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Uhuru justified to feel let down by his men

By Andrew Kipkemboi | September 7th 2020 at 07:37:25 GMT +0300

President Uhuru Kenyatta during a virtual meeting of the Aqaba Process on Covid-19 convened by King Abdullah II of Jordan at State House Nairobi on September 02, 2020. [PSCU, Standard]

An aggrieved deputy, a fractured ruling party; a Parliament that is adrift; an opportunistic opposition cheering on as a civil war tears apart the ruling party; a seemingly ineffective bureaucracy biding time to the next elections; a restive public weighed down by an economy that is out of kilter amid a deadly pandemic, rising unemployment, revelations of corruption and unfulfilled promises, but very little time on your hands.

That is not the script you wanted, not least in your last 24 months. For most presidents, the last term throws up many odds. For President Uhuru Kenyatta, it probably couldn’t get worse than it is already.

So much is at stake as Mr Kenyatta takes the penultimate lap. Indeed, there is little motivation for many to see the sunnier side of things. And not just the pervasive lack of a sense of accomplishment; the infiltration of the politics by peddlers of influence and power is poisoning the environment.

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 leave the country (and the president) worse off. He needs to steady the ship.

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Administrations are judged by the performance of the economy, not the state of the politics. Jobs and business opportunities is what matters.

Despite high growth (5-6 per cent), unsustainable debt levels (60 per cent to GDP ration), a widening current account deficit (as high operatings costs drive away manufacturers) 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.

The peace and unity dividend he assiduously sought – with the March 2018 handshake with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga – is being undermined by poor economic prospects: The middle class feels hard done by while those on the bottom of the pile are less sanguine. 

Even before Covid-19 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, many laying off thousands to stay afloat.

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

His legacy Big 4 Agenda – food security, universal healthcare, manufacturing and housing - have been moving targets riddled with many unknowns. The promised structural reforms in the civil service have not taken off despite much gusto and publicity at the beginning.

While the failed laptop project demonstrates the folly of using populist projects as campaign posters in a slow-moving, graft-riddled and captured public service, bickering party officials give supporters little reason to hope for the best in last two years.

Despite its lofty promise to foster unity of purpose and growth and prosperity and clean up the politics, many feel that the BBI crusade has done much harm than good. In spite of the grim prospects, Uhuru could still salvage something out of the remaining time. It all boils down to how he handles his quarreling, bungling subordinates.

First, many question the wisdom of a president and his deputy working at cross-purposes. Obviously, the negative energy finds its way into the bureaucracy. It remains dysfunctional like before - some say worse than ever - because of the constant sniping.

Secondly, though he demonstrated that he has the spine to fight corruption, nepotism and wastage in public service, it has stuttered as the chief prosecutor and the chief investigator squabble in a needless ego fight. That takes away the energy and the focus and gives room for the politicians (and suspects) to weaponise the fight.

Yet for all upsets, Uhuru deserves plaudits. When he took office in 2013, he sought to redefine Kenya’s place in the region and in the world. For far too long, Kenya had punched below its weight despite being one of the continent’s foremost countries with the biggest economy ($100 billion), a vibrant democracy and a young, educated and agile population.

He has not tried to deviate from the liberal market economies. He has tried to better the infrastructure (the SGR, the Lamu Port and roads), and embraced technology.

Doing away with the 8-4-4 system, which many feel had fallen out of place in a fast-evolving world was bold and progressive and as was the decision to do away with plastic bags.

Would that most of what he set out to do had such a definite path to success. And so he is right to feel let down.

-Mr Kipkemboi is an Associate Editor at The Standard.  [email protected]


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