The gloves are off, brace yourself for a tough fight

Treasury CS Henry Rotich. [Standard]

Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength” Eric Hoffer

Africa has become synonymous with internecine wars. Where the conflicts are not driven by resources, they are fomented by political differences largely informed by ethnicity.

Because the continent has arguably the world’s greatest diversity of ethnic groupings, perhaps that’s just the way the cookie crumbles; or is it?

Kenya is not exempt from contestations of a tribal nature. A study of these reveals them to be generated and driven by weak leadership and self-serving interests.

The ethnic jingoists and sabre rattlers who shout the loudest are often those who do so to hide their inadequacies. Bereft of development ideas, they do not display visionary leadership and consistently fail to accurately read the mood of the country.

Kenya’s national budget reading by the Finance Cabinet Secretary (CS) Henry Rotich demonstrates this lack of prescience.

For starters, the carnival-like crowd and the air of festivity around parliament, were conspicuously absent. There was no fanfare, no pomp and pageantry, just indifference by a nation wearied from economic hard times. E

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ven the erudite post-budget commentary from political figures, usually asleep while the budget is being read, was instructively missing.

Equitable share

Then the budget itself was a great source of disaffection. Many have questioned the priorities of government.

Some Sh330 billion was allocated to the military and other security functions in a country that is not at war. Comparatively important functions like counties got Sh310 billion in equitable share.

Kenya’s largest teaching and referral facility, Kenyatta Hospital, got Sh9 billion, housing Sh10.5 billion and Sh7.9 billion for arts and creatives, a sector that employs millions. Some have argued that there was little in the budget that has positive direct impact on the household economy.

Overall, the Sh3.02 trillion budget was the biggest ever in Kenya. It was 10 per cent bigger than our regional neighbours Uganda and Tanzania combined, and yet the output remains the same.

Pundits have concluded there is gross inefficiency in government. Ordinary Kenyans, having abstracted their experience of the economy into the numbers bandied out by the Finance CS, have found a disconnect between the trillion shilling budget and the promised economic up-turn of their fortunes.

But it’s President Uhuru’s remarks at a recent Akorino church function that have taken the nation by complete surprise.

In a week that should have been consumed by debate on the national budget, the president’s outburst against Tangatanga, a section of leaders allied to Deputy President (DP) William Ruto were a departure from his usual reticent approach.

National elections

Hitherto, it had been assumed that the DP had the president’s sotto voce support as his successor come the 2022 national elections.

And because of the détente between opposition leader Raila Odinga and Mr Kenyatta, the latter’s support for his deputy was considered temporised to give the country time to heal from the fractious elections of 2017.

But not any longer. The gloves are off, and the president has promised to deal resolutely with dissent (read Ruto supporters) in his back yard.

As much as the president’s remarks were not spoken directly at his deputy, there can be no doubt that they were intended for his consumption.

First, they were spoken in Kikuyu, a language that excluded Dr Ruto and left him with no right of reply. In other settings, it would have been considered a faux pas or an act of extreme rudeness.

Second, it was disingenuous for one part of the Jubilee administration to claim to have won the 2017 elections single-handedly. It is public knowledge that the Jubilee party was cobbled up from common interests and that there was a promise of fealty to leaders that embodied those interests.

But perhaps this spat within the Jubilee administration is contrived to deflect attention from the real problems facing Kenya.

Despite CS Rotich’s sophist attempt to justify a Sh3 trillion budget, the State has failed in its fiduciary duty to citizens. The problem is with imprudent government spending and the loss of a third of the budget to corruption.

Further, the oversight role of parliament has no impact. It has passed speciously designed budgets that allowed external borrowing, particularly short-term expensive debt.

In the coming days, Kenyans can expect name-calling, chest-thumbing, fisticuffs, and any boorish behaviour that detracts from a national conversation about an economy that is tanking.

The Jubilee administration risks a legacy of being seeing as nothing more than a proverb and a by-word for spectacular ineptitude. Perhaps that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

Mr Khafafa is Vice Chairman, Kenya-Turkey Business Council

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Treasury CS Henry RotichFinance