Western is among regions that President William Ruto has frequently visited, but still lags behind in development.
Ruto has visited Bungoma, Busia, Kakamega, and Vihiga at least five times as president.
His initial visit to Bungoma occurred on August 29 as the President-elect. This was followed by a two-day trip to Kakamega where he attended the 18th graduation ceremony at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology on December 9.
Earlier, Ruto had met local leaders at the Kakamega State Lodge.
On April 29, Ruto launched the construction of the 13-kilometer Malava-Kimangeti road in Malava constituency. He visited Busia on May 29 before attending a church service at the Anglican Church of Kenya in Kakamega on June 18 where he conducted a fundraiser.
More recently, on July 22, Ruto commissioned the Vihiga Water Cluster Project that will benefit over 400,000 families. The project received funding of Sh1.7 billion from donors and the State.
These frequent visits have generated mixed feelings among local leaders and residents. Collectively, Bungoma, Kakamega, Vihiga, and Busia counties have 2,217,948 registered voters, according to the latest count by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
In last year's General Election, Bungoma gave Ruto the most votes (255,906) compared to Azimio leader Raila Odinga’s 145,280. Conversely, Busia provided him the fewest votes (48,801) against Raila’s 226,042. In Kakamega, Ruto secured 141,166 votes while Raila received 357,857.
But one year later, Western, which was assured 30 per cent of government appointments and major development projects, still awaits the fulfilment of these promises.
Ruto has fulfilled his commitment to appoint Moses Wetang’ula as Speaker of the National Assembly and Musalia Mudavadi as the Prime Cabinet Secretary. However, locals believe that little has been accomplished regarding regional development.
Residents said they would wish to see the president follow through on his pledge to revive the struggling Mumias and Nzoia sugar companies. Ruto had earlier promised to buy a milling plant for Nzoia sugar to boost efficiency and increase the firm’s milling capacity.
"I have ordered the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary to sit with governors and MPs from the sugar belt and agree on how to turn around the sugar factories and run them to profitability,” said Ruto during his visit to Malava.
He added: "Nzoia sugar factory will be the first to benefit. I will procure a new milling machine at a cost of Sh5 billion and increase its crushing capacity. We want to change the narrative and ensure the millers start making profits and give our people jobs.”
Ruto also vowed to construct 10,000 affordable housing units on the 34-acre Kakamega Approved School land, which he 'donated' to Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology. This initiative aims to address housing challenges for students and civil servants.
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The President reiterated his commitment to ensuring the tarmacking of the Lurambi-Navakholo-Musikoma road and other unfinished roads in the region. Additionally, he pledged completion of the gold refinery plant in Ikolomani.
Ruto pledged to give the Kakamega County government Sh3.5 billion to equip the Kakamega Teaching and Referral Hospital. “I will give money to the county government to extend the Kakamega airstrip and build a new apron at the facility.”
Furthermore, he expressed his commitment to releasing funds for upgrading the Kakamega airstrip to international airport status and completing stalled road projects.
“Of all the promises Ruto made, only one- the Hustler Fund- has been implemented," said Philip Wekesa, a human rights defender from Bungoma. According to Mr Wekesa, the rest of the promises were abandoned the moment Ruto ascended to power, including addressing the high cost of living.
Former Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa said "Ruto was steering a ship whose occupants were rudderless and clueless, and therefore Kenyans should not expect any meaningful development from the current regime."
"Kenya Kwanza administration is a boulevard of broken promises and lies. None of the promises have been kept. We are surprised Ruto has gone back to the rooftop of his car making more promises," said Mr Wamalwa in a telephone interview.
The Democratic Action Party of Kenya (DAP-K) leader said instead of Ruto lowering the cost of living as promised during the campaigns, he was instrumental in overseeing an increase in the price of basic commodities.
He argued that Wetang’ula and Mudavadi are just "passengers and not shareholders in Ruto’s government which explains why the duo cannot bargain for meaningful projects to be brought to Western."
"They did not deliver the 70 per cent votes Ruto demanded from them. This is the reason we won’t get the 30 percent of government appointments and development projects coming to Western,” argued Wamalwa.
He added: “I don’t see them delivering much as the government has its own ‘shareholders’. In Ruto’s first budget, nothing has been set aside for the revival of the sugar sub-sector, starting new industries and pumping more funds into projects that we started like the gold refinery plant, the granite factory, and the fish factory in Kakamega, Vihiga and Busia counties."
Wamalwa believes the opening of the sugar importation window could be the last nail in the coffin of struggling sugar factories.
“We brought a new investor at Mumias Sugar, and the company had started doing well. Now what we are seeing are efforts to kick out the investor from the factory,” he said.
But Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale argues that Ruto’s administration is on the right trajectory when it comes to development.
According to Dr Khalwale, Ruto’s maiden budget was not yet operational, but he assures that good things are the way following the recent Court of Appeal’s clearance of the obstacles that hindered the implementation of the controversial Finance Act. 2023.
“The budget we were using was prepared by the previous regime. Now that we have our own budget, you will start seeing all the projects coming to fruition in the current financial year,” he said.
The Senate Chief Whip said Ruto has not initiated new projects in the region since he was keen on completing stalled projects first.
"Ruto is being accused of re-launching projects that were already launched. What the naysayers are forgetting is that the projects were his brainchild, and after they were launched, the projects were denied budgets by the handshake brothers,” said Khalwale.
He added: “By re-launching the projects, Ruto is just re-assuring the people that he has much at hand, and he will provide the required budgets to ensure the projects are completed and serve the intended purposes."
Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi accused Ruto of launching county projects funded by the devolved units. "The national government ought to initiate mega projects in Western. The president should stop launching county projects because governors will have nothing to launch,” he said.