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Musalia Mudavadi springs January surprise as he backs Deputy President Ruto

Western province leader shakes up presidential campaigns as he breaks definitively with Raila Odinga

Aides to the Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi had promised an 'earthquake' ahead of the rally to launch his presidential campaign at Nairobi's Bomas of Kenya auditorium on 23 January.

It seemed unlikely. Mudavadi has been running far behind Deputy President William Ruto and Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga in the opinion polls. But as a leader of the Luhya community in Western Province, he has a strong influence on their vote.

After launching his presidential bid on Sunday, Mudavadi produced his earthquake – a promise to work in partnership with William Ruto. That is a coup for the Deputy President that could change the arithmetic of the presidential elections in August (AC Vol 63 No 1, Hustlers and handshakes). A Mudavadi-Ruto partnership could deliver hundreds of thousands of votes for Ruto.

Attendance at Mudavadi's launch on 23 January had been a closely guarded secret. ANC officials had insisted that no rival political leaders would be invited. Then Ruto arrived at Bomas and took his place several seats from Mudavadi.

Their partnership could be a game-changer. Much will depend on how far Mudavadi can carry Luhya voters with him.

The Luhya, who are divided into more than 20 sub-groups, tend not to vote as a bloc and share their votes among rival candidates.

The loss of Mudavadi is a heavy blow to Odinga, the ODM leader and the establishment candidate backed by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Mudavadi lacks the rabble–rousing ability to draw and hold a crowd that Ruto and Odinga have. But as a former Vice-President and Finance Minister, he is widely respected and has strong international links.

Although Mudavadi has little chance of winning the presidency in his own right he would be a strong candidate as Ruto's running mate.

Relations between Odinga and Mudavadi have been strained since the disputed 2017 elections. Mudavadi had failed to support Odinga's unofficial inauguration in Uhuru Park, and was sceptical about Odinga's 'handshake' alliance with President Kenyatta. Even so, he had still been expected to endorse Odinga until last Sunday (AC Vol 59 No 6, Raila beats rivals to a new deal).

Moses Wetang'ula, leader of Ford Kenya, which also gets most of its support from Western Province, is also set to work with Ruto.

This means the One Kenya Alliance (OKA), bringing together leaders of the smaller parties, has collapsed. The two other OKA principals, Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka and Kenya African National Union's Gideon Moi, had come to Mudavadi's launch but walked out when they learned about Ruto's role. So, too, did the Nyamira Governor, Amos Nyaribo, who had been offered the post of ANC deputy leader.

Musyoka and Moi later issued a press statement about the break with Mudavadi: '…unfortunately, we have to part ways since some of his friends are not our friends and we are unsafe with them. We are therefore moving to higher grounds where Kenyans are safer. It is time to move forward, it is time to end the nasty political games,' they added. The two now look likely to join Odinga's Azimio La Umoja coalition.

Odinga spent the day of Mudavadi's launch addressing farming communities at roadside rallies in areas such as Misho wa Lami, Mau wa Narok and Kahingo in the Rift Valley, which is Ruto's home base.

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