now clear.
Speakers at the event further encouraged President Kenyatta to ensure Mr Odinga’s Nasa colleagues, including Mr Musyoka and Mr Mudavadi, were also given international appointments. Coincidentally, Mr Musyoka’s appointment came through a couple of days later, and Mr Mudavadi reportedly turned down political overtures from the State.
Meanwhile, the other actor in the opposition stable, Ford Kenya party leader Moses Wetang’ula, seems to have been taken care of by the DP. Ford Kenya deputy party leader Boni Khalwale told the Sunday Nation they had identified Mr Ruto as “the man to beat in 2022” and were accordingly planning to team up with him. Although Mr Wetang’ula has not come out openly to support the DP’s bid, the former Kakamega senator has openly been drumming up support for Mr Ruto.
The latest developments have left the opposition weak and exposed. And amid the political uncertainty, Mr Mudavadi is quietly emerging as the last man left standing in the opposition.
“There is the narrative that Kenyans are worn out on agitation and they need a truce. But there is a higher calling in Kenya than the comfort of a job. I want to be there with Kenyans when the bell tolls at the end of their economic suffering. That is why I will continue speaking against mismanagement of the economy and corruption … even if I remain alone,” says Mr Mudavadi.
Mr Murathe denies claims of President Kenyatta cannibalising the opposition politically.
According to Mr Murathe, a close ally of Mr Kenyatta’s, the President is determined to leave behind a united and cohesive country “where everyone is included, especially the leadership of the various communities that compete for power so that the country is not polarised in a winner takes all to the exclusion of the rest.”
He added: “Everyone is supporting the Building Bridges Initiative. Those not supporting have no idea where the country is headed,” says Mr Murathe.
The Jubilee official explains that Mr Odinga’s and Mr Kalonzo’s are international assignments. Mr Musyoka, he says, replaced the former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki for the South Sudan assignment and Mr Odinga’s is exclusively an AU appointment.
Mr Harun Ndubi, a human rights lawyer and commentator on political affairs, argues that Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka have not entirely left politics. He believes they have only shifted gears.
“But I don't see it impacting negatively on the overall picture even though some of Raila’s active supporters may be somewhat disappointed since he will no longer rally them to the streets.”
Senator Enoch Wambua observes that the Wiper leader has immense wealth of experience in brokering peace deals in the region. “This notwithstanding, my understanding is that we (Nasa) shall continue to hold government to account and speak truth to power.”
Similarly, Mr Ndubi believes the AU appointment will accord Mr Odinga an opportunity to repackage himself. “Both Jubilee and Nasa have, over the years, sought to portray him as an anarchist. His handshake was to take that image away because even foreign friends had bought the idea, largely because of the ODM-led demonstrations that turned violent. So in his last possible stab at the top job, this image has gone away and now he is a statesman”.
Mr Ndubi’s sentiments are supported by an ODM insider, who sought to allay fears that the opposition leader was playing into Jubilee’s net.
“The others (within Nasa) have never been in opposition. Opposition is Raila. That is the man to watch and his relationship with Uhuru is based on clearly defined principles, and so far they are running well.”
In the meantime, politicians allied to the Nasa leaders remain optimistic, but cautious, that the opposition is united and alive to its core mandate of keeping the government on its toes.
“Opposition is not dead. It is the silent majority only that it is mummified. Like the tide in the oceans, there are highs and lows. Style will change in opposition, but we will soldier on,” Mr Mudavadi insists.