Kenyans were earlier today surprised that blogger Robert Alai was a discussant at a presidential roundtable on energy held at state house.
However, even as the public display of mature politics flickered on televisions across the country during which President Uhuru admitted he never believed he would agree with the blogger on anything (Alai had asked about the punitive power costs due to independent power producers) but now agrees there is still work to be done towards cheapening power costs, Kenya Today has learnt of the behind the scenes push and pull that took the president’s personal intervention to have Alai attend the event.
The summit organizers, essentially government bureaucrats who decide those to attend presidential events were sharply divided on having Alai participate in the meeting. The fear, according to sources, was that Alai being a panelist at a televised event was too much risk to expose the President to, considering they could not possibly put Alai on a script.
Deputy Head of Public Service Nzioka Waita led the anti-Alai forces while another wing, largely in the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU) and personal aides of the President didn’t see anything wrong with the attendance of the blogger.
This is the danger of too much gate-keeping. When every journalist is being too cautious to ask questions that can generate heated exchanges; or have been scripted to ask questions that ‘won’t embarrass’, there is always the propensity to have such critical events turned into monotonous lectures by the powers that be.
In the corporate sector where Nzioka Waita thrived, there is no public accountability on bosses. Safaricom, sadly, leads in ‘retaining’ journalists so much so that it essentially affects competence, because to survive as business reporter, you must pander to the PR gimmicks and respect the advertisement billions.
For Nzioka, still smarting from President Uhuru’s decision not to disband PSCU, inviting Alai to state house, especially to an event being presided by the President himself, was not just incomprehensible but also added to the battles he has recently lost.
A former Safaricom executive, Nzioka’s tiff with Alai is not known, but may have something to do with Alai’s work as a tech blogger. But even this is hard to comprehend considering Alai never attacks Safaricom like, say, blogger Cyprian Nyakundi.
When he was still new in government, having been hired to head a unit then referred to as ‘presidential delivery unit’ a year or so ago, he once phoned a RAMCO Executive threatening her with sacking because his business cards had delayed from the printer. But this is a digression.
Our sources have learnt that Alai’s name was cancelled twice, and a whatsapp group was created specifically to discuss the matter.
When it was certain that the Nzioka group would not allow Alai in; one of the PSCU officials is said to have approached President Uhuru over the matter. It is not known what the president said but he appeared not to have any issue with Alai coming to State House, though the two have not been the best of buddies ever since Alai and other bloggers sent Waiguru to vie in Kirinyaga.
At this point, Alai may have been told his name had been cancelled. Furious, he texted President Uhuru. The president replied.
Early morning today when he pulled over at the gate of state house, again, his name was not among those to attend the event. If the President had sanctioned his entry to state house, that order had not been relayed down the rank and file.
There seemed to have been, on the contrary, clear instructions to lock him out. Once again, Alai reached out to the President.
“We were just turning to get back to town when he was called back. Apparently the President had ordered he gets access to the event. I saw him being escorted in as I left the place,” a friend to Alai who had accompanied him.
During the meeting, the President ordered review of all Independent Power producers (IPPs). He wondered why the cost of goods continue to rise while power costs have significantly fallen.
“Our objective of increasing supply and reliability in order to give access to electricity to all Kenyans at an affordable rate is firmly on course. But more importantly, we want to ensure that our industries are also able to access power that can make us globally competitive,” he said.
Other participants at the summit included Energy CS Charles Keter, his PS Eng. Joseph Njoroge, KPLC MD Ben Chumo and KETRACO MD Fernandes Barasa.