With over 5.3 million registered voters, the Rift Valley is key to Deputy President William Ruto’s ambition to become the fifth president of Kenya.
And since he made clear his ambition to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ruto has been keen on maintaining a strong political grip on the region.
As the clock ticks towards the August 9 General Election, Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza brigade has pitched camp in the region, hosting economic forums in at least four counties where residents have presented their wish-lists.
Ruto set the ball rolling in Nakuru before handing over the baton to his running mate Rigathi Gachagua who has hosted similar sessions in Elgeyo Marakwet, Uasin Gishu and Baringo counties, accompanied by senators Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo Marakwet) and Susan Kihika (Nakuru), MPs Moses Kuria (Gatundu South), Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu) and ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi, among others.
In June last year, Rift Valley leaders held a meeting in Kajiado County to draft the region’s economic demands for presentation to the DP.
The team that was headed by Turkana governor Josphat Nanok, who is also a member of the Ruto national presidential campaign secretariat, settled on holding regional economic fora. Mr Nanok said the DP was keen on ensuring the bottom-up economic agenda resonates well with the people not only in Rift Valley but the country at large.
“We are keen in having a binding agreement with the people through a charter that is going to commit all leaders who will be elected through Kenya Kwanza to implement them. This will be done both at the national level and in the counties,” he said in a recent interview.
It was clear from the meeting, which was attended by most of the governors from the region, that Ruto was keen on ensuring he gets the highest percentage of votes from the region.
It was part of Ruto’s plans for the regional economic models for each county ahead of his first stab at the presidency.
In the past few months, the DP and his allies in the Kenya Kwanza Alliance have been traversing the counties to listen to residents’ demands.
Recently, the team held economic fora in Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Baringo, and Elegeyo Marakwet counties where voters presented their wish-lists.
The meetings came up with a raft of proposals that will see each of the 14 counties in the region sign economic charters specific to their areas and list their economic priorities the Ruto administration should address should he win.
Top on their agenda was security, which the residents said was key to their living in peace and harmony ahead, during and after the August 9 polls.
The region has in the past borne the brunt of violence perpetrated by bandits who have made life a living nightmare for residents, especially in the North Rift region.
On security, Ruto’s running mate Rigathi Gachagua, who has in the past few days pitched camp in the region, said insecurity in the North Rift will be dealt with within the first 90 days of the Kenya Kwanza Government.
“Ruto and I will sort out insecurity in Kerio Valley and the entire country in the first 100 days, and in six months of our administration,” said Gachagua.
He said insecurity had crippled economic development in the region and must be dealt with.
“The issue of insecurity in the North Rift is a small matter. What is lacking is the political goodwill to deal with it. I can say with certainty that Ruto, if elected, will offer political goodwill to solve Kerio Valley problems,” he said.
Gachagua also drew on his past experience within the provincial administration to reassure residents.
“I was a man in uniform for 14 years, and I know how easy it is to solve some insecurity problems,” Gachagua said.
On unemployment, the Kenya Kwanza team has promised Rift Valley youth that it would set up and implement “Hustlers Fund” - a Sh50 billion kitty, which will provide affordable credit to businesses.
It has also promised to put in place mechanisms for non-exploitative, government-led mobile and digital loan facilities as an alternative source of low-interest credit, to grant reprieve to 15 million Kenyans blacklisted by credit reference bureaus.
The residents called for the revival of the ailing agriculture sector to boost the country’s food security and lift farmer’s incomes.
During the economic fora held in Uasin Gishu on Wednesday and in Baringo on Thursday, the residents gave a long list of demands to Gachagua, laying bare their tribulations in the agriculture sector.
George Kibet, while speaking during the forum, said agriculture financing has let down farmers in the region and failed to cushion farmers from the capital-intensive demands.
“The cost of credit is not favourable to the farmer and insurance is inadequate. When one takes insurance, he or she is taken round in circles. We need an insurance for farmers,” Kibet said.
He said the incoming government should also consider paying bonus to maize farmers similar to what tea farmers enjoy annually.
On land policy, Kibet said that the government must work on modalities to protect agricultural land, which has been facing sub-divisions, making it un-viable for production.
“The county and national governments should put in place proper legislation to protect land from further sub-divisions. We must protect a large chunk of land for production,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of potato farmers, Julius Karumi from Timboroa said the crop had been neglected inspite of its potential to help the country fight hunger.
“We don’t have access to quality potato seeds. When you plant an acre, you get 10-12 bags. In the past, we would harvest up to 100 bags per acre,” Karumi said, decrying the high cost of fertiliser. Karumi asked the government to construct coolers in potato-growing zones through cooperatives and ensure adequate pesticides, fertilisers and affordable loans are accessible to farmers.
Willy Kirwa, a dairy farmer, asked the government for a guaranteed minimum return of Sh70 per litre.
Players in the dairy sector also asked the government to consider reducing the Sh6,500 they pay for Artificial Insemination to Sh200-500 to make it affordable to farmers.
Other issues raised included high taxation, cheap imports, inefficient regulations, low milk prices, and high cost of feeds.
While responding to demands from farmers, Gachagua said they were committed to reducing fertiliser prices to Sh2,500 by December this year, if they ascend to power.
“We will have farmers sitting on the board of NCPB to make decisions that make sense to farmers. The same will also be done for AFC. We are making committent to have farmers representatives,” he said.
He said the government would look into tax exemptions on machinery, besides changing the countries foreign policy to help focus on trade.
“We are working on guaranteed minimum return for all cash crops. This will cover the cost of production and 25 per cent profits for farmers. We will change foreign policy to focus on trade. Our ambassadors will be tasked with getting us new markets,” he said.
During fora held in Narok, Nakuru and Baringo counties, there were deliberations on the way the national government could improve agriculture and ensure residents benefited from cash crops like tea and coffee.
In Narok County, Ruto was asked to resolve the Mau Forest Complex issue once and for all.
“We want your government to address the issue of the Mau Forest Complex once and for all so that people can live in peace and harmony and avoid a situation where people are being threatened with evictions,” Peter Kibet, a resident of Emurua Dikirr constituency, said.
Ruto said Mau would never be a political issue under his administration, saying most of the issues had already been addressed.
Nakuru residents demanded at least one Cabinet Secretary slot in the next government. Ruto promised them one CS slot and over 40,000 jobs in his administration.