Keen eyes must have noted that President Uhuru Kenyatta has shifted his focus and is keen on assuaging his Central Kenya backyard following rising disquiet among supporters who feel abandoned.
Following National Intelligence Service advice, he postponed his Mt Kenya tour planned for early last month with ODM boss Raila Odinga. Their joint debut tour was intended to popularize their handshake on March 9. 2018.
Two weeks ago, the NIS briefed the President on growing disenchantment in the region that voted for him overwhelmingly in the last two elections. He was warned not to tour before addressing concerns of residents unhappy with his administration.
The highly classified intelligence reports are said to have informed Uhuru’s decision to put off the visit with his newfound political darling Raila Odinga.
Fearing pockets of hostility, the President and his handlers put off the tour to allow for consultations to understand the sudden change from affection to antipathy.
The President is said to have ordered Interior PS Karanja Kibicho to lead a form a team of government officials, a few businessmen and politicians from the region to devise a strategy to turn the tide in his favour.
The Kibicho team, including Starehe MP Charles Njagua, advised the President on a number of strategies, including addressing trade concerns.
An elected MP from Murang’a county who declined to be named for fear of reprisals confirmed that Central region is no longer at ease.
“It is true we have had issues so bad that any trip by the President may be overshadowed. This is a serious situation that must be addressed,” he said.
He went on, “We have told the President that our people are unhappy and must be listened to. I am happy he has heeded this call and we are seeing some actions. Issues we have agreed on will be rolled out soon.”
Critics say the President no longer enjoys the massive support he had when he rode to power in 2013. Today the region’s leaders accuse his administration of abandoning them.
Politicians murmur that the President has neglected key sectors that formed the backbone of the vote-rich region.
For instance, politicians argue that since Uhuru took office in 2013, his home turf has not benefited from massive infrastructure projects or incentives to spur economic growth.
Business tycoons from Murang’a, Kiambu and Nyeri counties have also accused the Jubilee administration of punitive and restrictive policies that have hampered their growth.
Uhuru’s critics say his regime has stifled the hitherto flourishing business enterprises run by members of his Kikuyu community.
For instance, the coffee and tea economic sectors are dead and some farmers threatening to uproot the crops.
Further, the tough anti-counterfeit policies targeting imports hits hard small-scale traders from the region, especially in the second-hand clothes and spare parts industry.
The growing disaffection forced Uhuru to issue three crucial policy directives aimed at arresting the situation.
During an impromptu tour of the Embakasi Inland container depot on May 27, the President ordered the release of billions of shillings of goods that had been confiscated.
“Traders have been lamenting that their businesses are suffering because of the delays here at the depot. We have agreed that all containers that have not been cleared be released within three weeks so traders can continue their businesses,” Uhuru announced.
He added, “All consolidators now have to be vetted and gazetted by KRA… Those trying to use shortcuts let them be kicked aside and let us have diligent people doing business.”
The goods seized included electrical appliances, sportswear and motor vehicle spare parts, among others said to have come from East Asia.
The President’s visit to the depot was a response to the cries from businessmen over the long wait for clearance despite the SGR’s freight services that have revived the depot.
To further placate his support base, the President ordered KRA and the Kenya Bureau of Standards not to reinspect goods imported to Kenya after their appointed agents have done so in the countries of origin.
“Imported goods, therefore, should not be subjected to additional inspection at the port of entry except for cases legitimately suspected not to conform to the set standards,” Kenyatta said at Madaraka Day celebrations following the uproar from small traders.
At the same time, the President’s directive that the government settles all pending bills due to suppliers by the end of June was seen as a major win for businesses that have been grounded due to non-payments.
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