Uhuru and Raila want dialogue, but where is the channel?

Sunday January 3 2016

President Uhuru Kenyatta delivers the New Year Message at State House, Mombasa, on December1, 2016. The President also announced that the plan to connect 70 per cent of the country to electric power by 2017 remains on course. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

President Uhuru Kenyatta delivers the New Year Message at State House, Mombasa, on December 1, 2016. The President also announced that the plan to connect 70 per cent of the country to electric power by 2017 remains on course. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga delivered different New Year messages to the country.

On his part, the President focused on the progress made in providing access to electric power, proclaiming that all public primary schools in the country have now been connected to the national grid, a development that provides the basis for the digital learning that Jubilee promised the country.

The President also announced that the plan to connect 70 per cent of the country to electric power by 2017 remains on course.

For the first time in a domestic setting, the President spoke about climate change, reflecting the new global emphasis on this subject.

He announced that Kenya had now entered into major international cooperation arrangements on climate change, with Denmark promising substantial support for the Green Growth and Employment Project and, further, that the Renewable Energy Initiative had pledged $10 billion in renewable energy projects for the region, from which Kenya stands to benefit significantly.

He also talked about gains made in the provision of health care before he addressed the efforts made to deal with the country’s security problem.

The President pronounced himself “proud and confident” that as a result of the actions taken during the year, “we are generally enjoying better security in our country.”

He also spoke about the fight against corruption, casting the problem as one that he found when he came to office, rather than something that his government has been involved in, which is why his government had “enhanced our efforts to restore sanity in public life and give integrity.”

The President announced that during the year, the government drew first blood in the fight against corruption and that the efforts would continue in 2016.


Kenyatta also spoke about foreign relations, referring to the visits by US President Barack Obama and Pope Francis and also to the hosting of the Global Enterprise Summit and the WTO Ministerial Conference.

He characterised Kenya’s pursuits on the African continent as “win-win” and concluded that “we raised our stature in the community of nations and earned the respect Kenya deserves.”

Mr Kenyatta also reviewed progress in the construction of the standard gauge railway which, he noted, will shortly go past Nairobi on its way to Naivasha and also announced that 2016 will see the launch of a programme to bring an additional 8,000 kilometres of roads under tarmac.

On his part, the leader of the Opposition, Raila Odinga, characterised 2016 as the year that presents the best chance to address the country’s problems which he enumerated as “insecurity, runaway corruption, a wanting electoral infrastructure, wobbly economy whose growth is seen in the stock market and corporate profits but not in the lives of our people and safeguarding the Constitution.”

He saw as good news the fact that a growing number of Kenyans now believe that the country is heading in the wrong direction.

He then dwelt on the Eurobond controversy, saying that the previous week, the Treasury had paid Sh9.1 billion as the third instalment of interest on the bond and that by 2019, when full redemption on a component of the bond is expected to have been realised, the total interest will be Sh110 billion.

Mr Odinga said that the government had been unable to point out where the proceeds of the Eurobond had been invested and also that the instructions by the Director of Public Prosecutions that the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission supplies information on what it had done with the money had been ignored.

He then asked questions he has asked lately: “Can we afford this when we have nothing to show for the loan? What are we paying for?”

On preparations for the 2017 elections, the Opposition leader noted that since 2013, the IEBC had not taken any steps that can convince the public that it will be better prepared in 2017 and warned that time is running out for the commencement of preparations for the next elections, which he said must now commence within the first quarter of 2016 “or we just prepare for another grand failure.”

On security, Mr Odinga lamented the tendency to take a lull as evidence of having secured the country.

He called for a devolution of security responsibilities to the counties and noted that the recent conflict in Narok was evidence that county governments need to play a role in security.

He talked about the tendency by the national government to claw back on the Constitution through legislative amendments, and concluded that “the question of how Kenya should be governed was settled in 2010 with the promulgation of a new Constitution.”

He promised that the Opposition would remain vigilant against attempts to amend the Constitution through the backdoor.

On foreign relations, Mr Odinga welcomed the willingness of the world to work with Kenya and asked that “in 2016, let us embrace the world and not be at war with it.”

Mr Kenyatta’s speech contains the following phrase: “We must learn to listen to each other, by talking to each other and not talking at one another.”

And Mr Odinga’s speech contains the following phrase: “It’s our hope that in 2016 … we can listen to each other and talk to each other rather than at each other.”

From these vastly different viewpoints by the country’s two top leaders, it is clear that there is no agreed view of what are the country’s most important problems.

While there is rich rhetoric on the need to talk to each other, the channels for doing so, which have so far been elusive, will remain so in 2016.