Why new regime's feel-good effect is muted

Comedian Eric Omondi (coloured hair) leads protest outside Parliament Buildings against the high cost of living, February 21, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

A new broom sweeps better. Does this apply to politics? A new political regime ought to make voters feel good while the goodwill lasts. It's simple: we don't know much about a new regime and can, therefore give it the benefit of doubt.

The voters feel good when there is a change. They exhale with great expectations. That is often whipped up by political campaigns. By the same token, new marriages are expected to be happier, the couple knows less about the realities of marriage.

My observation and listening to the ground suggest the feel-good effect of the Kenya Kwanza administration has largely been muted. Is this a paradox or was it expected? Here are some plausible explanations. One, the new government may have "over-promised."

The voters have slowly realised the solutions promised were not forthcoming as expected.

The reality on the ground is different. A good example is high prices, with the external environment beyond our control.

It takes time to increase the supply of goods and services and reduce prices. One needs to wait for months to harvest. It takes time to dig oil wells or build wind turbines to diversify the energy sources. And the contracts signed before a new regime can't just be ripped apart.

Two, the new regime started with taxation. No one can deny that we need to diversify our funding from debt to tax, austerity and maybe philanthropists and savings. But tax is not popular with the voters anywhere in the world.

Three, nature seems to have conspired before and after the new government.

We had Covid-19, the war in Ukraine and now drought. The three leave voters feeling helpless and have no time to celebrate. Four, the change in the boards of government parastatals and other high-level jobs has left many voters wondering who will be next and whether the changes will extend to lower levels.

The fear of job losses, especially at a time when joblessness is a national issue can't allow citizens to celebrate. Some ask: "If teachers and doctors can be jobless, what bout the rest of us?"

Five, the close polls mean that losers are as many winners. This has left about half the country feeling unhappy. Remember the voters whose candidate did not win had invested a lot emotionally. How do they ventilate?

Six, Kenya Kwanza has not come up with some quick wins like the late President Mwai Kibaki government's free primary education, the late Daniel Moi's free milk for school children or immediate former president Uhuru Kenyatta's free maternity.

We need something to excite us. Should Hustler Fund excite us considering we have Fuliza (Safaricom's overdraft service for its M-Pesa customers) and other digital lenders? Seven, many have realised voting is easier than turning the economy around. It takes you a few minutes to vote, but it takes time for citizens to feel the economic growth.

Policies take time to filter through the system, more so in a country where citizens are used to freedom and haggling. Politicians promised flip-switch changes while seeking your votes. Eight, what of some superordinate goals to get us focused on the long-term? Think of Vision 2030. How about something that is alluring? Kenya Kwanza's manifesto is too long.

Nine, politics has taken centre stage, stealing the thunder from economics - the key issue in the 2022 polls. News headlines are mostly about big government jobs. What has been in the headlines since the polls were announced?

Blaming the past regime is seen as skirting responsibility and turning away from reality. Some pundits feel the sprint to 2027 has started. When economic issues are addressed, some feel there is too much theory, devoid of reality. We are not talking of bottom-up economics as we used to. What happened?

Ten, the opposition, as amorphous as it is, has kept reminding Kenya Kwanza of its failed obligation and promises.

The narrative has enough adherents going by the voting patterns. The rough utterances by some political leaders have not endeared the voters.

Eleven, how about the feeling that the closeness of government and religion is alienating some Kenyans? What of the warnings by the new regime during the campaigns? The ultimate test of the feel-good effect is a spurt in gross domestic product (GDP) growth or a rise in the stock index.

A less scientific approach would be simply asking voters if they are happy or if they have money in their pockets.

The popular narrative is that the best time to take "anti-feel good" decisions is when the regime is young. Voters will forget by the time we go to the polls in five years. This strategy has not been tested in Kenya. How do you feel about the new regime's performance so far?

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