Raila faults Ruto threats to sugar industry cartels

Prime CS Musalia Mudavadi and Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga during the burial of Rajabu Mwondi in Hamisi Sub-county in Vihiga. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga has criticised President William Ruto’s approach to solving sugar sector woes in Western. 

Last week during his tour of the region, President Ruto declared war on cartels he said had a chokehold of the sector at the detriment of sugar farmers.

He said the cartels were sabotaging the government’s plan to revive and reform the ailing industry and went on to give them (cartels) three options to leverage themselves; either they leave Kenya, be jailed, or go to heaven.

A tough-talking Ruto warned the private investors currently engaged in a bitter dispute over the ownership of Kenya’s largest miller Mumias Sugar Company. 

Billionaire Jaswant Rai, owner of West Kenya Sugar Company, and his brother Sarbjit Singh Rai of Uganda-based Sarrai Group have been fighting over control of the troubled Mumias Sugar.

Sarbjit Rai took over the sugar miller about a year ago but Jaswant Rai moved to court contesting the lease arrangement. Jaswant Rai has since withdrawn the court cases. 

On Saturday, Raila said the threats were unwarranted and diluted the real issues and troubles Western and Nyanza sugarcane farmers were going through. 

“Someone came here with threats that he will force people to leave the country, take them to jail or have them go to heaven. These are people who know they were born here yet they are asked to leave,” he said.

The opposition chief insists that the sugar industry woes can be resolved through involvement of all stakeholders and not just the government.

“Factories like Nzoia, Mumias, Chemilil, Miwani, Sony and Muhoroni have many problems. No one should come here and tell us he knows how to solve these issues alone,” said Raila. 

Raila spoke during the burial of Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) chairman Rajabu Mwondi in Hamisi Sub-county in Vihiga.

The former premier likened President Ruto’s sentiments to threats on democracy and the rule of law. “If we are not careful we will find ourselves in a bad situation. Recently, we saw our youth being killed in demonstrations,” said Raila.

He condemned Ruto’s sentiments, saying it’s disturbing for a head of state to threaten investors with arrest, deportation or harm.

“These are careless talks that will lead us to having individuals go missing and never to be seen again,” he said. 

After the mass, Raila flew to Budalang’i for another burial, that of former powerful minister James Osogo.

He again took on the government’s dealing with investors saying it was counterproductive. “The approach Ruto took against Rai is not healthy for investors, the troubles of the sugar sector cannot be canvassed through force but a sober approach,” he said.

On the bipartisan talks, Raila urged for calm as the dialogue continues.

The National Dialogue Committee co-chaired by National Assembly Leader of Majority Kimani Ichung’wa and Azimio la Umoja’s Kalonzo Musyoka last week announced an adopted framework that will guide the talks, signaling a non-contested approach.

Raila maintained that he and Azimio coalition had no intention of power sharing as an agenda during the talks.

“We don’t want tribal and discrimination politics. Some people are saying we want ‘nusu mkate’ (half loaf), we are not interested and they should keep the entire loaf,” said Raila. 

Raila was in Western days after President Ruto’s five-day development tour of the region, which has been dismissed as “mere public relation stunts”.

Raila also turned his wrath on Cotu boss Francis Atwoli, telling him he has thrown them under the bus as he dines with the Kenya Kwanza government.

He was particularly angered that he -a political leader - was forced to call for mass demonstrations to fight for workers’ rights, and not Atwoli.

The duo shared the podium for the first time since parting after last year’s poll. Raila eulogised Mwondi as a unionist who selflessly championed workers rights for over two decades. 

“Mwondi was among those who urged workers to unite and bring change in the labour industry,” said Raila. 

He then lectured the current trade union leadership for abandoning their core duties of representing workers and going to bed with employers and government.

“I have told Atwoli that as workers representative he should not be on the same side as Ruto. He (Atwoli) goes to Ruto’s meetings and starts praising him and forgets to present workers’ problems,” said Raila.

Atwoli defended himself saying he was not a politician, but one to propagate the rights of workers.

“Azimio lost the last election and even the Supreme Court declared itself on the matter, it’s time they accepted the outcome,” said Atwoli. 

He said he can’t lead street demonstrations that have no consequences to workers as demanded by the opposition chief. He also defended his decision to work with President Ruto as the only way to ensure workers rights are taken care of.