Luo Nyanza should defy its leaders, accept governments' food

When ICT and Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo flagged of relief food distribution trucks at Ndiru Chief’s Camp in Rangwe Constituency on December 17, 2022. [File, Standard]

ICT and Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo during relief food distribution at Ndiru Chief’s Camp in Rangwe Constituency on December 17, 2022. Concerns have been raised over failure by elected leaders from Nyanza to attend functions for development projects organised by the government in the region (James Omoro, Standard).

I am surprised that some elected leaders from the Luo Nyanza region are dissuading their constituents from receiving the relief food whose distribution is currently being spearheaded by Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo.

Those who are opposed to the initiative are seeing the "invisible hand of politics" in the exercise. This is rather strange coming from leaders who should know that, unlike the state, all governments the world over are conservative political animals keen on self-preservation.

The government is the political wing of the state. It exists to do politics. Without politics, there's absolutely no reason for the existence of a government. I am not aware of any government in the history of the state that didn't play politics.

Sometimes our politicians forget that they are part of the government, and they are paid to do politics on behalf of the citizens.

Some of the leaders from the region have argued that, compared to parts of North Eastern, Northern, Eastern, Coast, and far-flung Rift Valley regions, Nyanza is not badly off. In fact, as they have correctly observed, many areas of Luo land are currently harvesting maize.

However, a closer observation reveals that the crop hasn't done very well this season, and even where the harvests are likely to be good, the micro and small farm sizes and traditional farming methods militate against food security beyond one month.

The small-holder farmers of the Luo Nyanza region haven't invested much to modernize farming. The low crop yields fairly well reflect the poor state of the farms and farming methods.

In any case, Luo Nyanza has not known food security for decades. Why are the leaders pretending not to know that the people they lead are actually hungry?

ICT and Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo during relief food distribution at Ndiru Chief’s Camp in Rangwe Constituency on December 17, 2022. [File, Standard]

In recent weeks, I have traveled back home a number of times to assess for myself what the food situation is like in the region. The people are hungry.

As the leaders voice their concern about the use of food distribution as political bait, the people line up for the food. I saw queues that stretched for kilometres. People are literally fighting for food. Many of them have not seen a meal for days.

I think there's a huge disconnect between what some of the leaders believe is the food security situation in their constituencies and the real desperation on the ground. This food has been donated by the government of Kenya to help alleviate hunger among the people of Kenya. It doesn't matter whether or not it is a political move.

The reality is that people are food deficient, and the government is donating foodstuff. Let the people take the food, and once their stomachs are full, they can do the politics later.

The very leaders who are raising objections to the relief food distribution can hardly have a peaceful time with their families without hundreds of constituents thronging their homesteads for hand-outs.This happens literally every single day; it's simply unsustainable.

Whenever MPs are accused of impropriety with respect to the utilisation CDF in their constituencies, more often than not, it is because of the constant demands on them for hand-outs.

One only needs to observe how the MPs are united in the fight to reinstate CDF in order to understand the kind of pressure that these legislators endure in the constituencies. The pressure explains why there's little debate on the issue of the CDF. They simply want it back. Period.

Of course the MPs know that as people responsible for oversight of the government's utilization of citizens' taxes, they cannot at the same time provide effective oversight over their own activities. But it doesn't matter to them. The pressure from the citizens is simply insurmountable without a source of constant liquidity.

Those who are criticizing the relief food distribution effort should remember that 85 per cent of the national budget remains in Nairobi.

As we all know, the President has a great deal of influence on what goes into the budget, and discretion in its reallocation, if need be. Reallocation from vote-heads happens quite often depending on changing priorities.

If the Luo Nyanza leaders rally citizens to reject the "relief food" or discredit the intention behind its distribution, that will certainly be a good reason for the current government to withhold resources meant for the region.

It could refuse to budget for new projects or simply stop the financing of the many continuing projects and programs that President Kenyatta initiated there during his second term in office when he closely cooperated with the ODM leader Raila Amolo Odinga.

Leaders have a duty to understand the context within which public funds are distributed and applied to finance development.

Appearing to be loyal to the government is a key factor in budgetary allocations to regions (and communities).

I know that some leaders have been telling their constituents that like all other citizens of Kenya, the Luo deserve a piece of the national cake as Kenyans and taxpayers. That is as it should be. However, "vitu ni different Kwa ground."

 Every time the region has had a structured cooperation with the government, the fruits have come in abundance. It happened during the Jaramogi-Moi cooperation. It happened when Raila worked closely with Kibaki. It has been happening during the hand-shake period.

Recent political history tells us that in the run-up to the return of multiparty politics in Kenya, President Moi, bowing to pressure to pacify the Luo community whose sons and daughters had suffered inordinate humiliation, torture, and killings at the hands of government agents on trumped-up charges, appointed literally all elected MPs from the region to full or assistant ministerial positions.

But that was also the time that witnessed very little if any, implementation of government projects and programs. In the period shortly before and after the assassination of Foreign Minister Robert John Ouko, Moi made every effort to create an impression that he was working with the Luo community.

The reality, however, was that where the rubber met the road, there was hardly any official budgeted development funding targeting projects and programs in Luo Nyanza during that period.

Moi, through his technocrats, bureaucrats and mandarins, ensured that there was no budgetary allocation to support projects and programs in Luo Nyanza.

Moi's intention was to create an impression that his government had extended an olive branch to Luo Nyanza, while the reality was that he never cared a hoot about the region.

Kenyans will remember that for the first time in the history of education, the Luo Nyanza region was dislodged from its natural top position in Certificate of Primary Education examination results after the coup attempt of august 1982 in which many Luo people were implicated on trumped-up charges.

The truth later came out during the Njonjo Commission of Inquiry.

The so-called coup was not a coup in the strict sense of the word, and it was never a Luo versus Moi thing as Kenyans had been made to believe. The details are contained in the report of the commission.

Now, I see two diametrically opposed political forces in the Luo Nyanza. First, there are some politicians who feel totally dissatisfied with Raila as the community leader following his defeat at the hands of William Ruto at the presidential polls.

 This group believes that Raila is the stumbling block to the people of Luo Nyanza working with the government of William Ruto.

In essence, they are saying that for as long as the Luo continue to be in the opposition, 85 per cent of the national budget may not come down to Nyanza. I think they are right in a way, considering what has been witnessed every time there was a structured cooperation between the community and the government of the day.

The operating word here is "structured." In the absence of a structured engagement, the group may only manage to benefit from appointments to government positions, and nothing else.

From the experience of the mid-to-late 1980s, we know that appointments don't bring development to the community. What does bring development is a deliberate effort to make budgetary allocations to fund projects and programs. I am yet to see any evidence that such a structured engagement is in the offing.

What we see is clamoring for relevance. It is not a bad thing to look for relevance. In any case, one needs to create visibility as an alternative leader in order to attract attention and relevance. However, it would be more meaningful if the people behind this movement sought to promote their clamoring to the level of structured engagement with the government for purposes of budgetary support to Luo Nyanza.

The second group believes, and rightly so, that Raila Odinga remains the foremost leader and unifying factor of the Luo community. Interestingly, even those in government are fully briefed that to get to the heart of the Luo people one needs Raila Odinga.

Any Luo MP who thinks he can dethrone Raila is likely to be day-dreaming.

That remains a stubborn fact. President Ruto needs a huge support base for his 2027 presidential bid. He knows very well that Raila is the only politician in Kenya for the time being who places a real stumbling block on this ambition. He will want Raila on his side at all costs.

The last thing that Ruto, the adept political player that he is, would attempt to do is use some political feather weights to disturb Tinga. Ruto knows that's a Herculean task. He will not attempt it.

But Ruto also knows that the Luo must be pacified at all times. This is the only community that's capable of bringing about fundamental political changes, almost singlehandedly. They have done it before, many times.

All leaders know that they are better off with a pacified Luo community. All communities in Kenya either have their kingpins or are in the process of confirming them after recent realignments. Another fact. Raila Amolo Odinga remains the Luo Kingpin in the same way that William Ruto is an undisputed Kalenjin kingpin, and Kalonzo Musyoka is the maestro of Kamba politics.

The Luo are yet to identify a replacement for Raila.

The few leaders from Luo land who have the potential to take over from Raila in the future appear to be getting it all wrong by attacking Raila as a way of endearing themselves to the people.

 They want to inherit a community by attacking their king. I thought they would do that by getting close to the king for his blessings and the seamless transfer of leadership at the opportune moment.

The government efforts in Luo land must, therefore, be seen as a way of pacifying the community in order to create harmony in the country.

At the same time, it is a political move to show the world that the government is willing to work with the Luo community despite the fact that they didn't vote for William Ruto.

If this initiative fails, it will be convenient for President Ruto to point to it and say "see, I tried but they let me down." That will mark the beginning of official neglect of the Luo region.

The argument will be that the people of Luo Nyanza do not want anything to do with the incumbent government.

That's how politics works.

I am surprised that even leaders who have been around for a while can't see through this smokescreen.

But, more fundamental is the need for prudent management of the devolved units and their effective oversight by the relevant government organs and the Civil Society so that the Luo Nyanza region may benefit from the fruits of devolution that they fought for at very huge human costs, and so much deserve.

 In the last ten years of devolution, the Luo Nyanza counties of Homa Bay and Siaya have achieved the dubious distinction of being the "perpetual dwellers of the bottom strata" in government performance evaluation of counties.

Meanwhile, let the people receive food donations from the government as they work on a long-term sustainable food security strategy.

A detailed look at Isuzu MU-X: Is it better than its competitors?
Sci & Tech
Teaching youth drones tech for food security
Premium Why Monday's protests have rattled government, businesses
Power sector agencies in limbo as search for new CEOs drags on
The Standard
Subscribe for the KES1999 KES999 offer today!