“Great expectations versus little faith”. That is how Amani National Congress (ANC) leader sums up the political frustrations of being a Musalia Mudavadi.
Yet he is the political pointman of his populous Luhya community, and has to shoulder great expectations of a community whose leaders do not even believe one of their own can ever be president of Kenya.
Unlike some of his political contemporaries, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, ODM leader Raila Odinga and Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, who enjoy fervent political support from their communities, Mr Mudavadi lacks solid backing in his backyard.
It hurts him the more, considering that his community is the second largest in the country.
And never mind that Mudavadi himself is a political heavyweight to boot, having served as vice-president, deputy prime minister and Cabinet minister from as early as 1989, when he was only 28 years old.
And, while his political competitors are busy consolidating their bases, Mudavadi’s is leaking with kinsmen, Dr Boni Khalwale (Ford Kenya’s deputy party leader), Didmus Barasa (Kimilili MP) and Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa, leading campaigns for Deputy President William Ruto instead.
ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna, Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala and Nominated MP Geoffrey Osotsi, who are allied to Mudavadi’s ANC party, are on the other hand drumming up support for Mr Odinga.
“Ideally, a Mudavadi of our times has to compete against betrayal and sabotage from within,” the founder of the National Super Alliance (Nasa) political outfit frankly told the Sunday Nation.
Although Mudavadi is neither enthusiastic about projecting himself as a Luhya candidate nor mobilising politically along ethnic lines, his backers are alive to the reality that support from the community is a boon for his political ambitions.
He is consistently barraged with inquiries from friends and peers on why his people cannot support him as a bloc.
Speaking last month during the Maragoli Annual Cultural Festival, Jubilee’s David Murathe, for instance, urged western Kenya leaders to unite and “give central Kenya someone they can work with in 2022”.
Asked on Thursday by the Sunday Nation whether he had regrets over the friction his sentiments had caused within Jubilee, Mr Murathe responded curtly: “No! Lazima tuambiane ukweli (We must tell each other the truth).”
The one-time Gatanga MP considers Mudavadi an experienced and sober politician, “but who has seriously been let down by a divided community”.
The former Sabatia MP’s own attempts to convince all and sundry that the western Kenya vote is not divided is betrayed by actions of local politicians who portray a totally different picture.
“Unfortunately, the purveyors of this erroneous narrative of ‘Luhyas are not united’ are our own political leaders whenever they pontificate for our competitors,” observes Mudavadi.
In other words, the ANC leader must do his homework on the ground first before venturing out to woo voters from the rest of Kenya.
Even then, being an opposition politician means one must work three times as hard to make meaningful progress towards the throne.
The situation is even harder for the “gentleman of Kenyan politics”, who kicked off his political career in government and who has, over the years, been trying to adapt to political life in the Opposition, the hard way.
The worst part of this experience, according to political scientist Richard Bosire, is that the ANC leader has had to endure the perception and treatment by political rivals and the general public as “an outsider” of opposition politics.
This, explains the University of Nairobi lecturer, has meant that Mudavadi lives in the shadows of veteran opposition operatives like Mr Odinga and the so-called heroes of Kenya’s second liberation.
As long as he remains on the opposition side of the political divide with Mr Odinga, Dr Bosire opines, the ANC leader’s action will continue to be judged according to the marking scheme of the former Prime Minister, and other seasoned, combative and rabble-rousing opposition figures.
But Mudavadi’s style is different and, as he puts it: “I need not be on the streets choking from tear gas to be appreciated as playing opposition politics.”
And being in opposition may also mean engaging in a futile electoral process – whose results, according to Mudavadi, are predetermined.
“I wasn’t surprised by Khalwale’s recent confession that Ruto may not win the 2022 elections but will be declared the winner.
“Such is the despair that Kenyans go to prearranged elections outcome, which nudges me to speak against electoral fraud and injustice.”
In other words, the problem of being a Mudavadi, according to the ex-VP is, “the nagging reality of enjoying goodwill without it translating into votes, and the knowledge that you mean well for the country yet aware that votes don’t count in Kenya but rather what the power operatives at State House desire.”
Mudavadi’s political ambitions notwithstanding, President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga remain the most influential politicians, with curiously a soft spot for the ANC leader.
Mr Odinga, who picked him as his presidential running mate in 2007, has repeatedly expressed his willingness to support his presidential bid, while Mr Kenyatta tried doing so in 2013 under controversial circumstances, before trashing the memorandum of understanding with Mudavadi.
That Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta remain Mudavadi’s greatest assets in his presidential bid is not in doubt.
In fact Dr Bosire even suggests that one of the plots on the cards for the Kenyatta-Odinga political dalliance would be to prop up a friendlier candidate for 2022 “and Mudavadi outright fits the bill”.
But the ANC leader is a cautious man. He says if these assertions – of Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga backing his presidential bid – were true, then he would not be struggling like everyone else on the campaign trail.
“I would have been President over and over again! But in politics, you learn to watch your ‘friends’ more closely than the enemy least they unexpectedly stab you in the back. I have had my fair share of being stabbed and snubbed.”
With the vague hope of support from the two political bigwigs, being a Mudavadi therefore means striking a delicate balance of keeping the government of the day on its toes but not stepping on the toes of the leaders of government. Admittedly, this is not an easy task.
Only five days after Murathe sensationally asked DP Ruto to quit politics and welcomed Mudavadi’s presidential bid in 2022, for instance, the ANC leader tore into Jubilee’s leadership on New Year’s eve declaring that Mr Kenyatta “had terribly failed Kenyans”.
The leadership of Jubilee was doubtlessly unhappy about Mudavadi’s stinging remarks on the President’s failure to stem the runaway corruption and the debts issue, which he warned “would send the country to its economic deathbed”.
Reached for comment, Murathe, who had drummed up support for the ANC leader, flatly declined to respond.
Ideally, being a Mudavadi means you have to demonstrate to Kenyans that you are your own man, while at the same time not burning all the bridges with key political players like Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, and the other leaders.
It also means prosecuting the people’s popular agenda.