Ruto's scorecard as compared to Kibaki, Uhuru a year into the job

President William Ruto at State House with his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta. [PCS]

President William Ruto’s first year in office has faced many challenges compared to his predecessors Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta, largely because of different leadership styles and structural differences.

The President has explained that his government inherited empty coffers as he urged Kenyans to tighten their belts through paying taxes while also causing an uproar after introducing more levies to an overstretched populace in the Finance Act 2023.

Analysts say the three presidents have different personalities, Kibaki more professional, astute and direct, Uhuru charming and easy going and irresistible, while Ruto is more aggressive and hands on. A study carried in July showed majority of Kenyans irrespective of their political affiliations perceive the country is headed in the wrong direction.

That was a stark contrast to a similar survey done when President Kibaki took power when Kenyans were ranked most optimistic in the world.

The main reason given in the omnibus survey done by Tifa Research for the dire outlook, was the ever-increasing cost of living that has created economic hardships for most families.

Pundits and analysts also agree with the report that most of the appointments in Ruto’s government lacked meritocracy because they were based more on loyalty and cronyism.

Prof Gitile Naituli from the School of Management and Development at Multi Media University, says unlike President Kibaki who appointed a Cabinet full of experts in different areas the current administration is loaded with loyalists.

Political analyst Martin Andati also thinks President Ruto and his Kenya Kwanza team should have picked more competent people than going for political allies.

Nominated MP Tabitha Mutemi, a stanch Ruto ally, however defers with the President’s critics, and has argued that the president managed to steady the ship after taking over government when it was in turbulent waters.

She has praised the president for successfully launching the hustler fund and kicking off the bottom up economic model as promised, in his first year.

“He gave farmers subsidised fertiliser among other agricultural support and came up with practical taxation policies, including debt repayment and generally improving the economic well-being of people,” Mutemi told The Standard last month.

Other pro-Ruto supporters claim he has done much in the education sector where reforms recommended by the Rapahel Munavu-led taskforce released recently are being implemented.

They point at the hiring of 50,000 teachers, return of the Junior Secondary School classes to the primary section and implementation of the Competence Based Curriculum as major milestones.

But disillusioned critics appear to be the majority and they all think President Ruto has not achieved much compared to President Kibaki or even Uhuru’s administration.

Some Kenyans interviewed on TV this week as the President marks one year in office, also said they are not happy with the new school fees format for university students and the delayed disbursement of funds.

Others like opposition leader Raila Odinga argue that the president should support devolution more through increasing allocation from 15 to 35 per cent. They also said Ruto should stop visiting counties to open already completed projects.

Other pundits blame the president for getting diverted by noise from the opposition instead of keeping the eye on the ball and delivering on the Kenya Kwanza campaign promises.

“You don’t have to listen to everything the opposition says, because doing that shows the President has not moved from the campaign mode,” says Andati.

He advices the president to borrow from President Kibaki, who ignored Raila’s bickering over the MoU he claimed was not honoured by the Narc government and remained focused on delivering free primary education and infrastructure projects.

Kibaki also pioneered distribution of free fertiliser whose launch was graced the current president in Eldoret in 2009.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi has told Kenyans that because of President Ruto’s interventions in providing subsidy for farm inputs, the country will harvest over 60 million bags.

“The government has put in money to subsidise production against consumption and so we are expecting to harvest between 45 and 60 million but the country could hit above 60 million when we combine produce from the short and long rains seasons,” said Linturi.

Should that happen, the country will have surpassed its past limits of slightly over 40 million bags of maize harvested when the conditions were most ideal and farm inputs were also affordable.

Prof Naituli however argues that subsidising farmers does not necessarily mean subsidising production as advocated by Linturi and the Kenya Kwanza government.

He says it is not automatic the so-called subsidised produce will meet the targets or create a surplus as imagined by those in power because of many other production factors.

“It is true prices of maize will always go down during harvesting but the cycle continues after that and prices will again definitely increase by January going forward as has been the case over many years in the past,” says Naituli.

It is also unlikely that prices will dramatically fall in major cities like Nairobi because of other factors like the high cost of fuel and electricity which makes transportation and milling of the corn expensive.

His advice is that the President should have stuck to his guns of refusing to subsidise anything and instead wage a war against all cartels in the agricultural inputs sector.

Corruption networks in the inputs sector were also rampant during President Kibaki and Uhuru’s time when police arrested many people repackaging fertiliser distributed by the National Cereals and Produce Board.

The analysts however say during Kibaki’s time there were lesser imports of goods because he emphasized on local manufacturing, unlike today when nearly everything is coming from China and other places.

Speaking to The Standard recently, Narc chairperson Charity Ngilu pointed out that manufacturing has died because of cheap imports leading to the collapse of many factories.

“Do you see any smoke in industrial area these days?” Asked Ngilu adding that the chimneys stopped emitting due to unfair competition from cheap and untaxed imports.

“Most of those factories were turned in go-downs now used to store the cheap imports. That is the problem Azimio wanted to address in its manifesto,” said Ngilu in an interview.

Prof Naituli says Kibaki did well because he knew bringing imports amounts to exporting labour and so it is the foreign manufacturers who create employment in their countries.

President Ruto said last year Kenya was not going to subsidise fuel again and would instead engage in country to country purchasing of oil products in local currency instead of US dollars.

Kenya Kwanza politicians claimed the fuel subsidy introduced by Uhuru’s Jubilee administration was for the benefit of petrol stations owned by politicians.

The government has however gone back to the same old practice after silently abandoning the much touted government to government contracts that promised a lot but delivered little.

In June, ODM’s John Mbadi said figures at the time indicated the current government engaged in heavy borrowing immediately after taking power despite claiming that it would stop going for loans.

“When Ruto came into power, Kenya’s debt stock was Sh8.7 trillion on September 30, 2022, and Sh9.39 trillion on March 31, 2023, a difference of Sh689 billion.

“When Uhuru was in power, the debt stock as of September 2021 was Sh7.99 trillion, and as of March 31, the stock was Sh8.4trillion, with a difference of Sh405 billion. Who is borrowing more?” asked Mbadi in June.

So how does the Kibaki administrations compare with Ruto’s in their first year performance?

Prof Naituli thinks the proposed increment of salaries for low cadre civil servants by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission will not help in reducing inflation.

He says unlike Kibaki who maintained public servant salaries at the same rate because of controlled inflation the cost of living is currently getting out reach for ordinary Kenyans.

“Increasing salary is useless when inflation shoots up at an alarming rate because the money will not be adequate for even the very basic of necessities,” he says.

Centre for Multi-Party Democracy (CMD) Executive Director Franklin Mukwanja has also described Ruto’s handling of politics as one driven by realities of the 2010 Constitution.

While Kibaki wasn’t seen to have interfered with other political parties by poaching MPs to support his agenda, Mukwanja thinks it could also be because he served when there was no clear separation of powers.

“We have since 2013 seen that the Uhuru and Ruto styles of leadership is to capture the legislature and that possibly is because of the increased powers of that arm of government,” says Mukwanja.

Although President Ruto’s critics think he should have ignored the politics mounted by Azimio leaders, others argue that he can only do so at his own peril.

They say President Kibaki paid dearly in 2007 after allowing Raila to create a hostile environment against his government for four years, making his re-election a herculean task.