From frying pan: Hustlers ran from Uhuru only to be served bitter pill

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta. [File, Standard]

Demolitions and evictions, stalled development projects and increased funding of projects in Nyanza following a handshake between the then President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition chief Raila Odinga were the catalysts that made residents of Mt Kenya region vote overwhelmingly for William Ruto in the 2022 presidential polls.  

Preceding the election were cries of economic sabotage where some sectors in the region had allegedly been captured by some powerful families and this was turned into the main campaign issue that swung the Mt Kenya vote.

Whenever the Uhuru administration carried out evictions in Nairobi’s informal settlements and other places around the country, Ruto, then Deputy President and his battalion rushed to comfort the victims.

Ruto frequently issued hard-hitting statements against the government accusing it of overseeing ‘inhumane and unacceptable demolitions’  and promised a new government that would have the interests of the hustler at heart.

 “I assure that under my administration there will be no evictions and demolitions in Nairobi and if there will be relocation they will be done in a humane and structured manner without demolitions because you can’t leave home and upon return, you find sufuria’s along the road. That won’t happen again. We want to make sure that we are an orderly humane society that respects the rights of everybody irrespective of who they are or their financial status,” The Head of State said on October 12, 2022.

Days into their rule, the Deputy President disregarded a court order that was to see squatters evicted from private land in Nakuru County and he even supplied them with basic necessities to boot.

Fast forward to May 28, 2024, two years into their reign and the hustler is an angry Kenyan. 

Gikomba traders are counting hundreds of millions in losses after their premises were demolished on account of being located on riparian areas. Now small-scale traders saying they have lost their livelihoods and will not be able to sustain their families.

“We feel betrayed and neglected by the same government that we elected to champion and protect the hustlers. This is painful, they told us about bottom-up and we believed. Personally, I have incurred a loss of over Sh500,000 worth of stock that was inside the stall,” said Pauline Ngumbi who was unable to salvage items in the stall.

As the Gikomba traders cry foul; coffee, tea, dairy, macadamia and Muguka farmers are in distress.

Muguka and Miraa farmers from Embu and Meru counties, are holding demonstrations, protesting the recent ban on muguka trade in Mombasa, Killfi and Taita Taveta counties

Although the National government has termed the ban as null and void, explaining that Muguka is a scheduled crop under the Crops Act 2013 and the Miraa Regulations 2023, government seems to have two facets. Genders Cabinet Secretary Aisah Jumwa has supported the ban while her boss the President convened an urgent meeting at State House with Embu leaders.

Muguka debate

But as the firefighting continues, miraa farmers have to contend with a new levy of Sh4,000 imposed on every vehicle entering the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with the stimulant.

The irate farmers are now awaiting a determination by the High Court filed by Nyambene Miraa Trade Association (Nyamita) against the Transport Cabinet Secretary and the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) over the alleged excessive levies.

Recently, avocado farmers got a small reprieve after they were exempted from using the e-TIMS when selling their produce but that window is fast closing.

At the same time, coffee farmers through their Kenya Coffee Producers Association (KCPA) have protested over the delay in disbursement of their coffee earnings, which has been delayed for close to one month and brought about by the Direct Settlement System (DSS) which was apparently introduced by the Kenya Kwanza to mitigate loss of farmers’ money and to introduce transparency and speedy disbursement of farmers’ earnings.

KCPA chairperson Peter Gikonyo claimed the system introduced through the coffee sub-sector reforms is the main cause of farmers’ woes as it has introduced illegal and irregular deduction of 0.14 auction levy, deduction of Cherry Advance in dollars, partial payment of coffee proceeds despite full settlement by buyers, payment without narration, double charging such as charging milling twice among other ills.

“Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCE) has sustained its refusal to pay farmers sample fees and refund illegal levy deduction of 0.14 per cent. For the coffee year 2022/2023 NCE has adamantly refused to pay coffee farmers despite KCPA identifying this as an illegality and irregularity. Auction levy by law is payable by brokers and brokers but not by growers,” he told The Standard on the phone.

Gikonyo has also raised concerns about the government’s silence on the European Union Deforestation regulation which dictates that coffee grown in land converted from forest will not access the European market while imposing harsh penalties for coffee produced in its market that was found to have been grown in forests by 2020.

“The regulations require that every farmer must have a geo-location map that will show that his farm was not a forest by 2020 and this will require investment to enable farmers to develop the app and given that the regulation will come into effect by 2025 government needs to bail farmers out. The non-compliant will be fined 4 per cent of the total value of their produce which will have been found to have gained access to the European market which is a blow as we take 60 per of our produce to the EU,” said Gikonyo.

During the 2022 election period, the Kenya Kwanza promised to turn around the agriculture sub-sector and promised Minimum Guaranteed Returns (MGR) in the coffee, tea, miraa, avocado, and macadamia sub-sectors but that has remained a delusion.

While criticising the handshake between Uhuru and Raila, the politicians accused the former President of abandoning his region’s development and diverting billions to Nyanza to appease ‘his newfound political partner’.

But as they accused Uhuru of neglecting his people he had injected Sh17 billion in the Kenol Marua Dual carriage project and another Sh30 billion for the construction of the 540km Mau Mau road that was meant to traverse the counties of Kiambu, Murang’a, Nyeri and Nyandarua.

To date, the roads have stalled with claims that the Mau Mau road should not be constructed as it would ‘frighten wild animals’ and interfere with their habitat.

MPs from the areas set to benefit from the road have been furious with Roads Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen and threatened to collect signatures last year in May of contractors were not on site

“Murkomen should ensure the road is completed and we will not wait more than six months. If after six months’ contractors will not have returned to the site, we will collect signatures to impeach you,” Kangema MP Peter Kihungi said.

He wondered why the amount allocated for the completion of the road in the last supplementary budget was slashed to Sh175 million from Sh280 million.

Embakasi North MP James Gakuya claims there is a coordinated strategy to ‘oppress and finish Mt Kenya economically’ by the Kenya Kwanza administration even as he accused the administration of going against its promises to the Mt Kenya region.

“Ruto must understand that the people he is authorising to be evicted are the same people who voted for him,” Gakuya said.

He claimed Gachagua was helpless as he too is being victimised with threats of being dropped as running mate in 2027 through the divide and rule card which he claimed was being orchestrated by the President.

On her part, Githunguri MP Gathoni Wamuchomba claimed the Ruto administration which had presented itself as the real deal to the issues affecting the Agikuyu community has turned out to be its worst nightmare.

“They have fired, for no reason, 276 people from our community. As if that is not enough, Ruto who assured Mt Kenya region that he could not work with Raila is now on the verge of forming a government of national unity with him (Raila)after passing the National Dialogue Report (Nadco) report,” she said.

Wamuchomba claimed upon the presentation of the report to the National Assembly there was a scheme by the President to reshuffle Cabinet to accommodate the opposition in government a move that would disadvantage Mt Kenya region.

“We wanted to take our issues in the Nadco committee but the President stopped us promising he would lead in the campaign. They downplayed the Nadco committee and told us not to take our issues the committee because they were only managing Raila, now we shall be on our own,” the MP said.

She said Mt Kenya region’s woes will be compounded by the Finance Bill 2024, which she claims will be the community’s worst nightmare as it will impoverish them by introducing yet more taxes.