Kenyan minister Kipchumba Murkomen sparks concern with ‘Rwanda-is-autocracy’ remark

Kipchumba Murkomen, then Kenya's Elgeyo-Marakwet County Senator, Kipchumba Murkomen, addresses the media outside the Directorate of Criminal Investigations headquarters on July 22, 2019
Image caption,Kipchumba Murkomen says the political situation in Rwanda is different from the democracy in Kenya

A Kenyan minister has stirred controversy after saying that Rwanda was an “autocracy” where “whatever the president says is the law”.

Transport Minister Kipchumba Murkomen said Kenya, unlike Rwanda, was a democracy with legal processes.

He was responding to criticism that unfavourably compared Kenya’s transport system to that of its near neighbour.

Rwanda, which has in the past enjoyed good relations with Kenya, is yet to respond to the minister’s comments.

Kenyans urged Mr Murkomen to retract the remarks fearing that they would unnecessarily provoke Rwanda.

Appearing live on privately owned Citizen TV on Monday night, Mr Murkomen was asked why Kenya could not make public transport work in an orderly way like in Rwanda.

In Kenya, regulation-flouting minibus taxis weaving their way through congested roads are often a cause of accidents.

But the transport minister dismissed any comparison between Kenya and Rwanda saying that the political situation in Rwanda was different from the democracy in Kenya.

“Rwanda is not like Kenya. Rwanda is an autocracy and there whatever the president says is the law,” Mr Murkomen minister said, adding that Rwanda is “even smaller than Kajiado county”, a county in the outskirts of Nairobi.

“For every decision you make in this country you must go through a proposal then parliament then public participation,” he added.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame has been the dominant political figure in the country since 1994. He won the last presidential election with nearly 99% of the vote and, elections permitting, could remain in power until 2034. Rights groups have accused his government of silencing opposition voices, something it denies.

The Kenyan minister’s sentiments sparked sharp reactions on social media, with some Kenyans terming them “bar talk” that could trigger a diplomatic row between the two East African countries.

Apparently aware that his comments were already garnering criticism while he was on air, the minister later told the interviewer that “autocracy is not a bad thing”. He said Rwanda’s system of leadership empowers the president, who had used it “for positive good”.

“Minister Murkomen can’t attack a sovereign friendly state without provocation and disparage President Paul Kagame just like that,” prominent lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi posted on X after the programme aired.

While appearing to downplay the criticism, Korir Sing’oei, a senior official in Kenya’s foreign ministry, said Rwanda was a “key brotherly nation” and President Kagame’s “bold leadership is admired at home and abroad”.

Reacting on X, Mr Sing’oei said there was “diversity of expressions” within the East African countries.

Having slept on it, the transport minister then posted on X on Tuesday morning that: “Our style of leadership has many positives but it’s too bureaucratic.”

Mr Murkomen, who is a close ally of President William Ruto, has recently been in the spotlight due to a power outage at Kenya’s main airport in Nairobi.

His remarks on Rwanda came just a day after President Ruto said Kenya’s diplomatic relations with its neighbours was “perfect”.

President Ruto was responding to concerns that East African presidents might have boycotted Kenya’s independence celebrations last week.

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