Bane of Kenya Kwanza's Big Five agenda as regime enters second 18-month phase

President William Ruto with his Deputy Rigathi Gachagua. [PCS]

As President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza administration enters its second 18-month leadership phase (think about its 60-month term as three 18-month semesters with six months at the end before the next election), general public sentiment seems to be more negative than positive, despite the bombast and bluster offered by its spin doctors.

Much of this reflects the influence of social media that is far more open and freewheeling and less constrained.

It is a short story in three parts. Today’s felt reality. Tomorrow’s big idea. And the untidy convergence between the two. Let’s illustrate this slowly, but first, some background.

To get a feel for public sentiment today, take the recent launch of the Fourth Medium-Term Plan (MTP IV) under Vision 2030.  After much kicking and screaming, Kenya Kwanza has finally translated its self-congratulatory manifesto (“The Plan”) into an actual plan. Finally – 18 months into office – we have a basis for monitoring and evaluating actual delivery without having to rely on crowd-driven announcements made from car rooftops or in church and funeral services.

But, lo and behold! Across both social and mainstream media, we have collectively spent about five minutes dissecting, discussing and debating MTP IV as the target on Kenya Kwanza’s back, and the articulation of their promise to deliver for Kenyans.

Why? Because it is the daily beefs that worry and alarm us far more. Think road carnage. Persistent banditry. Fake fertiliser (and fakery in general). Health sector strike. Education sector chaos from top to bottom. Corruption as usual. Bad public spending. Taxation and levies. Cost of living. Joblessness. Flooding. Drugs and alcohol. Sexual and gender-based violence. Crime and robbery. More generally, poor government services across multiple domains. This is a quick recent sample from our news. 

It doesn’t help that Kenya Kwanza prefers to push back on these day to day issues rather than deal with them.  Increasingly, it seems that gaslighting Kenyans is the preferred way to do this. On pretty much every problem, the official retort is almost “Kanu-esque”, so it is necessary that the opposition and other saboteurs and enemies of development are the culprits. Our Cabinet seems more adept at offering verbal accounts than being accountable and taking responsibility. Accountability isn’t just about heads rolling, an honest “mea culpa” would be a good start.

Today’s tragedy is we miss tomorrow’s promise in Kenya Kwanza’s larger Bottom-Up Economic Transformation Agenda (BETA) which, on paper, is rather clever in framing and structuring. Don’t fall asleep here, let me paint my own picture of what BETA is as a policy frame.

We knew this before MTP IV was launched but, to repeat, it is based on five pillars – agriculture, MSMEs, health care, housing, digital/creative – and 17 enablers to deliver six objectives (lower cost of living, food security, more jobs, higher revenue base, increased forex, inclusive growth). 

A recent addition to this framing is the idea that to move us towards higher income levels (lower to higher middle income; middle income to high income), we must pay attention to four things – Human Capital Development and Capital Accumulation; Markets Development, Protection and Regulation; Domestic Resource Mobilisation and Optimal Tax Instruments; and  Digital Evolution. The 2024 Budget Policy Statement added a fifth: Reform and Restructuring of Institutions.

Then there’s BETA’s value chain approach – planning, budgeting and executing along value chains starting from the customer/demand side and working back to the supply and production side.

The current focus is nine priority value chains - leather and leather products, textile and apparel, dairy, edible oils, tea, rice, blue economy, minerals (including forestry) and construction/building materials (think about affordable housing as a start).  But there’s also work to be done in other value chains such as maize, wheat, cotton, sugarcane and cotton.  We aren’t yet debating this. 

Next, Kenya Kwanza apparently seeks to harmonise how we programme, plan, budget and execute all of the above on a sectoral basis.  Let’s place this in perspective.  Previous Vision 2030 Medium-Term Plans have been built around 25-26 sectors, though we budget (through MTEF) based on 10 sectors. Broadly, we measure our economic performance (in the Economic Survey) through 20 main sectors (across primary (agro plus mining), industry and services).  Of course, these categories apply international standards to allow comparability but they lack domestic coherence.

Without diverting from these standards, this administration has harmonised its policy cycle into five BETA sectors (or clusters) - (finance and production, infrastructure, social, environment and natural resources, governance and public administration). So MTP IV (the plan) uses these five clusters; as did the popular budget presentation for 2023/24; likely for 2024/25 (will we have five MTEF clusters in the future?). Significantly, MTP IV also offers us forward economic growth projections for these five clusters.

So, in theory, through the value chain approach, we can now link plans to budgets to economic growth outcomes.  It is innovatively unconventional, yet one sees an intriguing way to better link (with assumptions) government action, private sector activity and the economy at large.

Of course, everything I have just said in the last 400 words is policy/technocrat-speak, not the language of the people. We can only hope our Cabinet and public service gets it and buys into it.

Lastly, although the six objectives (cost of living etc) are what we really should be tracking Kenya Kwanza on, President Ruto has been politically astute to focus on the five pillars. Which brings us to the third and final part of this story and whether the “Big Five” are becoming the “Bad Five”. 

This is where the rubber meets the road, where the people hear, see and feel the agenda, or not.

Let’s begin with Agriculture. The technical language in MTP IV speaks to livestock and crop value chains. But where is the public debate? First, the fake fertiliser story. Responses? Opposition and crooks making up stories.  Oh, that was not fertiliser, it was a soil conditioning product. But we are still investigating. Remember, we aren’t done with the imported edible oils and foodstuff saga. 

Jump across to MSMEs. The Hustler Fund is at its core. Yet, the questions remain. Whose money funds it? If it is private money, then why do we have official budget allocations?  If it is public money, why isn’t this going into public needs, like education? The latest MSME debate is all about e-TIMS. Again, it is correct to broaden our tax base, but some may question if the Hustler Fund was a “bait and switch” that presaged e-TIMS (borrow and earn, then we tax you!).

Let’s go to the noble policy idea of universal health care (UHC). The ongoing strike by health care workers tells us two things. First, the human resources for health pillar in UHC seems to be working as a by-product of the other three pillars – policy, products and digitisation (which suggests that the idea is to lower health care labour costs).  Second, we clearly jumped the master planning stage in moving from policy and law (now in court) to budgeting. Then, the question on urgency of rollout and outsourcing when 40 per cent of our hospice was found to be thuggery.  Before we get to the actual contributions that will hit our pockets, and the equity issues therein.

Move forwards to the Affordable Housing agenda. There are many questions. Here are two new ones. Does progressive realisation of our socio-economic rights under Article 43 necessarily mean more taxes as the only way for government to reorganise its fiscus?  Second, our 2019 national census said 6 out of 10 Kenyan households (8 out of 10 in rural areas, 2 out of 10 in urban areas) own their homes, and 9 out of 10 owners across Kenya built their own homes.  

The census also told us that, at one person per room, we need 15 million rooms and 9 million dwellings.  It added that only 6 per cent of all houses in Kenya can be considered adequate in terms of space (no crowding), structure (roof, walls, floor) and amenities (water, sanitation and energy).  How does this data fit with 200,000 houses a year?  We haven’t even got to equity and transparency questions on the housing levy, ownership criteria and the private use of public land.

The fifth pillar is the digital/creative one. Let’s leave that discussion for another day. With the clear understanding that a mismanaged, miscommunicated “Big Five” will become the “Bad Five”.

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