Marginalisation, illegal posts and GM crops dominate Senate debate

The senate chambers during the pre-swearing sessions of the 4th Senate at the Senate grounds, Parliament buildings, on September 7, 2022. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The matter of regional balance in President William Ruto’s Cabinet found its way to the floor of the Senate with a member saying Mt Kenya had been allocated more than its rightful share. 

Nyamira Senator Okong’o Mogeni faulted the President for “failing to walk the unity talk” in unveiling the Cabinet, arguing that he saw little representation from the many marginalised ethnic communities in the country.

In his address to Parliament, President Ruto said the country “had dislodged the history of politically mobilising along ethnic lines together with the culture and practices of ethnic exclusion, discrimination and patronage.”

Mr Omogeni argued that despite the Kuria community supporting President Ruto since 2013 and electing two UDA Members of Parliament, none of its people had been picked to join Cabinet.

“If his Excellency the President is telling us that we should not place a lot of premium on one ethnic group, why should we have one ethnic group produce a deputy president and seven Cabinet secretaries to the exclusion of these other minorities?” said Omogeni.

But Murang’a Senator Joe Ngugi argued that former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government had taken into account marginalised communities such as the Turkana and that the decision to have seven CSs from Mt Kenya “indicates that the region represents 30 per cent of Kenya’s population.”

According to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census, however, the region accounts for 17.1 per cent of the country’s population.

“Mr Speaker, he is out of order to try and profile Kenyans. If he has an issue, he has to bring a substantive motion to discuss those individuals as per the standing orders,” said Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei.

But Omogeni suggested that Ruto should go back to the drawing board and put in place a Cabinet that “values all ethnic groups”.

The House was also split on the issue of lifting a 10-year ban on genetically modified crops with Ruto’s allies pushing for the speedy adoption of GMOs.

“I would like to appeal to colleagues also to encourage the firm introduction of genetically modified foodstuff so that we can have food security in this country. Let’s not be in a hurry and in the process, we kill Kenyans,” said Kakamega Senator Bonny Khalwale.

Omogeni voiced his opposition, arguing that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the safety of GMOs. The senator said it would be better for the government to slow down and conduct proper research before commencing importation and open cultivation of such crops.

The House was also divided over Ruto’s decision to retain Cabinet Administrative Secretaries- a position created by former President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2018 before it was declared unconstitutional by the High Court.

Omogeni said Ruto’s stance did not align with his Parliament address where he promised to respect the Judiciary.

Despite protracted disagreements on different issues, the House managed to agree on the power of the Senate to summon and grill Cabinet secretaries. The Senate will continue debating President Ruto’s speech for two days as a procedural motion required by law.

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