I have three takeaways from President Uhuru Kenyatta’s State of the Nation address. Firstly, this was a campaign speech, pure and simple. Is there anyone who expected anything less from the President five months before an election? Like all good political speeches, it had three critical components, a list of achievements, including some apology for non-achievements, a promises list, and a thematic tag-line.
Uhuru delivered on all three except the mea-culpa. On achievements, let us admit that from an objective perspective, there have been significant achievements on the hardware of economic development, including the SGR, the road network and expansion of electricity supply to most areas. His use of specific examples of the beneficiaries of these developments, including the “Safari ya Baba” song was shrewd; adding a human face to these developments, which is essential in politics.
He also gave examples that focused in areas where Jubilee does not enjoy political support; seeking to be seen as one above partisan politics. The President was obviously over-generous in his assessment of Jubilee’s successes in the delivery of the software for development particularly the anti-corruption war, the efficiency of public sector service delivery and the challenges in the security sector. While some work has been done in these areas, the gap between promise and delivery is astronomical.
On 2017 promises, the President’s focus on reducing the wage bill was clever political-speak; nothing vexes Kenyans more than the high wage bill particularly for elected officials. If the President expends political capital on this issue he will be remembered fondly. As for mea-culpa, the President needed to spend a little more time explaining the failure to deliver on some of Jubilee’s 2013 promises.
One of Jubilee’s 2013 promises related to the youth. Not only would there be youth-empowering centres in counties, but sectors critical to this sector, particularly sports, would be re-invigorated. Though there have been attempts to deal with the youth challenge including the NYS re-engineering, the issue remains outstanding and a serious mea-culpa would have been useful. Jubilee also promised to bring about national unity by ensuring an inclusive government. Unfortunately, Kenya is as ethnically divided as ever.
While our failure to gel is not solely Jubilee’s fault, it would have been useful to accept that there have been failures on Jubilee’s part to make this promise a reality and to promise further work on it. Now to the tag line; this was politics 101, responding to the critics of Jubilee’s incumbency. I suspect that we shall hear a lot more “we have delivered on our promise” between now and August. My second takeaway on the speech is that the Opposition failed to be strategic in challenging the President’s rendition. A concise rebuttal, on prime-time TV, complete with statistics that underlined the Opposition’s perspective of the State of the Nation would have been a masterpiece. It’s focus would have been an amplification of Jubilee’s failed promises, and its own promises if elected. Instead CORD took the traditional approach of reactionary contestation of the speech without showing itself as a substantive government in waiting.
My final takeaway is that the President has come to terms with the reality that winning the war on corruption takes a lot more than “political will”; corruption has too many tentacles and some are very expensive to dismember. The President must be remembering the 2015 debacle where he paid a heavy political price sacrificing many of his lieutenants, more than anyone has done in Kenya’s history. Not only did this fail to dent corruption; many believe corruption networks are stronger than before. I am convinced that our approach to graft war must change from winning short term battles like the 2015 one, to preparing all troops for a long-term war. While political will is a necessary component, the strengthening of institutions including the Judiciary and the anti-graft agencies and the clean-up of governmental processes through which graft occurs is where our investment must focus.
All in all, the state of our nation, while beset with a myriad of problems, engenders hope, not despair.