The video tape of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ‘shetani’ rebuke in his public confrontation with Turkana Governor Joseph Nanok has been played and replayed umpteen times on national television.
The presidential display of anger, and not long after another petulant response to the striking doctors, has generated a major debate.
To his detractors, the public tantrums expose a president who does not have the self-control to hold high office.
In the United States, for instance, a basic question asked of a president or presidential candidate is whether he or she has the temperament to be entrusted with the nuclear trigger.
In Kenya, it would be whether a president who cannot keep his temper in check might resort to the harassment and killing of his political opponents.
But then there are two sides to every story.
President Kenyatta’s admirers are now seeing the firm, purposeful and resolute leader they have been craving for; one who will not take insults lying down and will not hesitate to employ the awesome state machinery at his command to keep in check those who defy his authority.
Beyond the President’s temper, however, there are more pertinent issues that precipitated the Turkana showdown.
What we should be debating are unresolved issues around power relations between the central authority and devolved government units, and fair distribution of revenue from oil, precious minerals and other underground wealth.
What Governor Nanok and other Turkana leaders were asking for is their fair share of revenue, as well as the bounty expected once the oil wells in the county go into production.
The President’s response was wholly inadequate. He said that these things are governed by law, and it is Parliament, not him, that makes the laws. His role, he said, was merely to sign the laws.
That is not entirely true. The President is not just a rubber-stamp. His government initiates laws and shepherds them through Parliament.
It has the numbers to push through new laws or amend existing ones.
The President cannot throw up his hands and plead helplessness as he did with the aborted fight against corruption.
After all, it is his government that has fought laws intended to give counties a fairer share of revenues from their mineral resources.
One such initiative is the Local Content Bill of 2016 sponsored by Baringo Senator Gideon Moi.
It may have been a puny proposal, so superficial, vague and technically incompetent that it was more of a wish-list than legislation, but the government still moved speedily to kill it without offering improvements or an alternative version.
A much more comprehensive effort, the Natural Resources (Benefit Sharing) Bill of 2014 sponsored by Nominated Senator Agnes Zani has been stuck in the parliamentary labyrinth, with no sign of support from the government.
The Jubilee administration is intent on speeding up exploitation of Turkana oil so it can reap political capital ahead of the elections later this year.
Hence the madcap scheme to transport crude oil by road all the way to Mombasa Port in the absence of the requisite pipeline and refinery.
Flagging-off an oil tanker will provide much better visuals than re-launching a footbridge or some other dubious project in the desperate quest to prove development credentials.
However, it will be a crime against the Turkana people if they are left only the dregs as all the benefits from oil production go to the central government, the exploration companies, and their political fixers.
This is the time we must ask whether the people of the coastal region, for instance, are enjoying any significant benefits from titanium mining and the abundant mineral sands in Kwale and Kilifi.
We must also ask why cashew nut farmers at the Coast and macadamia farmers in Embu, Murang’a and elsewhere earn only peanuts, pun fully intended, from their produce while just a few well-connected processing firms reap vast fortunes.
Believe it or not, but a government that serves only the few high and mighty bars the farmers from accessing well-paying markets in Japan, China, Europe and elsewhere.
By law they can only sell their produce to exploitative local cartels that pay them way below international prices.
And then we talk about free markers and willing-buyer, willing seller? The shetani is in the details.
Email: [email protected] Twitter: @MachariaGaitho