Minnesota Kenyans continue to be the faithful Diaspora in receiving Kenyan politicians interested in running for office in Kenya’s general election later this year. The latest to make a stop here was former Health Minister, Professor Sam Ongeri. He is the former Member of Parliament for the Nyaribari Masaba constituency. He declared at the meeting that he will contest in the upcoming elections to try and reclaim the seat he lost to Mr. Hezron Manduku a fellow physician.
Prof. Ongeri addressed members of the Minnesotan Kenyan community that consisted largely of people from the constituency he once represented in parliament. Ongeri is impressed by the support the Minnesotan Diaspora has continued to offer their communities in Kenya. As a result, he wanted to engage them in dialog on the political and economic growth of the country.
Running on the former ruling party KANU (Kenya African National Union) ticket, Ongeri is confident that his party has the right platform for the future of Kenya since it “built the infrastructure and allowed for freedom of speech.”
On questions of all the controversy that has mired KANU, Ongeri quipped, “KANU is now pure since all the inefficient and corrupt leaders have left for other political parties.” However, Ongeri is also convinced that no single party will win a majority in the elections and leaders will have to get into coalitions.
With Kenya’s electorate getting smarter, it is without a doubt that this year’s election will demand accountability and deliverance from its political leaders. Ongeri feels that he can step up to the plate. He prides in himself as initiating polytechnics and other post-secondary institutions in Kenya. He developed a healthcare system plan, which with several phases including development of healthcare infrastructure and personnel will lead to a universal healthcare system. His experience working with the healthcare industry in bringing down the cost of retro-viral HIV/AIDS drugs, he declares will make him more than able to represent members of his Nyaribari Masaba constituency in Kisii district.
Ongeri expressed his concern in blind promises made by politicians. For instance, he cites the rush to free primary education was not phased in well to accommodate the needs of Kenyan children. Hundreds of children, especially girls, are still not getting basic primary education thanks to poverty. Ongeri also cited the need to develop post secondary institutions to meet the gross need of primary school graduates. “The core of Kenya’s future lies in its youth so we have to create alternative sources of employment and skills so that we do not have a frustrated youth.”
As the chair of the board of governors at a local high school in his district, Ongeri, even when away from active politics, has made a model school showing what can be done with few resources. By empowering the teachers through education seminars and visits to well-performing schools in other parts of the country, Ongeri and his board have made it possible for disenfranchised students to get admissions into the national universities.
As is the case in these types of meetings, the most interesting part is the question and answer session. Answering questions from the audience, Prof. Ongeri took issues with what he called the “rosy picture” that the Kibaki administration has been painting regarding economic performance. He said there was a disconnect between the rosy picture painted and The Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey released in late April. The survey indicated poverty levels in the country dropped from 56.8% in 2000 to 46% in 2005. He said the poverty figures confirmed government critics’ worst fears that there was inequitable distribution of resources in the country. The survey results showed Nairobi and Central Kenya where president Kibaki and his inner circle are from have the lowest poverty rates at 21% and 30% respectively with Prof. Ongeri’s Nyanza province at 47%. The most poverty stricken province is North-Eastern at 73%.
Prof.Ongeri also shared his position on current jostling within the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) indicating that he will not endorse any candidate until a clear nomination is made and ODM presents a candidate that will square off with president Kibaki. He urged his Gusii community to not blindly get behind a candidate. His criticism of the Kibaki government found a receptive audience. One of those disappointed with the performance of the current administration is a former civil servant now living in Minnesota, Linet Nyabuto. She accused the Kibaki government of purging the government of the Abagusii giving an example of Professor Ratemo Michieka who was fired as Vice-Chancellor of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology after Kibaki took over. She wanted to know what Dr. Ongeri can do to ensure job security when new administrations take over.
Also making brief remarks at the meeting was the Mwanyagetinge Umoja chairman, Paul Morande, who commended Professor Ongeri on his early work to combat HIV/AIDS in Kenya before it was fashionable to do so.
Tom Gitaa contributed to this report.
About Julia N. Opoti
A former Mshale editor, Julia Nekessa Opoti is now the producer and host of the radio show: Reflections of New Minnesotans on AM950 . She also edits/publishes Kenya Imagine.