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Kenya: Uproar over Ruto’s apparent death threat against sugar cartels


Amnesty International, Haki Afrika and the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) have raised concern over Kenyan President William Ruto’s remarks on how he intends to deal with those he described as sugar cartels.

Ruto, who has been touring the Western region, Kenya’s sugar belt, declared war on cartels. He said they are sabotaging the government’s plan to revive and reform the ailing industry. His statements were deemed tantamount to death threats.

A tough-talking Ruto demands that private investors currently engaged in a bitter dispute over the ownership of Kenya’s largest miller Mumias Sugar Company leave the firm. “If they make me angry, there are three things – either they leave Kenya, end up in jail, or go to heaven,” Ruto said.

The two investors involved in the management dispute are billionaires Jaswant Rai, chairperson of the West Kenya Sugar Company, and his brother Sarbjit Singh Rai.

Eric Theuri, the president of the Law Society of Kenya, termed Ruto’s remarks as a death threat against investors in the sugar industry. 

He added that the president’s comments may compromise the independence of the judiciary. “We demand that the president withdraws and apologises for uttering such remarks,” Theuri said.

‘Un-Presidential’ talk

Opposition coalition Azimio la Umoja also condemned Ruto’s statements, saying it’s disturbing for a head of state to threaten investors with arrest, deportation or harm.

Senate minority leader Stewart Madzayo described Ruto’s remarks as politically motivated as they are aimed at investors who didn’t support his presidential bid in the 2022 election.

“Ruto’s remarks are unfortunate, un-presidential and a threat to national security,” Madzayo said, calling on the president to apologise to Kenyans and investors.

The condemnation of Ruto’s remarks came days after Rai was kidnapped by armed men at a road intersection in the capital Nairobi last Friday. He was released two days later.

The police have denied being involved in the abduction of the businessman, saying they are probing the incident.

Kenya’s sugar woes

According to a report released in 2020 by the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, sugar is smuggled into the country through porous borders, leading to quality compromises, revenue losses and a distorted market.

The report further blamed current and past governments for inadequate regulations that exploit farmers and undermine production. High cost of production, debt, acute cane shortage and declining yields were other sugar sector challenges highlighted in the report.

After taking power in September 2022, Ruto promised to revive the industry by investing in new and modern milling machines, writing off all sugar factories debts amounting to KSh117bn (nearly $804m) and ensuring no public factory is privatised.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture, the sugar industry supports the livelihoods of at least 17% of the Kenyan population, based in 15 counties of Nyanza, Rift Valley, Western and Coast regions.

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