Deputy President William Ruto’s Kalenjin backyard is facing an irredeemable moment of reckoning. The Kalenjin community have long boasted of being the ‘bread basket’ of the nation owing to commercial maize farming by farmers in the region.
In fact, this image of a farming community is often caricatured in the ‘mbolea politics’ that DP Ruto is adept at during elections. It led to the DP being appointed the Minister for Agriculture in the grand coalition government, a post he used to endear himself even more to his tribesmen by availing fertilizer and farm inputs cheaply and accessibly.
During the whole reign of the Grand Coalition regime; the one thing that remained constant was a Kalenjin being at the helm of plants (crops) and animals.
Even with the formation of the Jubilee cabinet, a Kalenjin by the name Felix Koskei ended up being appointed as the secretary for Agriculture and Livestock. While CS Koskei is under suspension following corruption allegations, which (not surprising) entailed grabbing a government plot to plant potatoes (still agriculture); the next Agriculture CS will most certainly be a Kalenjin!
But this pacification of Kalenjins using animals and crops (cattle and maize) seem to be coming to an end soon. Just as the CD player destroyed the cassette player which also had destroyed the gramophone; the Kalenjin maize farmer is facing the ‘creative destruction’ (Joseph Schumpeter) hour of reckoning.
Apart from the Galana Kulalu million acre irrigation scheme, which is expected to bring to the National Cereals and Produce Board thousands of tonnage of maize and millet and other cereals, the Kalenjin farmer is also up against maize cartels, many who are Kalenjins themselves!
The Kalenjin maize lords have been here for a while; and DP Ruto was once suspended because of a maize scam. While he turned the tables on his then boss Raila Odinga, and politics of the time favoured him, the facts remained immutable.
The Maize sector in the Rift Valley, just like the tea and dairy sector, are pale shadows of they used to be.
DP Ruto is maverick orator. So far, he has managed to keep Kalenjins in his corner by eking loads of sympathies from his Hague and Weston Hotel woes. When the situation is dire, the government gets in to alleviate it. However, as those of us from Nyanza long realized when they came for our sugar industries, the future of profitable maize farming in the Rift Valley has ended. The sooner the Kalenjins realize that the ground beneath has fundamentally shifted, the better.
President Uhuru and his Deputy long abandoned the ‘traditional’ maize farmers from the region. The two are on the ambitious ‘million acre’ irrigation scheme at Galana Kulalu in the Coast. The Galana project is good for JAP public relations and propaganda because it can be ‘summarized’ in one presidential or deputy presidential photo and uploaded on Facebook and Twitter – the ubiquitous Republic of Social Media of Kenya!
This shift of commercial maize farming from Kalenjin Rift Valley to Coast and Nairobi (cartels) has far reaching repercussions not only economically but also politically. It ends, with ‘disastrousness’ yet to be fully appreciated by Kalenjin political elites, the well-established ”maize politics” of the region, which, incidentally, is vintage DP Ruto rallying call.
I shudder to imagine towns like Kapsabet, Eldoret, Nandi, and Kericho becoming economic ‘ghost towns’, where the disappearing millionaire maize farmer is replaced by the shillingionaire cobbler. As multinationals take over tea farming, and buda boss expands his hegemony over milk, the Kalenjin farmer will feel -in their own skins – how ‘tyrannical’ numbers can be punishing at times.
I leave you to speculate who will pay the political prize for the creative destruction of Kalenjin maize, tea and dairy farming.
Dikembe Disembe is a socio-political blogger.