Sugar – the New Platform for Kenyan and Regional Politics [opinion] (

Many in Kenya including myself may have had difficulties agreeing with the opposition on countless issues but not that on sugar. The trade agreement under which Kenya is to import sugar from Uganda – be it cheaply, expensively or otherwise – is a betrayal, a sellout and a deliberate move to kill the sugar industry in the country.

Signed in Kampala last week by Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni, the agreement is a political gimmick.

Under the agreement, Kenya is to export milk and beef to Uganda and import sugar from the country. The deal is as telling as it is intriguing. Firstly, Uganda is a sugar deficient country – which makes the agreement laughable.

Let us call a spade a spade. The agreement is a disguise under which scrupulous Kenyan business people want to use Uganda to smuggle cheap imported sugar, and in the process kill the sugar industry in Kenya. Sugar has been used as a political tool before – a means of raising money for political campaigns. That we could be seeing a repeat of the game is nothing surprising.

Admittedly, trade agreements are a give-and-take affair. Materially, Uganda is taking something and giving nothing in return in the present instance.

Curiously, as the sugar storm arising from the Kampala agreement rages in Kenya, Uganda has maintained a studious silence. In and of itself this speaks volumes. The country from the look of things appears to have agreed to be used as a cover, seemingly because of some huge benefit to Museveni personally. What must be acknowledged though is – the Kampala trade agreement is a political gimmick that has turned sugar into the platform on which Kenyan, and to a certain extent East African politics, are going to be played for sometime.

Call it ‘sugar politics’ if you may. But before we can indulge in the ‘sugar politics’, we need to appraise ourselves of the imperatives of President Kenyatta’s recent state visit to Uganda that culminated in, among others, the signing of the Kampala agreement. The visit and agreement were part of not just Kenyan but economies and politics of the East African region. This needs to be put into perspective.

The journey starts with Uhuru’s address to the Ugandan Parliament. In his address, the President called for closer  political integration of the region, a subject that is close to the hearts of the peoples of East Africa, but to which leaders have apparently continued to render little more than lip service.

That Uhuru should have chosen the subject for the occasion is nothing surprising. Only we need remind ourselves his host’s dream and desire to become the first President of a politically integrated East Africa is public knowledge. And as to why Uganda could only afford to take something and not give any in return, we have to resort to history.

History is in the habit of reminding us of what we might either deliberately or otherwise be tempted to sweep under the carpet. It is the case that the authors of the Kampala agreement may well have been influenced more by the need to – on the one hand – reward Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni for what may have been a favour done another day (the reader only has to jog his or her frame of reference). And on the other mete out a collective punishment on parts of Kenya, presumably because leaders from these areas have persistently challenged the Kenyan government and by extension those of the East African region on governance, and a wide range of issues.

Poignantly, Uhuru and Museveni share uniquely similar political situations – both are confronted by overly belligerent and stubborn opposition.

Incidentally, the two also have common enemies in the persons of Raila Odinga and Moses Wetang’ula, two of the co-principals of Cord and residents of Western Kenya -home to not just the Kenyan sugar industry, but the mainstream opposition in the country.

To the foregoing should be added the Tanzania factor to enlarge the picture. Jakaya Kikwete, the outgoing President of Tanzania, is no fan of third-term President, the mania that is sweeping through East Africa (President Museveni is past his third term as President and nobody knows what Uhuru could be thinking). Dr John Pombe Magufuli, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi candidate, and by far the likeliest of candidates to clinch the Tanzanian Presidency in elections scheduled for this October, is a bidding friend of Raila.

Not so long ago and somehow out of the blue, the media reported President Uhuru was frantically seeking to win over Magufuli to his side. The prevailing circumstances being what they are, such other side from where Uhuru would seek to remove the Tanzanian leader can only be the one known side – Raila’s.

Soon after the story, Uhuru went for his penultimate state visit to Uganda. That the pending Tanzanian elections and the Magufuli factor could and must have been a subject of intense discussions between what appears to be a mentor President and his loyal political student, is a matter best left to common sense to handle. The Kampala meeting appears to have been either wholly or in part driven by the perception that were Magufuli to clinch the Tanzanian Presidency, chances are he would give the opposition both in Kampala and Nairobi a welcome breathing space. Clearly, what we are seeing are efforts by Uhuru and Museveni to nip opposition – be it in Kenya or Uganda – in the bud. Similarly, the two are also in concurrence in the devilish move to subject Western Kenya to economic sabotage and political division.

But while East African regional politics – as presumably discussed at the Kampala summit – is of a nature that could be left to common sense, that of sugar cannot. The Kampala agreement has taken the political dimension of sugar to a level never seen before. Whereas the events in Kampala may have, quietly, slipped away under the cover of decorum that goes with such occasions, in Kenya the agreement has unleashed a storm – the life or an end of which lies squarely with Uhuru and his Jubilee administration.

Those on the Jubilee side of the political divide do not seem to see anything wrong with the agreement. They have cheered and showered the government with praises in equal measure over the deal, putting up one of the strongest defensive walls ever seen in Kenya in recent times. Call it defending the indefensible, but this has become a major characteristic of Kenyan politics.

In defending the government over the sugar deal, William Ruto, the Deputy President, has reinforced sugar as the Jubilee administration’s now preferred political platform. To his mind, woes besetting the sugar industry trace to the opposition some of whose elite members (he claimed) owe Mumias Sugar Company, the leading sugar miller in the country, millions of shillings.

“Those playing sugar politics to gain political mileage will not succeed – they are the same people who brought Mumias Sugar to its knees and are now purporting to champion its cause,” Ruto, was quoted in the local media. He said this in reference to the leader of Cord – Raila Odinga’s condemnation of the Kampala deal. Predictably, Raila retorted to the accusation by way of counter accusation and describing Ruto as the “High Priest” of graft in the country.

The tag “sugar politics” is not without justification. Indications are the Jubilee administration and its friends in, among others, Museveni, are using sugar to achieve political ends. These, it would seem, include a deliberate economic sabotage and the creation of divisions both in Cord and the peoples of Western Kenya.

Recall the Machiavellian Philosophy – if you want to subjugate a people, you impoverish them, then they will forever be grateful to you for whatever little you allow them to have. Uhuru and Museveni must be out to suppress Western Kenya politically. Sugar is the lifeline of the region. One only has to kill the industry to bring the region down on its knees economically. Suggest the foregoing is the agenda being pursued by the two East African leaders, and many will go along.

Immediately he returned from Kampala, Uhuru invited members of Parliament from Western Province to State House. Unfortunately for the President and his associates, the MPs declined the invitation. One only has to read between the lines to know what the motive behind the invitation was – turn the MPs against those of other sugar-growing regions in the country.

By virtue of the Kampala agreement, Uhuru and his Jubilee administration have rewarded parts of the country but mortgaged Western Kenya. If not, literally switched off oxygen for the part of the country to choke and die. Very strange indeed.


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