President Uhuru Kenyatta’s recent address to the nation from Mombasa outlined his administration’s top priorities for 2020 and beyond. Most of the issues he highlighted indicated a continuation of discourse we have seen in the past year. He discussed the BBI, the war on corruption, succession politics and making the government more efficient. There were useful clarifications regarding where his priorities lay and what we can expect.
The clarity of his address allows us to hold him accountable, and accountability is one of the most important items on the BBI agenda. The most significant takeaway that I got from the speech was that Kenyatta wants to guide the public discourse so that growing our economy becomes the number one public priority over politics.
Politics in Kenya is too often divisive. It too often leads to fighting, to bad blood, to ill will and shady dealings. Everyone wants a stronger economy but one thing is standing in our way.
It is not the fact that we have been historically poor and are a former colony. It is not the fact that we are surrounded by unstable neighbours. The single most powerful barrier standing between Kenya and economic prosperity is corruption and lack of transparency in financial dealings - both within the private sector and the government.
Robbed of profit
The President showed his commitment to preventing cartels from taking the money of hard working Kenyans. He used strong language when calling them “leeches sucking the blood and sweat” from our honest labour.
“I will not turn to the right or to the left. I will not soft-pedal or backpedal. I will make no covenants with evildoers or show mercy to those who rig our markets to enrich themselves,” he continued.
“We cannot be a country where those who work hard are robbed of their profit by those too lazy to invest and produce. This is why I am and will continue to fight corruption to ensure that the fruits of our labour fill every heart with thanksgiving.”
The main success so far in the anti-corruption campaign has been deterring criminals from committing their deeds. But in Kenya - unlike in many other African countries - there exists a clear delineation between the Executive and the Judiciary. As much as the DCI and the DPP to make arrests, they must pass the baton onto the court to make a ruling and to put criminals and thieves in prison, where they belong.
He has done this part. Can our judges step up to the plate? The answer at this point is unclear. So far, the courts have left much to be desired. But that does not mean that it will always be this way. If the President is willing to make the executive better, I hope the Judiciary will look at itself and do the same.
This respect for not overstepping his power rolls over to another aspect of Kenyan politics. Some critics of the BBI say it is a way to keep him in power. Uhuru quelled those misapprehensions during the Mombasa speech. The BBI is about reflection and coming to terms with various collective truths. It is about making Kenya better for everyone - for the rich and poor, for men and women of every tribe.
It highlights the shocking violence that we go through every election cycle and the lack of unity we suffered (especially before the handshake). It calls out Kenyan society for lacking a national ethos and for individuals being too self involved to think about how to work together to make this place better.
It suggests more volunteering amongst the youth to foster a stronger sense of national responsibility and belonging. This would also help youngsters from different backgrounds, regions and religions get to know and understand each other better.
Conflicting opinions about how to implement the BBI’s findings are understandable. We all want what is best for our families. But we should also want what is best for our country. But conflicting opinions about the findings of the BBI itself are simply illogical.
How could one reasonably say that no changes are needed in today’s Kenya? One cannot. But at least there are no more secrets. We know where we stand and the President has committed to confront the challenges facing us.