Exclusive: President Uhuru on why he is not taking his rivals lightly

President Uhuru Kenyatta PHOTO:COURTESY

President Uhuru Kenyatta says he is not taking his opponents for granted as he seeks re-election.

He described the remaining time before the General Election as nine weeks of hard work as he seeks to convince voters to give him a second term, with a promise of better days ahead.

In an exclusive interview with The Standard, Uhuru said his confidence should not be mistaken for complacency.

“Although I am confident, believe me, I am not complacent. I am an optimist by nature and I believe Kenya’s best days lie ahead,” Uhuru said as he hopes to ride on the Jubilee government’s achievements to remain in office.

Asked if the Opposition, united behind National Super Alliance (NASA) presidential candidate Raila Odinga, worried him, the President said: “If I say I am not, I would be accused of complacency.”

But he described the Opposition as a group of individuals in a desperate hunt for power.

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The President spoke of his government’s achievements, the role of smaller parties and the fight against corruption.

Critics have accused Jubilee of massive corruption, pointing to the alleged Sh250 billion Eurobond scandal. Questions have also been raised about the Sh327 billion Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), Sh5 billion Ministry of Health scandal, Sh791 million National Youth Service scam and Sh8 billion Karen land scandal.

Q: What is your greatest achievement and biggest challenge as you come to the end of your term?

A: Transforming the economy and ensuring that Kenya is ready for a homegrown industrial revolution. When we started this journey in 2013, we were driven by hope. We dreamed of uniting Kenyans and making them proud of their country. We wanted to ensure dignity for the vulnerable and all of us to share in the prosperity of Kenya.

We have achieved a lot – over two million people are connected to electricity. We have thousands of kilometres of new roads and over 1.2 million women gave birth in public hospitals without paying a shilling. We have also ensured that children don’t pay exam fees besides implementing digital literacy programmes.

Having joined Kenyans on the maiden voyage of the Madaraka Express from Mombasa to Nairobi in half the time it once took, and with the promise that the cost of travel will be affordable, I would say Kenya is on the move towards a bright future.

Providing jobs is at the heart of Government. If people have jobs, they will be able to provide for their families. For this to happen, we are building infrastructure that makes business possible. We are also making it easier for investors to open up businesses.

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However, what I am most proud of is the work we have all done to heal the wounds of the past and unite Kenyans. That means a lot to me.

Q: Now that you have been cleared by the Inependent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, what is your message to Kenyans and why should they re-elect you?

A: For four years, we focused on laying the foundation for transforming this country. We knew if we got the foundation right, this country would take off. Kenyans can see for themselves what we have done – from the energy sector to health and education.

Over the next five years, we want to build on that foundation. We want to create more jobs for our young people. This means we should give them the right education and skills. This will take Kenya to the next level. That is why, from January 2018, secondary school education will be free. We will also increase our support for technical institutions. We will also work with the private sector to ensure that graduates can get the experience they need to set them on the employment path.

We must also respect and care for our elders. That is why we are increasing the Pesa ya Wazee programme to cover everyone aged 70 years or more. We also want to make sure a farmer in Kitale or the fishmonger in Kisumu can get their products to a market in Voi faster and cheaper. That is why we are extending the SGR to Malaba through Kisumu.

We want to decongest the port so ships can dock and offload faster. That is why we are going to build a dry port in Voi. The Thika Super Highway only reaches Thika but we want to open up the northern part of Kenya. That’s why we will extend the Thika Super Highway to Isiolo to connect with the Lapsset corridor. All these things will see us take our place as a middle-income country. You might have heard of Vision 2030 but we are focusing on Vision 2020.

This transformation can be seen in Kenya’s new place on the international stage. I recall certain friends once warning us that “choices have consequences”. We chose the path of unity and growth and the consequence is an increasingly prosperous Kenya.

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Who would have thought Kenya would be invited to address the G-7 or the G-20 summits? But we need to continue that transformation by ensuring that our progress is relevant to Kenyans. Kenya’s international standing has grown. Our transformation is all about improving the lives of all Kenyans. That is what a second term for me will deliver.

Q: Your critics blame your government for corruption, unemployment and the rising cost of living.

A: Corruption has been a challenge in Kenya for a long time. Our laws are clear on the process of dealing with it. As I promised in 2015, I will not tolerate graft. No government in Kenya’s history has done more to fight the vice than Jubilee. But that’s not to say we always got it right. The bodies charged with corruption need to work faster. The Government has played its part. The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, Director of Public Prosecutions and Judiciary have the funds they need to do their jobs.

On the cost of living, some commodity prices have been a challenge due to the prolonged drought that hit this entire region. However, we have made efforts to cushion Kenyans. We have subsidised unga and will do so until we harvest. We will also complete 60 large-scale dams to ensure that this does not happen again. These dams will ensure that farmers have water throughout the year for irrigation.

Q: Do you believe Jubilee has achieved nationhood?

A: Creating one Kenya is fundamental. The feeling of nationhood is very strong in our country. That is why Kenyans are willing to defend their country. We really are a family even with the differences. We are the most advanced and most mature democracy in the region. We must accept our diversity and agree we are all equal. Meanwhile, Kenya needs a strong government to continue the transformation, and indeed a strong opposition to hold it to account.    

Q: When Jubilee was being formed, Deputy President William Ruto said the idea was to unite all Kenyans under one party. Later, you embraced smaller parties. Why the change of heart?

A: There is no change of heart. The reverse is true. Bringing smaller parties on board is an integral part of creating one Kenya. It is not about one party but one Kenya. It is about the best interests of our country and our people. It is about the 45 million Kenyans we serve.

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Elections come and go but Kenya remains. We must remain united. Indeed, Jubilee was formed for this very purpose. We needed a party that genuinely represented every Kenyan. A party that transcends tribe, gender and social status. And you saw in our primaries that we had candidates from every corner of this country. That is the Kenya we are building: one where you are judged not by your last name but by your abilities, potential and patriotism.

 

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