Uhuru Fishing in Troubled Waters of Western Kenya

UHURU RAILA MUDAVADIPresident Uhuru Kenyatta is set in the next two weeks to storm the Busia County which has become the roiling epicenter of the boiling Luhyia political equation in the country’s leadership come 2017
general elections as well as the other three counties of the region.

As at the last general elections the county was considered an Orange Democratic Movement (ODM)party and by extension Cord coalition zone, but the recent political explosions triggered by the resignation of the party’s national leaders from the county has put that contention into extremely serious jeopardy.

The departure of Budalangi constituency’s legislator Ababu Namwamba and his Funyula constituency colleague Paul Otuoma as ODM secretary general and vice national chairman respectively have played a role in setting Busia County as the epicenter of the luhyia political equation in the country’s leadership at the next general elections.

The other critical equation is the geographic strategic location of the county on the Kenya – Uganda border and what it portends for landlocked Uganda’s and Kenya’ cross border economic/political interests considering the close relationships between Uhuru and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.

That aside President Uhuru Kenyatta is heading to embroil himself in western Kenya’s politics seeking to tap into what is considered an extremely powerful and determining vote in any general elections in the country- being the second largest block by any community second to his own community from central Kenya.

Though over the years, the western Kenya vote comprising of the most populous Luhyia communities, the Teso, mostly from Busia and Bungoma counties, the Mt. Elgon Maasai among others has always been considered fractious, this time round the leaders from the region want to use the power of that vote for political bargain at the national leadership level.

The threats to scuttle ODM domination in the region have since seen the party’s and Cord coalition leader Raila Odinga traverse the region’s four counties and particularly Busia to try and contain the possible damage, but ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi From Vihiga and COTU boss Francis Atwoli are way ahead in consolidating the powerful vote of the region as a single block for one of their own.

Though President Kenyatta’s planned tour of the region is widely touted as a tour of government development projects in the region, it is from this political background and considerations that he will face extremely hard questions to answer following the virtual collapse of the region’s economic backbone – sugarcane farming and sugar production.

The most burning questions are the continuing deadly threats on the very survival of the country’s leading sugar producer with the highest ultra modern technology, Mumias Sugar Company of Kakamega County despite the government having so far pumped in more than Kshs. 2 billion loan as a bailout of its financial mess.

The other critically threatened sugar companies in the region are Nzoia Sugar Company in Bungoma and Butali sugar Company in Kakamega county all of which have over the decades played a critical role in sugarcane farming in Bungoma, Busia and Kakamega counties as the only cash crop and economic lifeline of the region.

The biggest threat to the very survival of the industry is the rampant sugarcane poaching crisis that was triggered and is sustained by none other than West Kenya Sugar Company whose factory is located in Kabras area of Kakamega County but without any contracted sugarcane farmers as required by law since its establishment in 1978 – hence poaching cane from farmers’ contracted to rivals.
The crowning problem of this equation is that it has been widely reported in the country that President Kenyatta has close business ties with the owner of West Kenya Sugar Company, Mr. Taj Rai who is operating with callous impunity in the woes that are facing the region’s economic lifeline.

The story does not stop there since it is well documented that the Eldoret based Rai Ply played a critical role in the collapse of the Webuye based Panpaper Mills, the leading newsprint and papers producing giant in the Eastern Africa region that has since been sold back to Mr. Rai and company at a pittance.

Even as President Uhuru may be forced to face these issues during his tour of the region, apart from Busia County’s roiling epicenter of the region’s politics in the leadership of the country after the next general elections, it also remains the epicenter of the bitter, violent and deadly sugarcane poaching crisis triggered, engineered and sustained by West Kenya Sugar Company.

The company has gone ahead to illegally construct a sugarcane factory at Olepito area near Tangakona without getting the authority to do so from the Agriculture Food, and Fisheries Authority (AFFA) and above all the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) despite being warned to stop it.

The former AFFA boss Rose Mkok wrote to Mr. Rai to issue the warning and orders to stop his company from going ahead with the illegal factory construction in a letter dated 8th April 2015 and copied to the relevant government authorities.

Today as President Uhuru Kenyatta prepares to go to the ground to seek votes from the culprits of Taji Rai’s destruction of the region’s economic backbone, the illegal factory is near completion at the site less than a kilometer from Tangakona trading centre along the Busia – Mumias highway, while a few Kiloetres away in Busibwabo the only legally authorized sugar factory owned by Busia Sugar Industries is in extremely big problems.

The BSI after getting the legal authority from the relevant government authorities invested more than Kshs. 6 billion to construct the factory at Busibwabo which was supposed to have been completed by March this year to begin production, but this was not to be.

West Kenya operatives who allegedly have close business ties with state house immediately embarked on vicious legal battles using bribed local characters to stop the construction of the facility leading to delays, expensive extraneous expenses and huge financial losses the investor has been forced to incur.

The operatives even after losing their own legal battles in court against the BSI factory through the support of West Kenya and its lawyer a Mr. Olendo deliberately go back to the same law courts with fresh suits or appeals to derail the construction process thus denying Busia county the first ever factory to grace the soils of the county for which the local residents have been fighting to get since 1990s.

Without the successful construction and effective operationalization of any sugar factory in the county, the story remains the same that the county’s economic backbone just like in neighbouring Kakamega and Bungoma counties has been effectively crushed.

Therefore as President Kenyatta tours the region, is he going to put at stake his businesses interests with Mr. Taj Rai on the backburner and the larger ones of the voters with the most powerful block that can easily deny him the presidency to the fore to save the region’s tattered economic backbone? Is Mr. Rai going to be allowed to get away with illegally executed activities with impunity?

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