Africa

Profile: Musalia Mudavadi

  • 25 February 2013
  • From the section Africa
Musalia Mudavadi in Kisii county, Kenya, 21st July 2012. Photograph from his website www.musaliamudavadi.com

Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi, who has spent significant moments of his career serving as number two to Kenya's political kingpins, is now making his first bid for the top job.

He faces a tough battle in the presidential race against frontrunners Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta.

But he may have a key role to play should there be a run-off.

The quiet, soft-spoken politician is often accused of being indecisive.

Kenyan cartoonists depict him as a harmless yet gullible character, but social commentators accuse him of being too laid back, to the extent that many say he has no bottle for tough political battles.

Mr Mudavadi is an insider, with a typical Kenyan political pedigree.

He is the son of a powerful politician, Moses Mudamba Mudavadi, who served as a minister under President Daniel arap Moi.

Mr Mudavadi senior had worked his way up through the ranks of the civil service during the colonial era, starting his career as a teacher and ending up in charge of education in western Kenya.

He was largely seen as responsible for delivering his Luhya community's support to the Moi regime and he married one of the president's relatives; hence the close ties between the Moi and Mudavadi families.

Mr Moi's son Gideon, who is the current chairman of Kanu, the former ruling party, is backing Mr Mudavadi in this election.

Musalia Mudavadi entered politics in 1989, aged 29.

When his father died, he was persuaded to leave his practice as a land economist to take up his father's seat as an MP in western Kenya.

His father's close ties with Mr Moi ensured that his political career was fast-tracked; he was appointed to the cabinet soon after his election to parliament.

He served in key positions, including being finance minister between 1993 and 1997.

His tenure at the finance ministry was tainted by the Goldenberg scandal which had begun during the time of his predecessor George Saitoti.

However, Mr Mudavadi was condemned for approving further payments to the architect of the scam.

This remains the largest economic fraud in Kenya's history.

Millions of dollars were pilfered from the treasury to offer compensation to a scheme where individuals were paid for exporting gold, even though Kenya has no commercial gold deposits.

Although the 2006 Goldenberg Commission of Inquiry noted that Mr Mudavadi was not directly involved, the question remains how such large sums of money could have been siphoned off under his nose without his knowledge.

'Gullible'

Mr Mudavadi's fortunes hit high and low in 2002.

While many thought it was time for him to dump Kanu for the opposition, where he stood a chance of winning the presidency, he instead agreed to Mr Moi's plans.

Media captionMusalia Mudavadi: I'm convinced I will win

He was hurriedly appointed vice-president at a time when parliament had already been dissolved and was made running mate to Mr Moi's preferred successor Uhuru Kenyatta.

But it was a short-lived scheme. Mr Mudavadi holds the record of serving the shortest period as Kenya's vice-president - just two months.

He and Mr Kenyatta were defeated at the 2002 polls following the historic election victory of President Mwai Kibaki.

Worse still, he was humiliated by Moses Akaranga, a little-known preacher who clinched the parliamentary seat in western Kenya that Mr Mudavadi had held for more than 10 years.

Mr Mudavadi's political career was rejuvenated in 2005 when he aligned himself with Raila Odinga, who later in 2007 picked him as his running mate.

In the same polls he reclaimed his parliamentary seat and was subsequently appointed deputy prime minister and local government minister.

But he fell out with Mr Odinga early last year.

He was furious about a clause in the Orange Democratic Movement manifesto which gave the party chairman, Mr Odinga, the automatic right to be the presidential candidate.

He announced that he would be standing for president himself on the ticket of the United Democratic Front, whose most influential backers are thought to be close to State House and current President Mwai Kibaki.

This move has been seen as a betrayal of Mr Odinga, the man who revived his political career.

The Luhya community largely backed Mr Odinga in the previous election and so Mr Mudavadi's candidacy could split their vote.

Some commentators have labelled him a "project" - a Kenyan term for stooge - of powerful forces keen to block Mr Odinga's ascent to power.

Mr Mudavadi was briefly wooed by Mr Kenyatta' Jubilee Alliance but he backed out when it became clear that he would be expected to play second fiddle again.

This episode earned him a reputation for being seriously gullible.

Kenyans were incredulous that he appeared to believe that Mr Kenyatta would step down in his favour.

Image caption Musalia Mudavadi has been a running mate in the past to both Raila Odinga (l) and Uhuru Kenyatta (r)

Mr Mudavadi has struggled to rally his home region of western Kenya to back his presidential bid.

Support from elsewhere in the country has been lukewarm.

His supporters view him as a sober, moderate and non-combative politician - a safe pair of hands.

For this very reason some reckon they would not vote for him, adding that he lacks the passion or drive to get things done, he is a fence sitter and an uninspiring pro-establishment politician.

During his years at the University of Nairobi, Mr Mudavadi was an astute rugby player, turning out for Mean Machine - the university's rugby club.

His interest in sports has lived on; he often likens himself to Lionel Messi, the Argentinean football star known for his swift passes and agile moves on the pitch.

His manoeuvres on the political field will be keenly watched if, as many predict, he finds himself having to choose between Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta in the second round of the presidential election.

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