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Subsidy lessons from James Osogo, the last of Kenyatta-era cabinet ministers

The Abanyala are mourning the death of Orada, Sirinda Bukwe, Sikalausi James Nakhwanga Osogo (the Guardian of the South, the tempest of the lake), the last living Kenyatta-era minister, who died last week.

In Kenya’s Capital, the Abanyala may not be distinguishable from the many sub groups that make up the Luhya community, but we often punch above our weight.

Under Mr Osogo’s stewardship, streets in Nairobi took the names of our villages, including Hakati road in the Central Business District, Bunyala Road and Busia Road in Nairobi West, Rugunga Close in South C, John Osogo Road in Dandora, Wang’apala Road in Woodley, Ndekwe Road in South C and Bulemia Road in Parklands. You might not regard us as more than just watchmen, but you live in the geography of our villages, rivers and local markets.

Mr Osogo did not just name streets in Nairobi, he served in several ministries for 15 years, including the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Commerce and Industry and Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Local Government, who elevated Murang’a, Kisii, Machakos, Bungoma and Webuye, Embu and Kiambu from urban councils into town councils.

James Osogo touch in health

As Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Osogo helped establish Firestone, Rivatex, Raymond Woolen Mills, Pan Paper Mills, Mumias and Chemelil Sugar companies.

The Kenyatta National Hospital Main Block was put up during his tenure together with many hospitals in rural districts during his time at the Ministry of Health. He steered the establishment of Port Victoria General Hospital as well as Busia Referral Hospital.

The demise of the last of Kenyatta-era cabinet minister is such a great loss to his family, community and the country.

But, he is leaving some crucial wisdom behind. The idea of subsidies has become a dirty word with the rise of multilateral loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These lenders are requiring countries to drop all support to their low income people in exchange for multibillion restructuring loans.

But in a country like Kenya dominated by the low income populations, subsidies are almost necessary for survival. In July 1975, Mr Osogo then the Health Minister wrote a Cabinet memo making a case for subsidizing maize in which he tapped into what the people were whispering to him as their leader.

In the memo, he said his personal survey of both the employed and unemployed could no longer afford Ugali given its price was almost half of their daily wages. He noted that as a result, young children were being fed on porridge posing a risk of rising malnutrition.

Read also: Busia sugar producers who can’t afford a teaspoon

Government subsidies important

“The purpose of writing this memo, is to draw your attention to this potentially explosive situation facing us. And request the Cabinet to reconsider its decision on this matter and revise the price of maize meal to where it has been even if this means the government subsidizes this important food item,” he said.

The case holds true today as a counsel on changing a government strategy when the impact is scarring to the society. Even though the government would like to pretend it will not return to the policy of subsidy, we have already seen that there is a need for targeted interventions on fuel prices.

And even though the Kenya Kwanza government has declared it will not subsidize consumption and has become harsh on critics who point out the use of Petroleum Development Levy to stabilize oil prices that shot through the roof; it is now being forced to cede more subsidies.

The government, which declared it would only subsidize production is now being compelled by powerful maize farmers to subsidize the consumption of their produce by setting National Cereals and Produce Board prices above market rates. The maize farmers are pushing the government to declare a price of Kes6,000 to meet the cost of production after prices fell to Kes5000 on an expected maize glut following a bounty harvest.

Besides his counsel, Mr Osogo will be remembered fondly in Budalang’i, where he led a quiet life in his later years among our people, as the first independence leader, who led the constituency since 1963.

Godfather to President Uhuru Kenyatta

His wife Mary Osogo remembers his closeness with the first President Jomo Kenyatta, who she said considered him family. Mr Osogo is said to have been so close to the first family he presided as Godfather to former President Uhuru Kenyatta during his baptism together with the late President Mwai Kibaki.

Mr Osogo was born on the tenth of October in 1932 at Bukani village next to Port Victoria. He was 91. His health has struggled over the last five year, surviving cancer, a stroke and diabetes.

His son Peter Osogo is appealing to the government to give the son of the Abanyala, the Guardian of the South, the tempest of the lake; Orada, Sirinda Bukwe, Sikalausi James Nakhwanga Osogo the state burial he deserves.

“Mzee was the last surviving minister in the Mzee Jomo Kenyatta Cabinet, and I would appeal we give Mzee a good farewell. The government should recognize this is someone who has done a lot for this country, has traversed the world to represent Kenya. I would only appeal that he should be given a good sed off,” Mr Peter Osogo said.

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