One of the cheapest, and pettiest propaganda the so called anti-Raila Luos like Francis Onyango K’Owuor like to peddle is how Raila is greedy and anti-Luo development and Molasses land grabber.
I’m talking about Kisumu Molasses. I’m helping Tom Onditi who inboxed Francis enquiring why he is so negative about Raila.
I got it from somewhere that Francis’ father (or was he grandfather?) died in the ‘struggle’. Because what he was fighting for isn’t documented, and if documented, hasn’t been widely circulated, I want to admit from the onset that I do not know.
I also do not know whether at the time of his death he was (in) KANU or KPU; Ford Kenya or NDP; LDP or ODM or even CORD. In fact, I do not know if he is, indeed, dead.
While responding to Onditi, Francis alleges that some of the ‘personal gains’ by Raila after ‘selling Luos’ to Moi was the Kisumu Molasses Plant.
I do not know the side of the story Onyango has over the Kisumu Molasses but here are some facts -indisputable and non-contestable:
1. The idea of the Molasses plant started in 1976, under Jomo Kenyatta’s government. As time passed and ostracization of Luos heightened, Dr. Robert Ouko became the prime mover to have the molasses plant erected in Kisumu for jobs and livelihoods.
2. Dr. Ouko died on Feb 16, 1990 and his death led to the abandonment of the whole Molasses project, already in receivership.
3. Five years after the death of Dr. Ouko, the government decided to sell, in piecemeal, all movable assets of the Molasses. Of all the Luos, including Francis Kowuor’s father and my own father, only Raila Odinga OBJECTED to this fraudulent sale. This, he did in the belief that it would not only be insulting to the dead Ouko, but also significantly continue the perpetuation of poverty in the region.
4. After this objection; auctioneers postponed the sale. But 8 months later, again, an advert for auction of the plant was published. This time, not only movable assets of the plant were to be sold, but ALL assets: the ‘whole plant in total’.
5. The information given when the plant was advertised for sale is that ”first consideration will be taken for offer to purchase the whole plant in total”. In other words, simply, the auctioneers would consider the bidder who wants to purchase the whole ‘bulk’.
6. Raila Odinga’s bid of Ksh 570 to purchase the ‘whole plant in total’ was the highest and was subsequently taken by the plant’s receivers (Kenya Commercial Bank).
7. But, when receiving his acceptance, the auctioneers then claimed the LAND on which the plant stood was NOT part of the bid, despite the auction advert claiming, as I have already stated above, that the sale would include the ‘whole plant in total’.
8. The question of the Molasses land remained a ticking issue for Spectre,and, or Raila. As a business, the impression that the auctioneers had given was that the ‘whole plant in total’ included the land. And land, to any investor, is factor of production.
9. For the Kisumu Molasses, this land had been compulsorily acquired from the local community living around the area. What is often conveniently hidden is that the community was compensated by the government for Ksh 2 million. This was over 20 years before (1976). Essentially, the land was ‘bought for industrial use’. But 20 years later, the purpose for which the land was taken from the community -industrial use -had not been achieved, and, after Ouko’s death, the purpose of selling off the derelict molasses plant/factory would ensure the community would never ever benefit from it. There would be no company, no jobs and no social amenities promised to it.
10. So, by 1996, the issues Raila grappled with were twofold: 1. that a Molasses Plant had been promised the community and land had been ‘compulsorily’ acquired for it and construction started. 2. That as things stood, in 1996, it was crystal clear that the government (now under Moi) had completely abandoned the promise.
11. When it was apparent that the government would not change its position over the land question (Raila was clear to them that without the land being part of the company it would be easy in future to sabotage the activities of the company) he withdrew from it, in good faith.
12. The receivers wrote to the second highest bidder, Equip Agencies, if they wanted the molasses plant and they refused. They too could not have it without the land.
13. For another three years, no one showed interest on the plant. No one, not Francis Onyango’s father; not my own father and not any of the current ‘development-minded Luos’ that folks like Onyango like to place high ‘development’ premium on. Question is: Why? Why did no one, Luo or non-Luo, showed any interest in acquiring this molasses plant?
14. At the end of the third year, the receivers again advertised for the auction of the molasses plant. Still determined to rescue it; Raila, via spectre, wrote back and showed interest – but desired to be told the present-day value and the fate of the land.
15. In the three years between 1996 and 1999, the condition of the molasses plant had deteriorated. The three years had seen vandals and scrap mental thieves descend on the property and literally looted it bare. The ignobility of nature had also taken its toll on the factory. The remaining equipment were so outdated that even vandals REJECTED them!
Bellhouse Mwangi Ernest & Young informed Odinga the present value would be ksh 120 million. Ideally, it was less than that, but Odinga accepted to purchase it nonetheless. Remember in 1995 he had offered the high of 570 million.
16. Again, even by 1999, land was still an unresolved thorny issue. In fact, the land had long been allocated another company -KCFC – though they were yet to receive an allotment letter.
17. Raila was outbid, but it was only him (his company) who still held the view that the original intention of acquiring the land from the community – to build a molasses plant – was still feasible and he would still build a molasses company. The other bidders wanted to dispose off the remaining assets and walk away. In short, none of the other bidders wanted to erect a company – of any nature – on the place (more so, none wanted to do so without owning the land).
18. By end of 1999, Raila still believed he could turn the forgotten facility wasting away that had stood neglected for 22 years into a socio-economic complex. For 7 years, Raila waged a legal war to acquire control of the land, on which the pant would stand, and which would give any investor the confidence to put capital in it.
19. It was until mid-2001 that he succeeded in this. And it was until 2003 that the title of the land was transferred to him. It would take over 27 years and three presidents, to make the molasses plant in Kisumu a reality!
20. A lot can be said how Raila is a thief, a grabber, an anti-development, an impoverisher of Luos etc by people like Mwalimu Owidi and his acolytes like Francis Onyango but they will never muster half the courage of his fighting spirit.
21. I cannot rule out any favours but if it took over 27 years to make the molasses a reality -during which time other Luos sat by and watched, then Raila Odinga DESERVES all the alleged favours he got.
23. After the final acquisition of the plant -at Ksh 120 million, and the land at Ksh 3.6 million (being rates arrears accruing for the period the facility lay derelict), Odinga embarked on rehabilitating what had been wasted for 22 years. He retained professional/scientific advice on proper crop-growing and methods of ethanol production. He sought for investors to partner with, and finally Energen agreed (with 55 per cent controlling share) and joined Kisumu Development Trust (5% on behalf of the local people who contributed sh1.8 million of the 120 million purchasing price). His company, Spectre, took 40% of the shares. Was this fair? The three organizations/entities felt it was and signed to it. The usual Luo whiners and haters of everything Odinga took it to the media – and started one of the pettiest and cheapest propaganda ever – to present Odinga as a corrupt person. They were joined by the traditional enemies of Luos in general and Odinga family in particular – people who had sat on the development of this commercial venture for 27 years!
24. I do not claim to be ownership of all the facts. The insertion of Raila’s name on the Ndung’u Land Commission report – a report which by then had never been made public (don’t know if it is public today) to many people who followed this molasses story was not just astonishing, but also revealed the ‘name-smearing’ politics of post-2002 Mou fallout. The reputation of Raila Odinga, as a fiercely clean man, built and tested for decades, would be the subject of disparaging remarks by people who had no spine to be counted when society – and our community – needed them the most.
This is bound to continue. And while those who purport to hate him must continue to do so; we who adore him and admire his strength must continue to tell his story – our collective story.
25. I believe in Raila Odinga. The struggle to make the molasses a socio-economic reality is just one of the many struggles Odinga has waged. The length of the struggle itself, the determination to succeed and the final success only gives us hope – here’s is a man who is resilient to a fault.
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We Luos forget very very easily.