The President & His Deputy Sucked into Sugarcane Politics

President Uhuru Kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto have been deeply sucked into the multi-billion shillings sugarcane politics of the former Western Province as they fight to wrestle the region’s votes from the newly formed National Super Alliance (NASA).
Over the decades since the introduction of sugarcane farming in the Western Kenya region in the 1970s the sugarcane politics has made and destroyed the political careers of many politicians from the region.
Some of the prominent politicians whose careers were made because of the sugarcane factor include the late Elijah Mwangale, Elon Wameyo, Newton Kulundu, Joshua Angatia, the late Soita Shitanda, Amukowa Anangwe, Chris Okemo….the list is endless.
It has clearly emerged that the most targeted counties in the emerging political developments are Kakamega, Bungoma and Busia who comprise the largest voting blocs in the region – whose economic backbone and only cash crop is sugarcane farming since the mid-1970s to date.Since independence the region boasting of the second leading population in the country after the Gikuyu of central Kenya has been considered a highly divided and notoriously fractious voting population that makes it easy pick for those aspiring to win the Presidential seat of the country in any general election.
That status apparently reigned high during the regimes of the founding father of the nation the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, retired President Daniel Arap Moi until the 2002 first term election of the retired immediate former President Mwai Kibaki.
That is when the Western Kenya region’s voters rebelled en-masse against Moi’s Kanu and his choice of President Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor after coercingMusalia Mudavadi from the region to play second fiddle as Uhuru’s running mate in the 2002 general elections.
It is from this background that recent developments sucking the President and his deputy into the region’s sugarcane politics have become clearly manifest which have seen the defection of a number of MPs from sugarcane growing constituencies to Jubilee in the very recent months.
The heartland of the sugarcane growing in the former Western province is Kakamega County which boasts of three sugar factories led by the country’s leading sugar producer – the troubled giant Mumias Sugar Company, Butali Sugar Company and West Kenya Sugar Company or Kabras Millers Ltd.
President Kenyatta and his Deputy have already lured the MPs for Matungu David Were and Mumias East constituency Benjamin Washiali to defect to the ruling Jubilee from the political parties on whose tickets they were elected to parliament – the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and The United Democratic Front Party (UDF).
These constituencies are core suppliers of sugarcane to Mumias Sugar which President Kenyatta’s administration has tried to salvage from its debilitating financial woes with reportedly an accumulated loan of more than Kshs. 2 billion from his government but (MSC) is still reeling from the Sugarcane poaching crisis that has plagued the western Kenya region for more than 6 years.
The biggest irony of the whole business is that the group that engineered and triggered and the cane poaching crisis – the Rai Group belonging to Jaswant Rai and his son Tajveer Rai are reportedly close business associates not only to President Kenyatta but also retired President and Uhuru mentor Daniel Arap Moi.
The Rai Group had to resort to cane poaching to supply the raw material to its West Kenya Sugar Factory also known as Kabras Millers because they do not have contracted farmers to supply the crop nor have they ever invested in Sugarcane Development Propgrammes as required by law.
West Kenya/Kabras Millers is the second oldest sugar factory in Kakamega County after being establish in 1978 and the third being Butali Sugar Company whose establishment in the late 1990/2000 was spearheaded by former Malava MP and late cabinet minister Soita Shitanda.
Indeed like many elected leaders in sugarcane growing areas in Busia, Bungoma and Kakamega counties their stand in articulating and fighting for the interests of the sugarcane farmers plays a key role in determining their political careers.
The Rai Group is on record of wreaking havoc in the budding sugar industry business and sugar politics in Busia, where it first targeted poaching of sugarcane from farmers contracted to supply their crop to Mumias Sugar not forgetting it’s current engagement in running legal battles that almost crippled the construction of the first ever sugar factory and of it’s kind in Busia County by Busia Sugar Industries (BSI) a subsidiary of Africa Polysac Ltd near Busibwabo market of Matayos Sub-county.
The worst still has illegally constructed a factory at Olepito area near Tangakona town on the Busia – Mumias highway defying orders from the Agriculture Fisheries, and Food Authority (AFFA) to stop construction according to letters and documents in our possession.
What has emerged is that it is because of the powerful political connections both in and outside government that the group is seen to be funding of politicians’ campaigns and business deals that the group thrives.
These developments have thrown huge spanner wheels in the political works of Busia County since hundreds of thousands of farmers with contracts to supply sugarcane to BI are at the throats of their elected leaders.
They are demanding to know where they will take their crop when it matures since the many litigations engineered by the Rai Group have always stalled the construction of the company’s factory which was supposed to be completed before the end of last year.
With the 2017 general elections just around the corner the leading political leaders from the county who are on the spot over the problem are the Busia County Governor Sospeter Ojaamong, former Attorney General and senator Amos Wako, County Women Representative Florence Mutua, Matayos Legislator Geoffrey Odanga among other elective offices who have failed to defend the successful construction of the first factory in the county.
History of the county has shown that former Nambale MP and cabinet minister Chris Okemo was consigned to political oblivion after promising voters to secure investors to construct a factory at Nasewa area.
That was after the government had secured more than 800 acres of land at a cost of more than Kshs. 100 million in mid 1990s. for its construction but Okemo failed to do so in the three successive terms he served and was bundled out of politics in the 2013 elections.
The BSI has invested more than Kshs. 3.3 billion to construct the sugar processing facility in Busia County with the ability to crush more than 90, 000 tonnes of sugarcane per day.
Privides more than 1000 jobs and service more than 6000 sugarcane farmers and that is where the politicians squarely come into the public or voters wrath or favour – leave alone infrastructural development projects related to such facilities aside.
The story does not stop there since in Bungoma county matters appear to be even worse with the President and his Deputy’s involvement in the sale of the multi-billion shillings Pan-Paper Webuye paper processing mills at a throw away price of Kshs. 900 million.
The facility was sold to the same Rai Group which was also accused by Lugari MP Ayub Savula at an agricultural committee meeting of playing a role in the crippling of the Paper Mills through its multi-billion shillings timber business in neighbouring Eldoret town under the company name of Raiply Ltd.
Though the Uhuruto group has already captured the Bungoma County Governor Kenneth Lusaka to join the Jubilee bandwagon and other leaders like Musikari Kombo, Dr. Noah Wekesa and Sirisia MP John Waluke among others – the wrath of the county residents appears to be already stirring up at these developments.
The region’s sugarcane politics took center stage not just because of the hoodwinking over the Pan-Paper Mills deal alone, but also a sugar factory – it witnessed Deputy President Ruto and Governor Lusaka blocked from addressing a scheduled political rally to urge high voter registration in Bungoma town.
The situation is being made worse by reports that the government is planning to sell its majority shareholding in the County’s only Nzoia Sugar Company to the Rai Group.
The Group was also licensed by the former Kenya Sugar Board (KSB) to construct a new factory at Bilibili area in Bungoma County but failed to start construction.
Late last year saw two employees of Nzoia Sugar company killed and scores injured by suspected sugarcane poachers.
Some of the most critical questions being asked by some of the political leaders from the region are why President Kenyatta failed to waive the debts owed by sugar companies and farmers in the region like he did waive those of coffee farmers in central Kenya amounting to more than Kshs. 4 billion if he wants votes from the region?
Why his government did not waive Pan Paper Mills Kshs. 600 million debts to Kenya Power and Lighting (KPLC) but instead presided over its selling at a throw away Price? What business and political deals does the President and his deputy have with the Rai Group as they endeavor to entrench it in the Western Kenya as they traverse it to seek for votes?

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