'Limiting failure' might be all that's left in Uhuru's 100 days


President Uhuru Kenyatta with First Lady Margret Kenyatta after she finished a 5km race during Nairobi Marathon. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]


Your renegade deputy is breathing down your neck, the party that sponsored you has withered; an opportunistic Opposition is excitedly cheering you on the path of loneliness; your support base is adrift, rebellious, while the coalition you stitched from a hotchpotch of political parties is limping along — it is not the sure-footed juggernaut that rolled over your opponents at the last elections. The once zealous but ineffective bureaucrats – who projected their power and influence and thereby created much of the muddle you are in are biding time.

That is not the script you wanted, not least in your last 100 days.

For most leaders, the last term throws up a myriad of odds. It is easy to understand why there is little motivation to see the sunnier side of things. Despite a positive growth trajectory, there is doom and gloom - a pervasive lack of a sense of accomplishment - all around the country.

For President Uhuru Kenyatta, the mismanaged politics of his succession could do him in. Many have questioned the wisdom of a president and his deputy working at cross-purposes. Obviously, the negative energy finds its way into the bureaucracy and ends up undermining the execution of projects and the president’s agenda.

Shouldn’t it bother his handlers that the fallout with Dr Ruto and 2022 succession politics are hogging all the limelight and drowning out the president’s successes? Because of that the abiding image is of a president who has spent so much time and energy worrying about the future than he has tackling the things that really matter to most Kenyans.

It is such that the peace and unity dividend he assiduously sought – with the March 2018 handshake with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga - is being undermined not just by poor economic prospects, but also by the succession politics.

On the economic front, the middle class feels hard done by while those on the bottom of the pile are less sanguine about the future. Despite high growth (an average of 5-6 per cent), unsustainable debt levels (60 per cent to GDP ratio), a widening current account deficit and a wary private sector hedging their bets, has undermined revenue growth and trickle-down economics. Many more people feel poorer and deprived than they were in 2013. In other words, it is hard for him to demonstrate that things are the way they are despite, not because of his fallout with his deputy.

Make no mistake, even before Covid-19 or Ukraine happened, things were looking grim. The Nairobi Securities Exchange had recorded its worst run in decades as more than a dozen listed companies issued profit warnings and many others laid off thousands to stay afloat and others divested away from the NSE.

Though inflation has remained below 10 per cent (below the regional average) economic recovery has remained slow, never enough to cause significant impact on the bottom millions.

And as government breaks apart and as paralysis sets in (not an exception for this administration), the ensuing scrum for what remains of the Jubilee house will surely leave the country (and the president) worse off.

His legacy project the Big 4 Agenda – of food security, universal health care, manufacturing and affordable housing - have been moving targets riddled with many unknowns that they hardly took off the ground.

Though he demonstrated that he has the spine to fight corruption, nepotism and wastage in public service - which has for far too long been a drag on economic progress - the squabbles by the chief prosecutor and the chief investigator have undermined those efforts. It has taken away the energy and the focus and gave room for the politicians (and suspects) to weaponise the fight.

Despite its lofty promise to foster unity of purpose and growth and prosperity and clean up the politics, many feel that the BBI crusade did more harm than good.

In spite of the grim prospects, the president could still salvage something out of the remaining time especially if he accepts the reality that he cannot wish away his deputy any more easily than he can form a winning coalition.

Jeremy Suri – an American historian and the author of The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office wrote that “even the most capable presidents are doomed to fail”. In the book, the celebrated historian argues that fulfilling the great expectations of the office sets it up for failure.

By far, Mr Kenyatta’s presidency cannot be dismissed as a failure but even then, many think it could have been better. “Limiting the failure and achieving some good along the way,” Suri added, “is the best we can expect.”

Mr Kipkemboi is Partnerships and Special Projects Editor, Standard Group

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