Uhuru moves to re-write history with Raila backyard

Jovial Uhuru declares deal with Raila is a long-term engagement that will “go into the future”.

In Summary

• Uhuru to launch multi-billion shilling projects, a first major opening of the purse to the region in decades.

• President called court ruling nullifying BBI a temporary setback.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, ODM leader Raila Odinga and Kisumu Governor Anyang' Nyong’o on Thursday May 27.
PLEDGE FRIENDSHIP: President Uhuru Kenyatta, ODM leader Raila Odinga and Kisumu Governor Anyang' Nyong’o on Thursday May 27.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has moved to end nearly five decades of hostility between Luos and the government as he seeks to end their cries of economic exclusion.

But Uhuru also surprised many observers and politicians, and disappointed some, when he declared his handshake with ODM leader Raila Odinga is a long-term arrangement that will “go into the future”.

The statement on Sunday came amidst expectations Uhuru could endorse Raila for the presidency to ‘repay the debt’ owed to the Odingas — going back to the role played by the Kenyatta and Odinga families at Independence.

Raila’s troops have stood with the government in Parliament against an onslaught by lieutenants of Deputy President William Ruto.

“I am here to thank my brother [Raila]. And I thank him because we are standing together. From when we said we shall unite Kenyans, my brother has stood firm,” Uhuru said at Wagai market in Gem, Siaya county.

During the tour, a chopper that had flown Raila and his entourage from Kisumu to Gem crashed shortly after dropping him and his entourage of four people.

The helicopter, a Bell 407 registration 5Y-PSM, had dropped Raila at Kudho Primary School when it attempted to lift off to create space for other aircraft.

“Unfortunately, it crashed. There were no fatalities as the pilot and others on board escaped with minor injuries,” Raila’s spokesman Denis Onyango sad.

Uhuru, who is on a tour of Nyanza ahead of the Madaraka Day fete in Kisumu, also rallied residents to back the Building Bridges Initiative, despite the court declaring it unconstitutional, null and void.

The ruling will be appealed.

“What is before us will be sorted out. I am sure if we have lawyers like James Orengo, can we be defeated really?” he asked.

Uhuru landed in Nyanza on Sunday for a three-day visit and is set to launch or commission at least 20 multibillion-shilling handshake projects—benefits that could change the fortunes of a region plagued by marginalisation.

The Truth Justice and Reconciliation report identified Nyanza as among regions that were economically excluded in a deliberate move by successive governments for being politically dissident.

At the launch of the Sh1.47 billion Kodiaga-Wagai-Akala road in his Siaya home county, Raila thanked Uhuru for bringing hope.

“You have brought smiles to the faces of these people,” Raila said amid cheers.

Some of Raila’s allies, who were once sworn Uhuru enemies, such as Embakasi East MP Babu Owino, have described Uhuru as “the best President Kenya has ever had”.

“I am extremely happy,” Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi said. “If you look at what was captured in the nine-point [BBI] agenda, a lot of steps have been made towards their realisation, including peace.

“I know many would look for developments but the handshake was more of the software than the hardware.”

For the first time, Uhuru will visit nearly all Nyanza counties — Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay and Migori — as he opens the government’s purse to the region.

On Sunday, the President also launched Sh2.4 billion Siaya-Bondo water supply and sanitation project. It’s estimated to serve 640,048 people. In Homa Bay, he will grant a charter to Tom Mboya University College and commission construction of the administration and tuition block at the university.

President Kenyatta will also witness the groundbreaking for the Sh2.5 billion Mbita-Sindo-Kiabuya-Karungu road and inspect the dredging of Mbita Causeway.

In Migori, Uhuru will commission the Sh3 billion Isebania-Ikerege-Kehancha-Ntimaru-Gwitembe-Ang’ata-Lolgorian road. He will approve Sh350 million for South Nyanza Sugar Company.

But Kisumu county will be the centre of his economic activities.

The President is expected to launch the Nakuru-Kisumu Metre Gauge Railway Line, the Kisumu Inland Container Depot and the Kisumu Passenger Train Terminus.

The railway line had been vandalised and the dream of rail transport was dead in the lakeside city.

He will also launch four feeder ports of Asembo Bay, Kendu Bay, Homa Bay and Sio Port, commission the Sh476 million Marine School and witness groundbreaking for the the Mamboleo-Muhoroni-Kipsitet road.

Uhuru will also launch the Sh3 billion revitalised Kisumu port, Sh25 billion Koru-Soin Dam, Sh599 million market complex and the Sh4.2 billion Lake Basin mall.

He will witness groundbreaking for construction of the Special Economic Zone at Miwani as well as groundbreaking for the construction of the East Africa Community Lake Victoria Basin Commission headquarters in Kisumu.

The EAC headquarters will cost $1.35 million (Sh145.3 billion). On Sunday, Uhuru spoke passionately about the Koru-Soin Dam, saying it will end perennial displacement by floods in Nyando areas.

“After two months, we will come back with my brother to commission the Koru dam to ensure Nyando will not burst its banks and displace people. The fruits of development come from peace and unity,” Uhuru stated.

The revitalisation of the port, which has been dormant since early 2000, started in 2019, a year after the truce between Uhuru and Raila.

The aim was to open up water transport, open business opportunities and connect Kenya to the Eastern Africa counties.

Led by the Kenya Navy, the works began with clearing the notorious hyacinth and refurbishment of the wagon ferry, the MV Uhuru, which had stalled for 15 years.

“KDF was given the task, especially the Kenya Navy. The estimated cost [of refurbishing the ferry) was about Sh1 billion but we spent Sh200 million. Initially KR wanted Sh2 billion for a new ferry,” Lieutenant Colonel Sokobe, a naval officer in charge of the works, told the Star.

The MV Uhuru, which has a carrying capacity of 22 wagons, ferries about two million litres of fuel per trip. Since the completion of its refurbishment three months ago, it has ferried 50 million litres of fuel to Jinja in Uganda.

From Jinja, the commodity is ferried by road to various parts of the region, including South Sudan and DR Congo. “If you are going to carry two million litres by road, you will require too many trucks, more than 50 trucks. You look at the pollution they cause and safety issues,” Sokobe said.

It takes about 12 hours for a trip to Jinja, he said, adding that the refurbished ferry has employed 30 people, including seven artisans and 23 crew.

Currently, dredging has increased the depth of the water to allow large and heavy passenger and cargo ships to dock.

With the launch of the Nakuru-Kisumu metre gauge railway, more cargo and passengers are expected to reach their destination in Uganda and other parts of East Africa through the water transport.

There are about six small privately owned ships that currently dock at the Kisumu port.

In yet another game changer, the government has established a shipyard at the port where ships will be repaired, refurbished and new one ones built.

The Kenya Shipyard Limited, in collaboration with the Kenya Navy and a Dutch company, Damen Civil Works, aims to refurbish stalled ship construction and build new vessels

Sokobe said construction of a MV Uhuru 2 would begin soon after the President launches the yard. It will take about six months to be complete. The cost is expected to be half that of importing a new one.

“We will only import the engine and navigation system. Our aim is to partner with Damen for the first four ships, then after that, we do it alone,” he said.

Metres away from the port, works at the new Uhuru Business Park Market Complex is complete.

The Sh599 million market on seven acres will accommodate  1,487 traders.

They will include hundreds of traders removed during the refurbishment of the port.

About 600 traders have been validated and allotted stalls in phase one of the validation process.

(Edited by V. Graham)