It's humble pie for Uhuru as he turns to media he once rubbished

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta. [File, Standard] 

Former president Uhuru Kenyatta has turned to the media to air his frustration at the bullying he is receiving from President William Ruto and his Kenya Kwanza government.

Last year, Uhuru complained about alleged threats against members of his family but now it is about his office being denied money for operations since he retired about two years ago.

The retired president is now accusing the government of refusing to allocate his office a budget for two consecutive years, forcing him to foot all bills from his pocket.

Belgut MP Nelson Koech and former nominated MP Wilson Sossion however both think the former president should not be given money when he is residing in his own home that is also his office at New Caledonia along Denis Pritt avenue next to State House.

Sossion further says Uhuru’s body language has shown that he has no respect for the current president and that has also been shown through his mode of communication to the government.

Koech also argues that Uhuru is still actively engaged in politics because he is the chairman of the Azimio coalition and also Jubilee party leaders when he is supposed to have left those positions six months after retirement.

“He is an active chairman of Azimio and is Kioni’s Jubilee faction party leader,” said Koech as he insisted that President Ruto was not revenging against what Uhuru allegedly did to him when he was the vice president.

The MP also faulted the mode of communication used by Uhuru claiming that his communication officer Kanze Dena should not have addressed the government through the media..

But what is happening must be a humbling moment for Uhuru, because here is a man who not only loathed and disparaged the media when he was in power but also played a major role in crippling many media houses.

In July last year, Uhuru called the media to his son’s house in Karen at night claiming that the life of his family was under threat amid claims that police wanted to arrest his son.

“People can have their opinion but according to me I did the best that I could for my country and handed over when my time was finished. But I will now do the best that I can do to defend my family,” said a visibly angered Uhuru.

On Monday, Dena again called a press conference to reveal the frustrations Uhuru was going through, saying only 4.4 percent of the budget allocated to him as a retired president has been disbursed since he left power.

Apart from many public attacks against the media and harassment of journalists as is currently the case, Uhuru’s government also came up with punitive measures that seriously suffocated the media and it’s operating environment.

In 2015, the government set-up the Government Advertising Agency (GAA) under the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology in what was seen in media and civil society circles as a ploy to suppress media freedom.

Before introducing GAA, the president made a scathing attack on newspapers a few months earlier, while addressing a rally in Bomet county in 2015, when he said newspapers only served the purpose of wrapping meat in butcheries.

“When a leader says that newspapers are only good for ‘wrapping meat’, that is a statement of ideological antagonism. It has creats an avenue for corruption, incompetence, and censorship,” wrote Prof George Nyabuga.

He said the establishment of the GAA caused a big dent in the finances of media houses because it cut spending by channeling government advertising into MyGov newsletter that is owned by the government.

As of mid-2019 during Uhuru’s second term, GAA owed media houses more than Sh2.5 billion that had accrued from services rendered in the distribution of MyGov as an insert.

Some payments have since been made in very painful doses as government continues promising that the debts will be settled to ease financial pressure especially on the print media.

Nyabuga feared that the quality, reliability and credibility of the press and survival of media houses some of which are now facing imminent collapse is highly compromised.

“With a struggling financially deficient media, a free press is nearly impossible to achieve,” writes Nyabuga in his recent policy paper, Media under pressure -The trouble with press freedom in Kenya.

It has now dawned on the former president that he needs the media just like other Kenyans so that he can enjoy what is rightfully his.

It also appears, he now understands the importance of a free and vibrant media, especially when it comes to amplifying the rights of the oppressed and the excesses of State tyranny.

The tone and body language from his media person gave an impression of a man under siege, who is seeking help from the media to get public support.

Last year, the president made a passionate appeal to the media, saying: “You as fourth estate must jealously guard the freedom of all Kenyans and the country’s democratic space. Stand firm and hold government to account, hiyo ni haki yenu  na wakenya wanatarajia mfanye hivyo (that is your right and Kenyans expect that from you).”

It is visible that the media is the only remaining avenue to the former president because according to Dena, many letters have been written and other correspondences made since last year without any meaningful response.

Opinion is however divided in political circles over the treatment that the former president is getting from the Kenya Kwanza government with Ruto’s allies saying he should air his grievances using the correct channels instead of using the media.

Sossion, who is also a former Knut Secretary General asked the former president to stop whining because every Kenyan is suffering at the moment with little food to put on their tables.

He argues that Uhuru should use the office that was bought for president Kibaki in Nyari because public funds are used prudently and the government should also not waste money buying houses for all retired presidents.

Those defending the former president and Dena however argue that he only released the statement on Monday to respond to claims made by State House spokesman Hussein Mohammed and his government counterpart Isaac Mwaura.

Government spokesperson Isaac Mwaura has denied claims that the government is not paying former President Uhuru Kenyatta's allowances. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The government spokesman had boldly claimed that the retired president enjoys a fully furnished and maintained office of his choice after electing to reside at Dennis Prit near gate D of State House.

“It is fully furnished and paid by the government. He is entitled to new cars of his choice that are replaceable after every three years with an engine capacity of at least 3000 CC,” added Mwaura

Dena however told Kenyans that while the picture painted by Mwaura was the ideal situation, Uhurus’s office was saddened to inform the public that it is only a concept which does not exist.

She gave a very miserable experience that Uhuru was going through and dismissed the assertion that the former president’s house had been fully furnished and that he had received new cars.

 Makueni Senator Dan Maanzo thinks Uhuru is being mistreated through malice, vengeance and bad faith from the current leadership, especially by president Ruto who allegedly wants to teach him a lesson.

“You give him a job and then you don’t pay him. You don’t even facilitate him. You have send him to Congo, South Sudan and Ethiopia and then you don’t reimburse him, yet there is a lot of money that is being misused including renovation of State House,” says Maanzo.

The MP demanded goodwill to former leaders, urging Ruto not to forget and set a bad precedent because he will also soon be a former president.

It has also been argued that there is a very serious effort by the current administration to undermine the fourth president by trashing the provisions of the Presidents Retirement Benefits Act.

The benefits provided for in the Act are almost like a salary and if Uhuru lives in his own house, then like any other civil servant, he should be entitled get owner occupier allowance.

Other pundits also think the statement was an invitation to Comptroller of Budget, the Auditor General and other accounting agencies, including parliament to find out where the money allocated to that office was diverted to.

That is because Uhuru says so far the office has been allocated in excess one billion shillings, yet they have not received the money from the accounting officer who is the State House Comptroller.

The retirement benefits act was first applied in the 2010 constitution although president Kibaki acted out of goodwill to facilitate president Moi after his retirement

Kibaki also allocated Moi his official residence at Kabarnet Gardens along Ngong road to use after he retired, while Uhuru authorized the purchase of a house in Nyari for president Kibaki to use as his office after retirement.

The law says the retired president shall pick an office of his choice but Mwaura says Uhuru cannot do that because he will be flouting procurement laws and argument that was also buttressed by Koech and Sossion.

“He wants to be the land lord and tenant at the same time and that is why he has been told to go to Nyari. He has refused and is making crazy demands yet he knows the state of the economy is bad and that Kenyan are suffering,” says Koech.

The MP also claims the demands are not in good faith and are extremely sensational because the former president is allegedly whipping emotion and politics.

Seme MP James Nyikal however argues that Uhuru does not even need to speak to Ruto or even write a letter asking for what is appropriated for in law and money should therefore be automatically released every financial year without delay.

It should be remembered that because of his contempt for the media at the time, Uhuru snubbed the 2017 presidential debate, a decision that seemed to undermine the media’s relevance in Kenya.