By Hon. Martin Ogindo
On October 2, exactly 18 days after being elected and sworn into office, President William Ruto visited Homa Bay County to attend a church service.
While this visit would pass for a normal presidential excursion, it is dripping with political symbolism, considering that this was one of Dr. Ruto’s first foray outside Nairobi following his ascendancy to the highest office in the land. That the President chose Homa Bay, for a long time considered a hostile opposition zone, as his first local, post-inauguration destination, speaks volumes.
Homa Bay County, has not been a popular destination for past presidents, perhaps due to its reputation as a hotbed of opposition politics. Kenya’s founding president, Jomo Kenyatta was in office for 14 years, but probably visited the then Homa Bay District just twice, his relationship with the region having been considerably soured by the 1969 riots during the official opening of what was then known as Nyanza Provincial Hospital, in Kisumu.
During President Moi’s 24 years in office, he visited Homa Bay about four times in his official capacity. President Kibaki, during his 10-year tenure, visited Homa Bay twice, the first time to attend the burial of Hon. Orwa Ojode’s father.
A year later, he would make a trip to the Ndhiwa home of Hon. Ojode for the burial of the man – Hon. Ojode had died in a helicopter crash while serving as an Assistant Minister in President Kibaki’s office. Residents recall former President Uhuru Kenyatta visiting once in 2017 to launch the Mbita Bridge, at the height of his reelection campaign.
It is against this above backdrop that the historic visit by President Ruto should be seen. It is a powerful statement of intent, that President Ruto is willing to embrace and work with all political constituencies, including those that brazenly ranged against him in the last presidential poll.
Many will argue that this is as it should be. That the president is the head of state and government cannot be gainsaid beyond the eloquence of the Constitution 2010. The constitution goes further to describe the president as a symbol of national unity and gives him the responsibility of promoting and enhancingthe unity of the nation.
The president is the most senior public servant in Kenya, tasked with the onerous responsibility of keeping the country together. Once the president is elected and sworn into office, he becomes the servant of all Kenyans, regardless of their regional, ethnic or even political badges.
But beyond the letter and spirit of the Constitution, it is important to remember that the president is human. The president’s extensive development agenda for Kenya, and by extension Luo Nyanza, can only be optimally realized if the residents of the region and its leaders reach out for Dr. Ruto’s extended hand of cooperation rather than continue to wallow in the miasma of yesterday’s bitterness at perennial electoral loss at the national level and the monolithic, single-party political posturing.
It is the late President Moi who captured this truism best in his unforgettable “siasa mbaya, maisha mbaya” mantra.
The benefits of cooperating with the Ruto administration, which on current form, appears to mean well for the region, far outstrip the advantages, if any, of maintaining a hostile stance against the current regime. In any case, the role of opposition in Kenya has been institutionalized.
It is now the responsibility of parliament and county assemblies to keep both national and county administrations in check by providing effective oversight.
During his visit to Homa Bay County, President Ruto gave a glimpse of his development agenda for the county.
These include the construction of 5,000 affordable housing units in Homa Bay town, and he promised to launch the National Affordable Housing Project in the lakeside town next month; completion of the county capital’s sewerage system and the completion of a slew of water and road projects. Others include the introduction of better cotton seeds to improve farmers’ yields, the transformation of the county’s high potential, yet underdeveloped fishing industry and the construction of a modern technical institute in Homa Bay town.
Presidential goodwill is critical for the successful execution of these projects.This factor is not part of our constitutional writ, but it is too real to be ignored. This goodwill must be harnessed by the leaders and residents of the region.
(The writer is a former Rangwe MP and Green Congress Kenya party leader)