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Broken promise: Why Rift voters believe Uhuru has let them down

President Uhuru Kenyatta during 100th International Co-operatives Day celebrations at KICC, Nairobi on June 2, 2022. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

As President Uhuru Kenyatta’s term comes to an end, residents of Rift Valley, who voted for him overwhelmingly in two elections and in a repeat presidential election in 2017, are a dejected lot.

On Friday, when the president went to Uasin Gishu County to preside over a passing out parade of 3,000 Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) recruits at the Moi Barracks in Eldoret, they expected him to at least thank them for voting for Jubilee or commission the Sh5 billion bypass in Eldoret.

But like in his two previous trips, President Uhuru flew in and out of the venue without engaging residents outside the event.

Unlike in the early years of his presidency when he would acknowledge greetings and address roadside crowds, the Head of State flew into Moi Barracks Recruit Training School (RTS) Eldoret, commissioned a health facility, presided over the passing out parade and flew out in the afternoon.

It was in complete contrast to the past visits in his first term when local leaders would accompany him as he toured the military facility.

But on Friday, apart from family members who went to witness their sons and daughters graduating into new soldiers, there were no crowds lining up the Eldoret-Kitale Road. 

Local leaders including Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago, his Elgeyo Marakwet counterpart Alex Tolgos, and Uasin Gishu Senator Margaret Kamar accompanied the president.

With succession elections around the corner, expectations were high that President Uhuru would use the trip to tour ongoing projects initiated during his term and also commission those nearing completion including the multi-billion Eldoret bypass from Cheplaskei to Maili Tisa.

It was not clear either, if there are any plans for the Head of State to tour the region before his retirement or if the visit was his last in office.

But it was clear there is no love lost between the president and residents of the Rift Valley region. 

Local leaders have expressed diverse views, with some saying the president ought to have travelled by road and saluted residents who accorded him overwhelming support in 2013 and 2017 Others, however, said it was the Head of State’s choice to salute the residents or not.

“It was not a must for the President to acknowledge and thank residents for the support they gave him. It is up to him to thank residents or not,” said Soy MP Caleb Kositany.

“We stopped expecting him. Maybe the only expectation we can have is for an arrest here or there for a Kenya Kwanza supporter. For the pending and stalled projects, the next government under Ruto will accomplish,” he added.

Mr Kositany, who was dropped as Jubilee Party Assistant Secretary General, said the president ought to have appreciated voters who stood by him during his time of need.

“Despite the support, we have no project to be proud of in President Uhuru’s administration. Kimwarer and Arror dam projects in Elgeyo Marakwet were politicised, while the Eldoret bypass was not done in accordance to its design. It was meant to be a dual carriage but is single,” said Mr Kositany.

The legislator expressed confidence that Dr Ruto will triumph in the coming elections and challenged Azimio presidential flag bearer Raila Odinga and his running mate Martha Karua to make an undertaking that ‘they will concede defeat.’

Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei said, “The guilty are always afraid. Our president will retire ungrateful. All national projects including infrastructure and water have stalled and the economy is on its knees.”

Mr Cherargei said despite the overwhelming support the agricultural region gave to President Uhuru, residents are struggling with the high cost of inputs that has also increased the cost of living.

“President Uhuru took over power when a 50kg bag of fertiliser was Sh2,500 but is now at Sh7,000 while the public debt is at over Sh9 trillion. That is why he wants to remain in power by being Azimio chairman,” said Mr Cherargei.

The Senator said several water projects including Keben dam in Nandi and Kipkaren dam in Uasin Gishu have stalled, while compensation issues continue to dog the Eldoret bypass.

However, Uasin Gishu Deputy Governor Daniel Chemno backed the President saying, “It is the prerogative of the president to come and thank his supporters. He can even come while in office or after retirement. Today, he was here for the military work.”

Mr Chemno thanked President Uhuru for the projects he initiated in the region such as completing roads within Eldoret town, the bypass, support for Rift Valley Textiles (Rivatex) and the Kenya Cooperative Creameries (KCC).

He urged President Uhuru to schedule a visit to Uasin Gishu and issue title deeds to residents of Langas estate in Eldoret town.

After the 2017 repeat presidential election, the president fell out with his deputy after his handshake with ODM leader Raila Odinga.

Pundits say the strained relations between the president and his deputy may have contributed to Uhuru’s reason for avoiding the region.

“Things were bad after the handshake but they got worse when the president endorsed Raila as his preferred successor,” says Gitile Naituli, a professor of management and leadership at the Multimedia University of Kenya.

“You do not expect the president to have a public meeting in Rift Valley and thank the voters in the region for voting for him in the previous elections. He has finished the job and has nothing more to tell them,” Prof Naituli adds.

Uhuru’s fallout with DP Ruto and his avoidance of the region are among things that are making voters in the Rift Valley feel as though the he has broken his promise to them over his succession. In his second term, Uhuru has avoided the South Rift region, only touring Nakuru County for official duties, during which he has always kept off politics.

This year alone, Uhuru has visited the county twice during the commissioning parades of KDF cadets at the Kenya Military Academy and the National Youth Service in Gilgil.

But despite accomplishing major development projects in the region among them the multi-billion Nyahururu and Soilo Junction interchanges, Uhuru never officially opened them.

During his visits to the county, the President has been using air transport which denies him a chance to address roadside rallies, much to the disappointment of locals.

However, politicians aligned to Mr Ruto in the South Rift region say they did not expect much from Uhuru since he fell out with his deputy.

“We moved on a long time ago. We are set for a Kenya Kwanza government with our candidate William Ruto doing well on the ground. Uhuru betrayed us but we respect him and wish him well,” said Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri.