Stakes high as battle for Kibera hots up
As noise surrounding ODM’s proposed referendum dies down, Nairobi’s Kibera slum is gradually emerging as the new battleground of a supremacy war pitting President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition chief Raila Odinga.
In less than a week, the two leaders have separately visited the area which has long been the political backyard of Mr Odinga. He represented the larger Kibera constituency in Parliament for two decades.
President Kenyatta has visited Kibera twice in two months. The latest visit was two Saturdays ago when he made an unscheduled stop to check on progress the National Youth Service (NYS) has made in rehabilitating the slum’s infrastructure.
And last Wednesday, Mr Odinga visited the area and told his supporters it had always been his intention to improve their welfare, but the projects now being rolled out by Mr Kenyatta could not be realised then because successive governments deliberately refused to allocate the necessary funds.
“We are glad that after refusing to channel funds to Kibera when he was the Finance minister, he has now seen the light and is doing so,” Mr Odinga said of the ongoing works.
Mr Kenyatta was Finance minister in the last government.
But Ruaraka MP Tom Kajwang sees mischief in the government’s sudden interest in Kibera. He said that through Devolution Secretary Anne Waiguru’s office, the government has devised a strategy to discredit opposition leaders. “Kibera is just the starting point,” he said.
“What you see in Kibera is part of a broader scheme to ruin our image and snatch the support we have from the people. The Devolution ministry is the driver of this, and soon you will see them even in my constituency and other ODM zones across the country telling them how much we have been a letdown to them.”
And National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale does not rule out such a possibility.
“Kibera is not somebody’s village; neither does it belong to anybody or one community. It belongs to all Kenyans who must access services like other citizens.
“And what is wrong if we had a strategy like this? Why would we not consolidate our support and reach out to new allies? There is no crime if we sold our policies across the board,” he said.
He sses the next election as being about issues and track records so that if someone in the Opposition feels that Jubilee has addressed his or her plight, then they are free to join the party. Mr Duale said Kibera is an eyesore and blamed successive governments for doing little to upgrade infrastructure there.
“For years, the area has lacked basic facilities like water, housing, and security, and what you see happening there is aimed at correcting all that,” he said.
Kibera has for many years supported Mr Odinga politically, and the increased interest by the Jubilee-run government is causing jitters in the Opposition.
On the evening of November 12, seven Nairobi ODM MPs met to discuss the matter at Mr Kajwang’s office in Continental House. They are said to have discussed ways of countering the onslaught from the Jubilee juggernaut.
Before the project began, there were fears within government that NYS officers would be kicked out of the slum, which did not happen. The scepticism emanated from a number of MCAs from the area who voiced their opposition to the exercise, questioning its motive.
Area MP Ken Okoth explained why they embraced the project.
“We learnt in 2007/08 that you cannot beat a government that has got bullets and guns when you only have stones and sticks to fight. We are a lot wiser now.”
However, he said the presence of NYS teams in Kibera has had a positive impact on households.
“The project has offered a source of livelihood to 2,000 youths. They each get Sh2,000 every week as compensation for the work they do,” he said.
Mr Okoth said Jubilee should not be crucified for playing politics with the initiative.
“They are doing what is normal in this game (politics); you cannot blame them for playing politics here. What we need as the Opposition is to set the bar higher,” he said.