Two Presidents, Their Spokespeople & Our Money

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Two Presidents, Their Spokespeople & Our Money

Sometimes when one hears the figures politicians and their handlers bandy around in a country as unequal as Kenya, one can’t help but wonder, do these folks breathe the same air the rest of us breathe; do they eat the same ugali the rest of us eat; and do they eventually go to the lavatory (it surely can’t be a toilet, because how can someone casually throwing around such obscene figures go to the toilet just like the rest of us?) to let it all turn to waste? Do they breathe, eat and shit just like the rest of us? Do they? 

Or what is it, really, that they do with all this money?

Lately, we’ve seen this money-porn displayed in church fundraisers especially in the President’s Rift Valley backyard, where the President’s nouveau riche boys donning ill-fitting designer clothes (or are they being played and sold to bootleg?) are seen every other weekend carrying millions of shillings in cash donations to churches (are we praying to the same God?) as the rest of the country is reeling from the ever punitive tax regime while going deaf with the President’s endless talk of austerity.

However, it all came to a head when former Government Spokesperson and now Spokesperson for the Office of the Third Retired President, Kanze Dena, came out swinging with allegations (and apparent receipts) that President William Ruto’s State House has starved former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s retirement office of sustenance funds as stipulated in the Presidential Retirement Benefits Act of 2003. 

According to Kenyatta’s fired-up Spokesperson, after the former President drove off from the Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani after attending President William Ruto’s inauguration – where Kenyatta was harangued and humiliated by Ruto’s deputy Rigathi Gachagua for leaving state coffers empty – the former president has kept that very same motorcade to date, his predecessor not doing the needful to replace it, this alongside other fat perks as contained in the relevant legislation.

Luckily for Kenyatta, it seems, he isn’t a pauper. 

The former president, according to his Office, has supposedly paid out of pocket (he certainly doesn’t have shallow ones) for most of his official operations and occasional out of town jaunts, possibly hoping for reimbursements. This same pay-for-yourself attitude has allegedly been extended to the former president’s mother, Mama Ngina Kenyatta, who has the singular fortune of being both the wife of a former president and the mother of another. Having enjoyed state goodies as a former first lady, it all came to an abrupt ending, according to her son’s Office, after the Ruto regime took power and didn’t look at the Kenyatta’s – mother and son – with sympathetic eyes.

So now the Kenyatta’s are on their own. 

But even before the ink with which Kenyatta’s Spokesperson had used to write her treatise had dried up, Government Spokesman Isaac Mwaura hurriedly hit back by means of a two-pager posted on X, accusing Kenyatta of ‘‘wanting to be both landlord and tenant’’ and terming this ‘‘an adventure that the law abiding Kenya Kwanza government cannot engage in’’. Kenyatta’s Spokesperson responded. Are you giving us the funds or not? Say it. Or are you afraid to say it? Let’s get some popcorn. 

Of course the Government Spokesman was trying to be clever (maybe too clever for his own good?) by going as far as purporting to whistle-blow on the ‘‘staggering KSh 140 million’’ which Kenyatta was seeking to buy a ‘‘Range Rover Vogue (First Edition) at KSh 51.3 million, Mercedes Benz S500 worth KSh 66.4 million, Toyota Land Cruiser ZX-VXRK6 worth KSh 22.5 million and Toyota Fortuner at KSh 10.6 million’’. 

Yet, according to Kenyatta’s Spokesperson, the conversations about the purchase of a new fleet for the former president commenced in the early days of the Kenya Kwanza government, where, according to her, the vehicles were selected, down to their colours, which deliberations were undertaken in concert with State House. How then does Kenya Kwanza do an about-turn and attempt to distance itself from these oh so abruptly ‘‘staggering’’ figures which they were otherwise willing to underwrite?

Of course the law is the law and Uhuru Kenyatta deserves whatever he is entitled to under the law (even if it is flagrantly beyond our means), but what this tiff between Kenyatta’s Office and Ruto’s State House reveal is that as a country, much as leaders require requisite facilitation for purposes of executing their varied mandates, we have chosen to break the bank for purposes of giving our leaders, past and present, a life of milk and honey while millions of Kenyan taxpayers wallow in biting abject poverty. 

One wants to ask, if these are the figures pertaining to a former president, what are the numbers the current president is knocking off Kenya’s balance sheet? Is there a need to revise downwards the benefits accrued by former presidents, and should such a downward revision extend to sitting presidents (and other state mandarins) so that when they leave office, they aren’t as high maintenance as the case appears to be?

However, in all of this, the two things that can’t escape one’s mind are that time Uhuru Kenyatta was minister of finance and he asked cabinet ministers to trade-in their fuel guzzlers for Volkswagen Passats. It was a cost-cutting measure, Kenyatta reasoned. Yes, he later on became president and life changed, but does he not believe in the same Volkswagen-Passat kind of austereness? Or was it all just for show? 

As for William Ruto, does he not remember his lamentations about not being facilitated as deputy president after his fallout with his then boss Uhuru Kenyatta? Or is it payback time? And if Kenya Kwanza is so law abiding as the Government Spokesman would like Kenyans to believe, can’t the government honour its obligations to the former head of state, excluding the landlord-cum-tenant debacle until it is legally resolved? Must matters play out in the public gallery? And, will Kenyans seize the moment and ask their leaders to tighten their designer belts the same way the said tone-deaf leaders are asking Kenyans to tighten their makuti ropes (they can hardly afford belts)? 

Truly (and we’re not calling anyone a thief), there is no honour among thieves.

Maybe a little tutorial on José Mujica might help.

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