President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday appealed to his Mt Kenya political base to shun sustained campaigns and succession politics targeting his administration.
In a rare, direct and blunt address covering all the burning issues in the region, the President came out strongly to show he was acutely aware of the hostile mood on the ground and the concerns that had been pending since the 2017 double presidential elections.
He blamed a section of leaders who were elected to assist him serve the people but who had taken to 2022 succession politics as if they were in a hurry to get rid of him.
“Kai marenda guthika ndi mwoyo? (Do they want to bury me alive?” he posed in Kikuyu.
Next to claims of being detached sat the March 2018 political pact with arch-rival Raila Odinga and the subsequent Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which has dominated political discourse due to speculation on its significance ahead of the 2022 succession.
About the BBI report, the President said it would be published and circulated to all Kenyans for debate before voters decide what to do with its content, in response to critics’ charge that BBI proposals were a settled matter.
On these, the President received loud and sustained applause when he unequivocally declared: “Have I ever announced I had abandoned my Jubilee Party to join another? My dialogue with Mr Raila Odinga did not imply I had endorsed anyone for any leadership position, it is for the peace of this country. Democracy is not fear, it is faith.”
The Gema caucus also came in the context of increasingly unrestrained voices from Mt Kenya critical of the Jubilee administration’s dismal performance in turning around the economic fortunes of the region’s cash crops on whose promise of revival they elected him twice.
The President said a section of the leaders had frustrated his efforts to rally them behind his development agenda.
“I have called them before and we agreed these things are critical. Instead, they would not follow up on priorities set, but they pursue future power games, which makes me wonder whether we shall ever deliver on what is important today. I will call them again next week and see who is for development and who is not,” he said.
For the first time since being elected president in 2013, and in a conciliatory tone, President Kenyatta sounded keen to counter narratives of being detached and out of touch with the concerns of the region.
And going by the reactions and applause from the audience, his message seemed to resonate well with the delegates.
However, to the keen observer, his quintessential political charm was on full deployment to placate a palpably restive and anxious region concerned his term might come to an end with little to show in alleviating problems facing farmers.
On this score, the President acknowledged that a lot remained to be done in delivering his election pledges.
However, he said: “Look around and see the people I have given jobs to address these things.”
He said, without a doubt referring to Agriculture and Livestock Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and Trade Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, under whose docket the Co-operative Department is domiciled.
Among other things, leaders lamented that the Sh3 billion Coffee Cherry Advance Fund set up by the President in February this year, and which been provided for in the budget, was yet to be disbursed to farmers by the time the current coffee harvest season kicked off in October.
Mr Munya and Mr Kiunjuri were yet to agree on whether a forensic audit of co-operative societies should be conducted by independent auditors or the cooperative department should clean up the books before disbursement of the funds.
The high costs of animal and poultry feeds had resulted in imported powdered milk and eggs being cheaper than local produce, leading to colossal losses and misery among local farmers, leaders said.
“I thank the leaders for raising these concerns for which we were all elected to address on behalf of the electorate. However, all these things that have been tabled here have never been brought to my attention. Instead, all I hear on radio, TV and social media are insults and stories about things to come. They have not brought me laws or regulations required to change things,” he started, implying that local leaders were to blame.
DERELICTION OF DUTY
Reacting to the list of pressing issues needing his intervention in addressing economic woes facing coffee, tea, milk, rice and miraa farmers, the President said he was equally disturbed that leaders elected to help him tackle the challenges spent more time talking about succession politics and forming political camps than seeking solutions to the problems.
When he took to the podium before the 4,000-plus delegates drawn from all Gema groups of Central Kenya, Embu and Meru at 2.15 pm, the President announced he had come to pour out his heart in broad daylight and in his mother tongue so that they could hear for themselves.
He spoke last, after regional political chieftains – Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi, Embu Senator Njeru Ndwiga and Nyandarua governor and chair of the Mt Kenya Governors Caucus Francis Kimemia, had spoken – all in their local languages.
The delegates comprised professionals, elected leaders, religious and grassroots community leadership cadres, through whom the President sought to make his case that he was ready and willing to help but elected leaders were not playing ball.
However, the meeting ended on a positive note with the Head of State announcing that he had lined up a raft of meetings starting with the region’s leadership next week, and followed up by region-wide visits to address county-specific concerns.
Asked what was his takeaway and expectations from the President’s address, Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua said:
“Two most positive and comforting things stood out – that the Head of State has made it very clear he understood what the economic concerns of our people are, and he is pursuing unity of the region’s leadership to address them. However, I would like to beseech the President to take personal charge and push forward this agenda if it is to move speedily,” he said.