MPs gang up against Uhuru

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Senate Minority Leader James Orengo. PHOTO/COURTESY

In Summary

  • The Siaya senator said it is unacceptable that Kenya had not quite figured out how to address the perennial floods in western Kenya.
  • Mr Mbadi termed the government’s reaction towards coronavirus as inadequate, faulting it for ignoring the plight of flood victims.

Allies of Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga have ganged up against President Uhuru Kenyatta over his handling of Covid-19 pandemic and floods, which have claimed more than 190 lives.

In their unity, probably for the first time since the March 2018 handshake between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, the lawmakers poked holes in what they said was the government’s disjointed response.

In the moment, the foes — one side having recently shown fierce, unquestioning loyalty to President Kenyatta, and the other stung by what they see as a continued isolation of their kingpin — came together in what was the most stinging criticism of the president in recent times.

Senate Minority Leader James Orengo, his National Assembly counterpart John Mbadi, and Minority Whip Junet Mohamed, separately, but in what looked like a coordinated message, led calls for a proper response, telling the House to demand accountability on the use of coronavirus funds.

“If it was in democracies that have matured, this government would have resigned. We would have had a general election now. If you cannot defend your people from floods, and you cannot buy them masks, you don’t even deserve to be called government,” Mr Mohamed said, his most direct attack at the centre of Jubilee’s power in a long time.

“This government has not done anything, except announcing numbers every day at 3 o’clock. It cannot be business as usual and we keep quiet. This is a government that could not even bother to give its citizens masks, let alone food. We were told there will be free hand sanitisers, where are they?” he asked.

PERENNIAL FLOODS

The Suna East MP told the House to “stand firm and hold this government accountable.”

“That people can sit in an office and use Sh4 million for tea and snacks when people are dying of hunger and floods is extremely shameful. Shame! Shame!” he said.

At the Senate, Mr Orengo, another key Odinga confidant, had one message for President Kenyatta’s government: wake up!

“The Jubilee government must wake up! You should get together. You got only two years to go. Wake up!” a passionate Mr Orengo said.

The Siaya senator said it is unacceptable that Kenya had not quite figured out how to address the perennial floods in western Kenya, especially in Nyando, Kisumu County, and Budalang’i in Busia County.

“These internal differences in Jubilee are making it difficult for Jubilee as a government to react to situations that are perennial, and expected,” Mr Orengo said, making reference to an increasingly public cold war pitting President Kenyatta and his deputy.

“You find situations where ministers in the same government cannot sit together. MPs cannot sit together. Even here, I know people who cannot sit together.”

Mr Mbadi, on the other hand, termed the government’s reaction towards coronavirus as inadequate, faulting it for ignoring the plight of flood victims.

“Even if the government has relaxed because of the handshake, let them be reminded that the minority is still there and will continue to play its oversight role,” he said.

EVICTIONS

Following the handshake on the steps of Harambee House in 2018, opposition MPs had led a praise choir for the ruling party, often ganging up with Uhuru-allied leaders against Dr Ruto.

On the deputy president’s side, Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, Majority Whip Susan Kihika and National Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Kimani Ichung’wa went all-out on President Kenyatta.

“I shall no longer be an apologist for a government that is not delivering on the mandate we elected it for,” Mr Ichung’wah told MPs on the floor of the House on Wednesday.

The Kikuyu MP said if Cabinet secretaries come before committees with unsatisfactory answers, “send them back to the ones who appointed them to disappoint them”, warning that the budget estimates and general government response “was so ordinary in a time when we are facing extraordinary times of coronavirus, floods and hunger”.

Ms Kihika complained that “common sense was no longer common” in regards to the evictions in Nairobi, while Mr Murkomen has been a vocal opponent of the transfer of functions of the Nairobi County to the national government.

“When you find a government that is illegally evicting 5,000 people at a time of a pandemic in a city that has so many cases of Covid-19 and during a rainy season, then you wonder: who is making decisions and are they really using any common sense or is common sense no longer common?” asked Ms Kihika.

“The militarisation of a civilian county government is the worst form of violation. Nairobi County has been militarised. It is no longer a civilian government,” said Mr Murkomen.

WATCHDOG ROLE

Political analyst Javas Bigambo said the seemingly coordinated messages, especially with references to the handshake and calls for resignation, send a deeper message.

“Fearing that they will be trapped in the fog of the handshake, Raila and ODM are trying to pass a message that in the event things go south towards 2022, they want to be on record for having remained concerned on key issues, and calling Uhuru’s bluff on the economy and Covid-19,” Mr Bigambo said.

Mr Mark Bichachi, another commentator, however, disagrees. “Parliament is not a place for people to complain about government. This is not about the rise of opposition or even the handshake. It is just for the cameras to show Kenyans that Parliament is working,” he said.