The Mt Kenya vs Rift Valley fights exposing Ruto’s government

Traders demonstrate outside Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua’s Harambee Annex office

Traders demonstrate outside Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua’s Harambee Annex office in Nairobi on February 28, 2023, demanding protection of their businesses against unhealthy competition from China Square. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Controversy surrounding China Square, a Chinese-owned retailer in Nairobi, has exposed how regional interests have ended up splitting President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza administration.

Top government officials and politicians – majorly from Mt Kenya and Rift Valley – have in the past taken contradicting positions over various policies in favour of their respective regions.

The two regions that joined forces in propelling Dr Ruto to the top seat have openly differed on the China Square issue, the duty-free importation of 10 million bags of GMO maize and the politically-charged election to East African Legislative Assembly (Eala).

In the current standoff, Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Korir Sing'oei was the first senior government official to tell off Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria for unfairly targeting the Chinese-owned retailer.

Lawmakers from Rift Valley and other regions have also openly called out Mr Kuria over his stance on the matter, accusing him of pursuing interests of his ethnic community at the expense of the general good of the country.

“No lawful investment actor – irrespective of their nationality – should be apprehensive because the country’s investment regime is non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory,” said PS Sing’oei.

Mr Kuria had announced that the government can only allow Chinese investors in the country as manufacturers and not as traders.

President William Ruto chats with Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Head of Public Service Felix Koskei

President William Ruto chats with Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Head of Public Service Felix Koskei during the Inaugural Retreat for Cabinet and Senior Ranks of the Executive at Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, Laikipia County.

Photo credit: PCS

“I have today given an offer to Prof Wainaina the VC Kenyatta University to buy out the lease for China Square, Unicity Mall and hand it over to the Gikomba, Nyamakima,Muthurwa and Eastleigh Traders Association. We welcome Chinese investors to Kenya but as manufacturers, not traders,” said Mr Kuria.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua later held talks with Nyamakima traders at his Harambee Annex office to listen to challenges facing their businesses, including the alleged invasion of the local market by Chinese investors.

This was in response to the traders, who had staged protests in the capital city demanding government protection from foreigners running businesses in the country.

Lawmakers drawn from Rift Valley and other regions told Sunday Nation that it was surprising that some government officials had turned their position into a platform to protect their regional interests.

“It is a plea to the Ministry of Trade and Industrialisation to have a structured engagement with the investors to resolve the matter without hurting their businesses since Kenya has a policy enabling an equitable no-bias and protective to business environment for trade and investment in the country,” said Nandi Senator Samson Cheragei.

He added: “Kenya is a signatory to a number of multilateral and bilateral trade investment and a member of World Trade Organization (WTO) and other trade arrangements in Africa and other parts of the world. We have well established foreign companies operating Kenya such as Carrefour chain of supermarkets, McDonalds, Quickmatt supermarket.”

Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang said the move by some senior government officials to pursue regional interests is dangerous as it risks tearing the country apart.

“We are either a free market economy or a socialist state. It is unfortunate that whenever interests of Mt Kenya are threatened we revert to socialist and import substitution mode, yet when other Kenyans’ interests are threatened we insist on supply and demand forces,” said Mr Kajwang’.

President Dr William Ruto, first lady Rachel Ruto, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and his spouse Dorcas Gachagua

President Dr William Ruto, first lady Rachel Ruto, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and his spouse Dorcas Gachagua at Nyayo Stadium Nairobi on Tuesday, February 14, 2023, during a prayer meeting.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

“These are the things that will tear this country apart. Investment policy should never be based on tribe or race. When we complained of Chinese fish imports killing the livelihoods of local fishermen, we were told to respect forces of supply and demand. Today they are upset because Chinese bras are killing the livelihoods of Nyamakima traders. In Kenya, fishermen rank lower than Mau Mau,” he added.

Similar views were shared by Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi, who accused some officials of making roadside declarations not backed by Cabinet approval.

He said the officials are keen on pleasing their regions at the expense of the general good of the country.

“The problem is that their policy pronouncements are not preceded with Cabinet and stakeholders’ engagements. One faction sponsors demonstrations by small traders to pursue tribal interests while the other does damage control through media stunts. Trial and error is the order of the day in this regime,” said Mr Ososti.

But Jubilee Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni said the Kenya Kwanza administration has no interest in supporting business ventures owned by people from Mt Kenya.

He said some officials in the current regime opposed the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) that had proposed more money to the region through the one-man-one-shilling provision.

“The writing is on the wall. Mt Kenya region is taken for granted by the Kenya Kwanza administration. It is the same team that opposed the BBI that had recommended more money to the region. The agenda of UDA has very little to do with the community interests,” said Mr Kioni.

In November last year, leaders from Rift Valley took Mr Kuria head on over his directive for duty-free importation of 10 million bags.

Mr Kuria had accused farmers from the region of hoarding the produce amid a biting shortage.

The government later backed down to allow the farmers to sell their produce first before allowing imports.

“In honour of our nation’s sacred duty to our farmers, the Cabinet resolved that the farmers' produce will be accorded priority access to the market. The importation by the private sector will commence in February 2023 and it shall be incentivised by way of a customs duty waiver,” said President Ruto.

A similar split characterised Eala election after Mt Kenya legislators ganged up to elect Mwangi Maina in total defiance to a lineup that had been agreed upon at State House in a meeting chaired by Dr Ruto.

The region had missed out from the party-backed regional assembly nominees, forcing them to plot a scheme that saw one of Dr Ruto’s preferred candidates dropped to have a member from Mt Kenya.

Immediately after the Kenya Kwanza Parliamentary Group (PG) meeting that had taken place at State House was concluded, Mt Kenya leaders, feeling short-changed by their Rift Valley counterparts, decided to chart a different path.

In the vote, most of them had felt disgruntled and short-changed by Rift Valley MPs, who decided not to support one of their own.


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