When I last wrote on this space arguing that Kenyans are ready for mature politics, doubting Thomases thought it was funny yet this is just beginning to unfold today, courtesy of the controversial sugar deal 17 months to the elections. I doubt whether they still doubt.
The brouhaha over sugar was godsend for Kenya’s democratic maturity. One reason I mentioned in my last article regarding why Kenyans are likely to witness issue-based politics is because they are fed-up with politics of promises and rhetoric, which is why the Opposition’s move to expose potential corruption is a good sell to prospective voters.
The deal is a good political issue for politicians and the electorate to explore their level of maturity as Kenyans approach the 2017 elections.
The other reason is the fact that the Jubilee administration has created a business-friendly environment that has seen Kenya emerge as a leading investment destination in East Africa and, increasingly, as a gateway to Africa.
This is why Jubilee has premised the sugar deal with Uganda on the need to trade with friendly neighbours to fulfil the East African Protocol that allows countries in the EAC to export surplus products to meet production deficits elsewhere or those that have deficits to import so as to meet their production requirements under the rule of free and fair trade.
Kenyans should be made aware that the balance of trade between Kenya and Uganda is in favour of Kenya, a reality that would make Uganda uncomfortable at a time when their sugar is being rejected in Kenya.
Therefore, the controversial sugar deal has opened up a public sphere that has enabled Kenyans to contribute on how they would want to do business with their neighbours.
Kenya is the political and economic hegemon in East Africa and therefore, it ought to show sober leadership in matters that touch on the common East African market.
This kind of leadership was displayed when Kenya’s tourism players had problems with their Tanzanian counterparts, leading to an amicable solution to the crisis. But many observers seem to have missed the point in the sugar debates and failed to question one crucial issue: political maturity vis-AÂ -vis questions of citizens’ rights and civil liberties.
The controversial sugar affair has given a golden opportunity to both the ruling coalition and the Opposition to display their political maturity when it comes to the right of Kenyans to be involved in the affairs of their nation.
The Opposition seems to have read my article informing them of the importance of political consistency and the dangers of flip-flopping on issues.
The sugar debate is an important issue touching, not only on the livelihood of sugar-cane farmers, but also of consumers.
Therefore, the Opposition raised the red flag on behalf of farmers and consumers of the product to safeguard them against barons keen to exploit a good deal under sophisticated corruption and wheeler-dealing in the name of common market protocols.
There are no reasons why the government should not consider such gatekeeping progressive and come out clean about the details of the deal, in order to build consensus and forge a win-win scenario. This would spare them the winner-take-all label characteristic of African politics.
For sugarcane farmers, it appears as if the problem will take many generations to cure. Therefore, players in the sugar industry should ask themselves tough questions related to their livelihoods.
Sugarcane takes over four years to grow and harvest, and it is unfortunate if farmers can wait that long only to lose out. Is over-dependence on sugar-cane alone really worth it?
In sugarbelt sub-counties such as Rongo, where Rongo University is located, sugar-cane farmers are transforming their farms into hostels as they take advantage of the newly established college.
Others are venturing into mixed and animal farming to supplement sugarcane. As for sugar consumers, it would be wiser to question the health benefits of sugar.