How President Uhuru sent Ruto back to drawing board
President Uhuru Kenyatta used his Tuesday address to the nation to quell the rebellion building up in his Mt Kenya backyard, where allies of his deputy William Ruto have been using grievances by farmers to discredit him.
Local MPs, notably Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, Alice Wahome (Kandara), Rigathi Gachagua (Mathira) and Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu), who are ardent Ruto backers, have repeatedly accused Uhuru of abandoning his home region.
“As we enter 2019, you must think...this issue (that) our responsibility is just to vote and after voting, we (the government that we form) take development to other regions.
That kind of nonsense must stop,” Kuria said during 2019 New Year celebrations at Thika Stadium.
And the deterioration of prices of coffee, tea, milk and horticultural products, which are the lifeline of the region, had become fodder for the Tanga Tanga team which supports Ruto.
But on Tuesday, Uhuru issued several directives aimed at revitalising the agriculture sector. They include immediately achievable measures to address challenges in all the sub-sectors.
Observers say the directives may have neutralised Uhuru’s critics who yesterday appeared to have toned down their rhetoric.
“I congratulate President Uhuru Kenyatta for the various measures he has taken. These are the issues I have been shouting myself hoarse about. However, there are several areas they have fallen short,” said Kuria.
The vocal MP refused to comment on the removal of Mwangi Kiunjuri as Agriculture Cabinet Secretary.
Kandara MP Alice Wahome, another fierce critic of the President, said she was glad Uhuru had heeded her calls by making the directives aimed reviving the agriculture sector.
Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika said their agitation for challenges facing farmers had borne fruit.
“If whatever I had said was meaningless, the President would not have addressed the issues,” she said.
Political analyst Peter Kagwanja says the grievances from the region and noise by DP’s political army had created the perception the President was no longer in control of his backyard.
“It was evident the ship was sinking. The captain of Mt Kenya politics, and by extension national politics, was losing control,” the Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute told People Daily yesterday.
Kagwanja noted that if fully implemented, Uhuru’s directives might take the wind out of Tanga Tanga’s sails.
“This is what in military language is referred to as a pre-emptive strike. But the measures have to be implemented in full if (Tanga Tanga) will be silenced,” he said.
Uhuru’s measures to improve the lot of farmers include the dismantling cartels that siphon farmers’ earnings, restructuring the Kenya Tea Development Agency, introduction of minimum prices for produce, cutting off middle men and brokers, blocking cheap imports and pumping in money into the sector to promote value addition and purchasing excess produce.
Nyandarua Governor Francis Kimenia, who is the chairman of the Central Kenya Economic Bloc, said Uhuru’s move would have a political impact.
“Has the President addressed issues which I articulated on behalf of the people during the Sagana meeting? The answer is, Yes. What matters is the people not the noises by leaders who are paid to make noise,” Kimenia told People Daily.
To revive the coffee sector, Uhuru directed immediate implementation of the Coffee Task Force report and implementation of the Sh3 billion Cherry Revolving Fund within 30 days to cushion farmers from delayed payments.
He also imposed a 16 per cent VAT on milk imports from outside the EAC to protect farmers from cheap imports which have occasioned a fall in prices of local produce.
Rice farmers in Kirinyaga will benefit from Sh660 million released to the Kenya National Trading Corporation to purchase excess produce while banana and potato farmers will benefit from Sh300 million for the construction of cold storage and processing facilities in Nyandarua, Meru and Kisii counties.
Gladys Chania, who was a coordinator in the defunct TNA party, said Uhuru had suppressed Tanga Tanga by replacing Kiunjuri with Peter Munya at the Agriculture ministry.
“The President has restored confidence with the people,” she said.
But lawyer Harrison Kinyanjui dismisses Uhuru’s intervention as short-term and selfish.
“He doesn’t seem to have the long-term interests of the country at heart. He is being driven by short-term interests,” he said.
It would be interesting to see what new issues the pro-Ruto leaders in Mt Kenya region will now use to attack the President as the 2022 election politics take shape.
Meanwhile, the Kenya Tea Sector lobby has thanked the President for the policy directives made during his address on Tuesday, saying the move will rescue the sector and put it back in its rightful place as a leading source of foreign exchange and employment.
“We are pleased that the President noted the lack of corporate governance in the structure and management of KTDA. We are looking forward to seeing a radical surgery, including the removal of the current leadership of the agency.
Additionally, KTDA directors should not sit on the boards of subsidiaries or tea factories,” said a press statement signed Irungu Nyakera, chairman Kenya Tea Sector Lobby.