By: Onyikwa Onyakundi
William Ruto is often touted as a performer. His party’s slogan ‘Kusema na Kutenda’ seeks to tap into this ‘performer image’, and he, and his acolytes never miss an opportunity to trumpet the fact that as Minister for Agriculture, he really ‘performed’ by ordering the reduction of fertilizer prices. It is not my intention to deny any devil his due, but i do not consider reading a report and asking a secretary to do a memo to effect the recommendations of that report makes anyone an Einstein, or a Superman. If there is any brain frying research and deliberations that went into the idea of providing subsidy for fertilizer, there is an army of technocrats in the Ministry that are paid fat salaries to do just that.
For argument’s sake though, let us say that ordering for the reduction of fertilizer prices is the wisest most ‘Solomonic’ decision and also the bravest most difficult back breaking action by any Minister in Kenya’s history. It still doesn’t resolve the contentious issue of who should take credit for such an ‘earth shaking’ achievement. To illustrate how difficult it is to apportion ‘kudos’ and boquets in the intertwined spaghetti-like relations between different individuals and institutions in the coalition government, one need only look at the single most important achievement of the coalition government ~ infrastructure and in particular roads ~ for which the President has been singly hailed in every speech, article, news bulletin and interview that has broached the subject of the Kibaki legacy.
I do not wish to rain on anyone’s party, but it is my sincere and heartfelt belief that President Kibaki’s role in the construction of our roads and development of infrastructure is blown way out of proportion. If we all keep an open mind and stick to objective, scientific and logical reasoning, devoid of emotions and preconceived ideas, we just might be able to burst a few myths and expose some fallacies. Nowhere else, have i ever seen the Nazi propaganda machinery’s mantra that “a lie told repeatedly eventually becomes the truth” manifested than in the assessment of President Kibaki’s contribution to the development of our roads, and this is why.
Thika Road started with Raila Odinga ~ as Minister for roads ~ single-handedly bringing down palace-like houses that were built on grabbed road reserves soon after the NARC Government came to power. Mr. Odinga was vilified and threatened by the politically connected fat cats whose multi-million shilling houses he dared flatten, to pave the way for the construction of that road. There were even reports of an assassination being plotted against him by the extremely rich and powerful land grabbers, but the man was not cowed. The German trained Engineer ignored all that noise and threats to his life and midwifed the Thika Superhighway, the Southern and Northern bypasses as well as several magnificent roads not just in Nairobi, but across the country. Where i come from for example, we have the Kisii-Chemosit Road to thank him for. This road has been such a big game changer for the people of Nyamira County, that they do not have to travel to Kisii town in order to leave Nyamira County.
And if one goes back to the time the Thika Superhighway deal was signed, the man in charge at that time was this very Eng. Dr. Raila Odinga. Since then, the men at the helm of that ministry that has been ‘moving mountains’ ~ no pun intended ~ are Kipkalya Kones and Franklin Bett, close confidantes, friends and good students of Eng. Raila. In a nutshell, the massive infrastructural development of the last five years would never have been possible without Dr. Raila and his friends. Bett has been in every inch of the country in pairs of shorts ~ ill fitting as they may have been ~ stuck in mud, braving heavy down pours, launching fresh construction work, commissioning new roads basically turning all those huge craters into roads! He like Raila has faced litigation, threats, insults and demonstrations, but has not wavered in his resolve to complete what his two friends before him initiated.
The question that then naturally pops up is this “if Ruto is a performer for ordering the reduction of the prices of fertilizer, and Ngilu is another, for taking water to her people in Ukambani, why aren’t Raila, Kones and Bett performers for building us all those beautiful roads?” Is the performance of every minister evaluated by the same standards and criteria? Why doesn’t ‘hands off’ Kibaki take all the credit for Ruto and Ngilu’s work, just as he does for the work of Raila, Kones and Bett? Could this be a case of double standards meant to deny a certain devil his due? Isn’t denying this devil his due, equal to denying us more roads?
I’ll sign off with an excerpt of a speech that Raila Amollo gave recently, and let you be the judge on who really is the one that should wear the ‘Kusema na kutenda’ badge. “”In the last election, I anchored my campaign on three issues that my govt would use to jump-start our economic growth; 1. Infrastructure 2. Infrastructure 3. Infrastructure. This time, on top of those three, I intend to give another three key issues greater focus so that our people can enjoy the benefit of economic growth; 1. Jobs 2. Jobs 3. Jobs”.