Compensation of the Abagusii who were evicted from their homes in the 2007-2008 post-election violence was the elephant in the room during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trip in Nyamira and Kisii.
The other was Deputy President William Ruto.
In some areas, the President received a cold reception in the region that voted largely for ODM leader Raila Odinga in the last election.
Had they arrived at Magwagwa shopping centre to launch a road at 10.30 am as scheduled, the President and his Deputy William Ruto would have only had a handful people to address in the haste trip.
A grievance that victims of post-election violence from the region had not been compensated carried strong undertones during the two-day tour.
Matters were complicated by the fact that President Kenyatta last year pledged that the 50,000 victims would be compensated. The pledge has not been fulfilled and he was at great pains to explain why.
The President noted that Abagusii were among communities that were evicted from their farms in the Rift Valley during the violence that claimed 1,133 lives and led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands. He said they will be compensated next month.
Mr Alfred Akama, the chairman of the Abagusii IDP network, said a total of 15,000 of the victims were displaced from the Rift Valley.
The grievance is that victims from other communities, especially the Kikuyu and Kalenjin, had been paid Sh200,000 in compensation.
The fact that a majority of the IDPs were kicked out of the Rift Valley, the backyard of the Deputy President, has strained relations between the community and Mr Ruto, who has made 16 trips to the area.
That is why the President’s speech at Nyanturago Stadium on Wednesday, which has sparked a storm, was calculated to exonerate Mr Ruto from the violence and blame it on Mr Odinga who the community backed in the last election. His argument was that had Mr Odinga not disputed the 2007 presidential election results, the violence would not have occurred.
He asked the community to abandon Mr Odinga and the Opposition National Super Alliance and vote for Jubilee in the August polls.
Secondly, the President made a strong pitch calling on the community to “forget the past and open a new chapter of forgiveness and reconciliation.” The President’s mission appeared an effort to reconcile the community with the Jubilee leadership by showcasing public servants appointed to government including Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and also to commission construction of roads. He said the government had pumped Sh22 billion for road construction in the area. President Kenyatta’s claim that the Jubilee administration appointed Chief Justice David Maraga who hails from Nyamira has attracted criticism.
“The President has no authority to appoint the chief justice. Judge Maraga was interviewed for the job. He was picked by the Judicial Service Commission,” said Siaya Senator James Orengo.
However, President Kenyatta’s statement linking Mr Odinga to the violence and the unsettled IDP issue have put a stain on the trip.
“Raila was at the centre of the 2007 chaos in which Kenyans fought but he blamed it on William.
“Alikuwa katikati ya vita. Yeye ndio aliwasha moto (He was at the centre of the violence. He is the one who ignited the flames.).”
“Nani alikuwa na lugha ya 40 against one (Who was propagating the call for 40 against one?)?” charged the President who was accompanied by Mr Ruto.
Mr Odinga struck back immediately, accusing the President of fishing for any cause to reignite his re-election campaign, adding that the Head of State knew the truth about who was responsible for the violence that followed the disputed election results.
Mr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta were among six Kenyans tried at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, including transfer of populations. The ICC prosecution said it had no evidence linking Mr Odinga to the violence.
However, their cases collapsed with the prosecutor citing intimidation of witnesses and lack of co-operation by the Kenyan authorities.
“We understand the desperation of the President for something to hang on to and re-energise his depressed 2013 voting bloc. We, however, advise the President to look around his entourage as he visits Kisii and also look into the mirror if he is interested in the truth on the 2007/2008 violence,” said the ODM party leader.
“We remind the President that the Gusii land he is visiting is littered with post-election violence victims who are yet to be compensated, including a widow who had only her husband’s skull to bury. We hope the President has had time to ask whether she has been at his rallies and if she believes his story,” he said.
Religious leaders and politicians from Nyanza have criticised the President cautioning him not to re-open old wounds over the violence.
“Jubilee got a cold reception in Kisii and Nyamira because of failed promises,” says Kitutu Masaba MP Timothy Bosire of ODM.
Mr Bosire accused the President of inciting the Abagusii against Mr Odinga.
“The compensation element remains thorny. The Abagusii are asking why they have not been compensated yet other communities have been paid,” said Mr Bosire.
The Jubilee leaders are in a spirited fight to wrest Nyamira and Kisii counties from the grip of Mr Odinga’s ODM.
Jubilee strategists have identified Gusii, Western and Coast as Opposition strongholds which could be persuaded to vote for Jubilee.
In the last election, Mr Odinga garnered a total of 358,421 votes in Kisii and Nyamira counties against Mr Kenyatta’s 149,667 votes.
The former Prime Minister secured 236,831 votes with President Kenyatta managing 95,596 in Kisii while in Nyamira he garnered 121,590 votes against the President’s 54,071 vote.
The Jubilee leadership is emboldened by the recent defection of Kisii Senator Chris Obure from ODM. Mr Obure is fighting to unseat Governor James Ongwae.
But Jubilee also suffered a blow following the defection of former Cabinet minister Sam Ongeri to Mr Odinga’s party. Prof Ongeri will face off with lawyer Charles Nyachae for the Senate seat.
Dr Matiang’i and Mr Nyachae have become the main Jubilee campaigners in Gusii. The CS has been going round schools and churches campaigning for the Jubilee leadership.
Speaking in Nyanturago, he asked the community to shun the Opposition and vote for the Jubilee government, saying it had an agenda for the region.
“The President and his Deputy mean well. They have stretched their hands to us. We should take the hand,” said Dr Matiang’i who was one of the pillars of the trip.
Prior to the tour, Dr Matiang’i and Youth Enterprise Fund chief executive Josiah Moriasi and Mr Nyamoko met youths in Sironga and Kebabe high schools and pleaded with them to support the Jubilee government.
The Cabinet Secretary donated a total of Sh21 million to four high schools – Sironga Girls ( Sh14 million), Ikamu (Sh3 million), Gekonge (Sh3 million) and Kebabe Girls (Sh5 million) – to improve their infrastructure.
Senator Obure said the President’s visit was timely.
“The people of Kisii are tired of being outside government. That is why we have resolved to work with the Jubilee government,” he said at Gusii stadium.He said that he was confident Kisii and Nyamira counties will vote for Jubilee in the August polls.
But there was a huge disappointment at Viongozi Centre where the President was scheduled to meet Nyamira leaders. He arrived late and spoke for only three minutes. And at Nyambaria where the President was to address a rally, he arrived late and only spoke for 15 minutes. No leader from Nyamira addressed the gathering.
Jubilee point men in the county Joseph Kiangoi, Charles Mochama, Walter Nyambati, Dr Erneo Nyakiba and Mr Joash Nyamoko (Nyamira County Assembly Speaker) had mobilised party supporters but did not get an opportunity to address the President’s rallies.