Four possible signs of President Uhuru’s seriousness about Big Four agenda

President Uhuru Kenyatta during the 54th Jamhuri Day celebrations at Kasarani Stadium on 12/11/17. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]
As far as legacy matters go, 2018 will likely be the most important year in Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidency. The next election is in 2022, which means that nothing of substance will happen in that year. Everyone will be distracted by politics. This leaves Kenyatta with just under four years to achieve the goals outlined in his Big Four policy framework. Like with most things, how Kenyatta starts will be critical for success. That means making sure that every day of 2018 counts. With this in mind, here are four things to look out for as possible indicators of the president’s seriousness.

First, look out for the president’s legislative initiatives. If Kenyatta wants to truly transform the country, he must anchor every facet of the Big Four agenda in the Constitution and parliamentary statutes. That is the only way to guarantee that specific projects initiated as part of the agenda are not fads that will die with Kenyatta’s retirement.

Second, look out for specific observable and measurable milestones. Talk is cheap. The president promised food security, 500,000 homes, jobs, and healthcare for all. As of now, the Big Four is the policy equivalent of the infamous roadside presidential pronouncements during the Moi era. For them to become a viable policy framework, the president and his team must give us and his administration a set of specific indicators and milestones. Without these, Kenyans will have no idea of whether the president is succeeding or not; and he will have no means of holding his team accountable.

Part of the idea of politics as a means to an end is to ensure that our politics works to align the incentives of public workers with those of the public. Setting specific goals will expose specific government officials to scrutiny and evaluation by the general public. We will know which Cabinet Secretary or Principal Secretary is not meeting his or her goals according to the agreed-upon timeline.

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Third, take a close look at the president’s personnel choices. A well-thought-out plan that is then entrusted to subpar personnel is a useless plan. Therefore, one of the signals of the president’s commitment to the Big Four agenda will be the choices he makes in hiring Cabinet Secretaries for the relevant ministries, their Principal Secretaries, key advisers, and any contractors involved.

It is worth remembering the scale of the Big Four agenda. It is not some carelessly planned “slum upgrading” boondoggle. For it to work, it must be executed well. And on this score personnel will make a key difference. I hope the president has fully internalised this fact.

Finally, look for details. The devil is always in the details. As of now what we have is a general plan that will then require to be broken down. We will know that Kenyatta is serious when we see detailed blueprints stating how the Big Four will be integrated into the wider economy. The details will also allow Kenyans to make long-term plans on how sync their own investments with the president’s agenda. The Big Four is potential transformative. I hope the president will go big before he goes home. Happy New Year!

- The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University. Twitter: @kopalo

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