Amani coalition leader, Musalia Mudavadi, has of late been re-packaging himself as the third force in Kenyan politics. People Weekend Special Projects Editor KAMAU NGOTHO spoke to the former Deputy Prime Minister on this and other issues of national interest
Q: Recently, as controversy raged about Uganda sugar imports to Kenya, you emerged as the voice of reason as Jubilee and Cord traded accusations and counter-accusations. Was it a deliberate rebranding on your part to offer a middle-ground position as opposed to extreme sides taken by Jubilee and the leading opposition Cord?
A: Well, I may not call it a rebranding per se. It has always been my position that we approach any issue from an objective point of view. In the sugar debate, if you may call it that, neither Jubilee or Cord was addressing the substantive issues that ail Kenya’s sugar sector. Neither were facts being told about Uganda sugar imports. Instead, each of the parties was targeting the other for personalised attacks. That was not helpful.
Q: Early last month, you were in a three-week tour of the UK. Was it part of your re-positioning ahead of the 2017 election?
A: My tour of Britain was very fruitful. I was well received at the British Foreign Office were I held discussions with the Director of African Affairs Nick Hailey. I also met with Lord David Steel with whom we had talks on best practices in a liberal democracy. I met with representatives of the influential East African Association and Kenyans in London. There was a lot to share and learn.
Q: How will your re-positioning as the third force, or the middle-ground man sit when you have given impression you have a soft spot for the Jubilee administration?
A: I am not part of Jubilee. It is only that I have been objective and civil in my dealings with the government of the day. It never pays to be abusive or to criticise just for the sake of it. I also think it is fair to say the government has done the right thing when such happens, but point out mistakes when they have been made.
Q : They say all politics is local. The narrative in Western Kenya where you come from has been that no single presidential candidate overwhelmingly scoops votes from the region as it happens in other places. Is that a handicap for your presidential ambitions given that charity begins at home?
A: It is a fact that except in Western Kenya, other regions overwhelmingly vote for their own and only reach out to other areas to fill the basket. That has not happened in Western Kenya except in 2002 when Kijana Wamalwa mobilised the region to overwhelmingly vote for the Narc candidate Mwai Kibaki. But I have been telling the electorate in Western Kenya that it is high time we put our votes in one basket, which should give us leverage to bargain with other regions.
Q: Still on Western Kenya, it is said the presidential vote there is often scattered because the majority Maragoli and Bukusu sub-tribes don’t see eye to eye at the ballot box. Is that correct?
A: Not at all. There are many instances when Maragoli and Bukusu have voted together. Even in the last election, my brother Eugene Wamalwa backed my presidential candidacy yet he is Bukusu and I am Maragoli.
Indeed, the said rift between the two is a figment of imagination, if not propaganda by people who would want to have the Western vote remain divided. It is up to the people of Western Kenya to show that they can indeed speak in one voice before they reach out to other Kenyans.
Q: Back to national politics. On what specific issues do you think the Jubilee government is getting it wrong?
A: Two areas, one in the matters of devolution, and two, in enhancing national integration. The impression created by some government functionaries is that support for devolution is half-hearted.
Just the other day, you heard the Cabinet Secretary for Health threatening that the central government may take the Health function from the devolved governments.
That is unfortunate to come from a member of the Cabinet who should know better. I would have expected him instead to tell us how the central government intends to assist the counties to overcome the challenges faced in the health sector.
As for integration, one still gets the impression the Jubilee government believes in a winner-take-it all philosophy. However, the government must go out of the way to give every Kenyan a sense of belonging whether they voted for it or not.
Q : And how do you rate Cord as the leading opposition coalition?
A: I think they are more into just criticising without offering a solution. That is not good enough. When you criticise, you need to suggest an alternative. It is like screaming and watching somebody drown when you could have thrown him a life jacket.
Q: It is felt in some quarters that you stand a better chance as a presidential candidate in 2022 but in 2017 you are better off as a running mate. Do you share the view?
A: Well, that may be the opinion of those who hold it. Nobody has suggested that to me. What I know is that myself and Amani coalition are in the contest for the leadership of this country in 2017 and beyond.
Q: So you will be in the presidential ballot in 2017?
A: The ballots aren’t printed yet. So let’s cross the bridge when we get there. Q: Besides having better policies, presidential races require that one must have deep pockets. Do you have a war chest to sustain an effective presidential campaign?
A: Well, one doesn’t have to be a Donald Trump to contest for the presidency. Barack Obama isn’t known for deep pockets neither did Bill Clinton who was Governor of the poorest state in the US before he became President.
Q: You’re seen in some quarters as too much of a gentleman to play the hard ball required for a country’s CEO. How do you respond to that? A: Leadership isn’t about shouting and insulting other people. It is about consensus building, solving problems and inspiring hope.
Q: What has been the most challenging moments in your public career?
A: One of the most trying times was when I was appointed Minister for Finance just when Goldenberg scandal came out and I was called upon to clean the mess. As you know, the whole thing was shrouded in secrecy and conspiracy. I didn’t know who to ask what, yet I was supposed to clean the mess. Eventually I got the head and tail of it when I convinced the President to allow me have a private auditor help me unravel the mess.
Q: Another trying moment?
A: Getting the country go through the motions of liberalisation in mid nineties. It was a hell of a time getting past entrenched and vested political and economic cartels who were opposed to liberalising the economy.
At times I even felt my life was in danger as I pushed certain unpopular policies. At one point, I remember the whole Cabinet turning against me with accusations that I was giving in too much to demands by international financiers.
Q: How about the 2008 post-election peace talks?
A: That was a difficult time by all definitions. Extremists from both sides were hell bent at breaking the talks. At one point I had to hold a secret night meeting with then Minister for Internal Security John Michuki to discuss how to save the talks. Eventually we succeeded and I am proud of the role I played behind the scenes to have sanity restored in the country.