29 March 2014

Tanzania: When President Kenyatta Came to Arusha

Arusha — UHURU Kenyatta is not a stranger in Arusha; the Kenyan President has been visiting the Northern Tanzanian City since he was a small child, accompanying his father, the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

Senior Kenyatta, the founding President of Kenya, made several trips to Arusha in mid sixties and early seventies pioneering the process leading to the establishment of the East African Community (EAC), which appeared more effective than the current EAC, but split in 1977 unceremoniously.

Junior Kenyatta's visit to Arusha early this week, on the other hand, was also to address issues of yet another EAC the second in the series which unlike its prototype, this one even has a parliament going by the name of East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), at which the Kenyan President delivered his state of EAC address in his capacity as the Chairman of the Heads of State Summit.

But it was his style of moving from Nairobi to Arusha which inspired interest among many people; President Kenyatta travelled by road; this may not be a new thing, considering that the other former Kenyan Head of State, Daniel arap Moi used to do that frequently, but Uhuru used his own personal car for the journey.

Of course being an expensive eight-valve (V8) Black Toyota Land-cruiser the private vehicle was still a big machine carrying an engine large enough to drain an entire gas reserve and since it was escorted by a battery of other state cars of similar size the Kenyan Station, Citizen TV made plenty of noise complaining about the 'gas guzzling' motorcade ferrying their president and his entourage from Nairobi to Arusha.

There was great curiosity among people to get a glimpse of Mr Kenyatta who recently announced that he would chop off his salary by 20 per cent with the same case applying to members of his cabinet, this coming less than two years after he forced his government officials to stop using large, luxurious SUVs by replacing the monsters with saloon cars.

The other interest came from recent stories describing President Kenyatta's episodes in Nairobi where he has been driving his own car and getting caught in traffic jam and while waiting for the traffic lights he summons a street peanut hawker and buys groundnuts from him.

One of the recurrent problems in Kenya and Tanzania is the notorious issue of traffic police harassing motorists on highways creating loopholes for bribery and other forms of corruption and as it happened, one of the cops in Nairobi stopped the self-driven President Kenyatta's car hoping for a victim and almost fainted upon seeing the occupant.

He is also a down to earth fellow, that Uhuru Kenyatta, because when addressing residents from either sides of the border, at Namanga town, he allowed ordinary people to climb up alongside him on his platform to air their problems and grievances.

Mr Kenyatta tried to extend the same courtesy while speaking to members of staff at the EAC Headquarters in Arusha but unfortunately the secretariat workers weren't so confident to speak up their problems to the president while their bosses were around, so the 'interactive' sessions remained a one-sided speech by Kenyatta backed with a series of sycophantic titters from the audience.

During the speech President Kenyatta explained why he arrived in Arusha late in the evening, at nearly 6.00 pm to be precise, instead of getting here at noon as previously announced.

"As a leader, it is very difficult to simply move from point A to B without encountering a series of stop-over points where one gets to meet people, hear from them and address their concerns," he said, adding that he had to brake at Isinya, Kajiado and Bisil enroute to Namanga where he was scheduled to address a rally at 11.00 am but managed to reach there at 4.00 pm.

After Namanga it was all speed to Arusha without any more stopovers along the highway. Roads were cleared throughout the stretch and as it turned out, roads were also to be wiped clean in most parts of the city causing gridlock traffic jams in streets.

Local residents here were probably looking forward to an ordinary Uhuru Kenyatta who drives himself and gets stopped by cops in Nairobi, not knowing that when he is in Arusha; this guy eventually becomes the president.

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