Remarks by US Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman at the 8th Devolution Conference ongoing in Eldoret have rattled Azimio One Kenya Alliance, with Opposition Raila Odinga and senators telling her to keep off the affairs of the country.
A day after she threw her weight behind President William Ruto's government, endorsing his election at last year’s presidential polls as legitimate and promising the present regime total support and stronger ties with the US government,Mr Odinga on Thursday told off Ambassador Whitman, with senators under the political outfit terming the envoy’s remarks as insensitive to Kenyans given what is happening in the country.
“I want to tell the rogue ambassador, leave Kenyans alone,” Mr Odinga said in his parting shot while delivering a keynote address at the Devolution conference on Thursday afternoon.
Mr Odinga, taking the same podium at the Devolution Conference in Eldoret, President William Ruto’s hometown, where Ms Whitman on Wednesday declared that Kenya had the fairest, freest, and most credible presidential election in the 2022 General Election, did not hide the fact that he took offense with the Ms Whitman’s remarks that endorsed President William Ruto’s government.
“If maandamano (demos) can lead to dialogue between Ichungwah and Kalonzo then everything is good in maandamano (demos),” he stated, cheering from a section of the delegates.
“Tell the rogue ambassador- Kenya is not the US- Kenya is not a colony of the United States. Keep your mouth shut while you are here. Otherwise, we will call for your recall back to your country,” said the former Prime Minister, who was accompanied to the forum by former Governors Wycliffe Oparanya and Mwangi wa Iria, former Defense CS - Eugene Wamalwa and Roots Party leader George Wajackoyah.
The Opposition Leader’s rejoinder came moments after his Azimio brigade of senators had criticized at a press conference, the US envoy over her statements at the Devolution conference where she endorsed the election of President William Ruto.
The 2022 General Election outcome was hotly contested by the Azimio la Umoja- One Kenya coalition, with the dispute landing before the Supreme Court, which eventually also endorsed Mr Ruto’s election, to the displeasure of the Opposition.
In her address, while pitching strongly for Kenya as Africa’s best investment destination for the international community, Ms Whitman did not hide the fact that she is enthusiastic about Kenya’s investment prospects and climate, noting that the Ruto administration has made great strides and is committed to building a business-friendly environment.
The US envoy who reported to Kenya in July 2023 just before the last General election said she is focused on strengthening the US-Kenya trade relationship in coordination with the Kenya government.
“I arrived in Kenya days before the August 2022 General Election. What I witnessed was nothing short of remarkable, Kenya held what many analysts said was the freest, fairest, and most credible in Kenyan history,” she stated.
“The elections were observed by international organisations and upheld by the Supreme Court and power was transferred ordinarily and peacefully at the time,” she said.
These remarks, to the Azimio brigade, were like opening an unhealed wound, since the Opposition had bitterly contested the 2022 General Election.
However, Azimio feels the envoy is meddling in the affairs of Kenya and did not hide their displeasure with her remarks.
Mr Odinga who was received at the conference venue by Council of Governors (CoG) chairperson Ms Anne Waiguru and several governors, led by host Governor Jonathan Bii began his speech with the Swahili saying: ‘nyani haoni kundule,’ translated to ‘the monkey does not see his ass,’ pointing at insincerity on Mr Ruto’s government.
He lauded governors for putting their differences aside ‘and finding time away from our toxic politics to forge the way forward for Kenya.’
Earlier before Mr Odinga arrived at the Devolution forum, Azimio senators led by Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang had convened a press conference and hit out at Ms Whitman terming her Wednesday comments as unfortunate and expressing hope that they were personal and not representing the position of the American government.
In particular, Azimio is not happy with Ms Whitman’s remarks on the 2022 presidential elections, after she termed the polls the fairest, freest, and most credible in Kenya’s history.
Azimio is also unhappy about Whitman’s comments on the ongoing tax protests and the state of corruption in Kenya, saying the matters are currently a subject of national debate among Kenyans.
“The American government is definitely not a visitor in Nairobi and we can only hope that these unfortunate remarks were personal and were inspired by the envoy’s base corporate instinct of pleasing the buyer to close a deal,” the Azimio senators said in a joint statement.
“In any case, Kenyan politicians and diplomats have never taken positions on American elections, imperfect and indecisive as they have been from the Bush/Al Gore to the Biden/Trump contests,” the senators stated.
In her powerful pitch in which she strongly pitched for Kenya as Africa region’s best investment hub, Ms Whitman stated that Kenya’s high tax burden was “alright as long as it was consistent, while on corruption, she praised Kenya for doing better than India and Venezuela, and that American businesses had no reservations with Kenya.
In a rejoinder, however, Azimio senators said the remarks were out of touch with the realities in Kenya.
“It is too insensitive for the US Ambassador to talk about democracy in Kenya when this regime has criminalized the legitimate right of the Kenyan people to demonstrate, picket, and assembly. This is a right enshrined in the Constitution and it is even borrowed from the US Constitution,” said Siaya Senator Oburu Odinga.
“I felt hurt when the US Ambassador s danced and praised democracy in Kenya when such rights are being criminalized and described as the destruction of property and riots… all sorts of descriptions which just prove that the current regime is taking this country into a dictatorship,” he stated.
The senators said the Devolution forum underway in Eldoret is meant to take stock of the outcome of devolution 10 years later, and should also be a moment of reflection on the Kenya Kwanza (KK) administration’s policies on fiscal and political decentralisation and harmonise the support of foreign partners, donors, and civil society organizations.
Mr Kajwang said matters of elections, taxes, and corruption in Kenya cannot be discussed casually, and that they are currently a subject of national discourse.
“As long as Kenyans are talking, we expect our foreign friends to be sensitive, mature and to avoid making comments that are likely to erode the little trust that we are building for the sake of our nation,” stated Senator Enoch Wambua (Kitui).
The Azimio leaders said the 2022 presidential election outcome is among the items that its negotiating team has put on the agenda of the National Dialogue Committee, hence it was ‘premature and arrogant for the US envoy to make such a conclusive statement.’
“The comments by the US envoy are prejudicial to the ongoing national dialogue discussions and are premised on the three things that she spoke about in a very insensitive manner; electoral justice, a burden that has been visited upon Kenyans in Finance Act 2023, and corruption which is an existential threat to the well-being and future of this country,” said Senator Kajwang.
“The Azimio team that has gone for negotiations has instructed that those three issues should be on the table. And I know that once both houses of Parliament pass the relevant motions. The next step would be to agree and frame agenda items We would not wish our foreign friends and our foreign partners to get involved in those domestic discussions,” he stated.
The Azimio leaders stated that the US envoy was out of touch with the reality in Kenya, and her remarks were ‘shaped by her corporate pedigree.’
“In the past three months, Kenyans have gone to the streets, spilled blood, and lost lives to protest punitive taxes imposed by the KK administration in the Finance Act. Americans should know better; the Boston Tea Party that laid the foundation for America’s economic freedom was premised on tax injustices. In the same way, Americans protested the Tea Act of 1773, and Kenyans in their masses are protesting the Finance Act of 2023. We do not expect our foreign friends to be apologists and accomplices of a terrorist state that uses the police force to murder peaceful tax protestors,” the Azimio leaders stated.
On corruption, the Azimio senators said they do not care how well Kenya compares against the most corrupt regimes., noting that Kenyans are aspirational and want to benchmark with the least corrupt.
“The KK administration has so far the worst record of interference in investigations and prosecution of corrupt officials. Those accused of corruption are acquitted as a rite of passage to the cabinet and higher echelons of power. Every other day Kenyans are waking up to new cases of corruption in the procurement of edible oil, water dams, fertilizer, road projects, medical supplies, health supplies, and many others,” they stated.
“None of these have been investigated and prosecuted successfully. We urge our friends from the US to be the consistent partner we have known in fighting corruption,” they stated.
The leaders said they are strongly convinced that Kenya is headed in the wrong direction, yet Ruto’s government ‘does not care what Kenyans feel as long as they have the praise and worship of foreign nations.’
“We believe that our electoral system is fundamentally flawed. We believe that our people are being taxed to poverty and death. We believe that corruption threatens the security and prosperity of our nation. It is for these reasons that we have agreed to the establishment of the National Dialogue Committee,” said Senator Wambua.
In his address, Mr Odinga said ten years of devolution have transformed Kenya, and counties were beaming with life. He said devolution has achieved in ten years what the national government was never able to achieve in 50 years.
“As far as devolution goes, my aspirations and that of governors are aligned. We may have differed, but when it comes to devolution, there shall never be an argument about the goal- but the method to achieving that goal,” he stated.
The challenges of unpredictable, low funding and delayed release of funds to counties however remain, he said, urging the Controller of Budget to stamp authority on the matter since the law provides a disbursement schedule.
“Treasury writing to CBK to release funds shouldn’t happen. CBK should implement the law- full stop,” he stated.
Further, Mr Odinga said there is a worrying clash of vision and responsibility between executive and county assemblies while noting that MCAs have real concerns like remuneration that need to be addressed.
The Opposition Leader also expressed concern that some devolved functions are still being held by the National Government, noting the power struggle between the National Government and counties needs to come to an end.
He also spoke to the issue of devolved corruption- noting that oversight seems to be concentrated at the national level.
“Corruption has been devolved, and it has also remained very big at the national level,” he stated.
The Opposition leader also urged counties to be innovative and creative and stop copy-pasting what the national government is doing.
“Governors have to be practical and back up pronouncements with actions at the level of policy,” he stated, urging them to also focus on setting up world-class investments in counties, including in the areas of labor-intensive manufacturing, infrastructure, and building a conducive business environment.