Kenyans need food on the table right now

Retailers in Mathare Slum wait for customers to buy their groceries on Aug 28, 2020. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

He had his eyes on the ball for 10 long years. He put his all into it, taking no prisoners. President William Ruto went against the grain in a gruelling contest that kept him on the road for years to clinch the country's leadership. His daily rallies and tours across the country irked his boss, who derisively coined the term 'tanga tanga' to describe him.

Every possible hurdle was thrown in his path. His supporters were unapologetically dismissed from plum jobs in Parliament and the Executive. Some were allegedly persecuted through the criminal justice system. As his role as Deputy President was downgraded, he took the humiliation in the Cabinet in his stride.

He cast his campaign as battle for power by hustlers, against the dynasties. In the end, he triumphed against his boss, Uhuru Kenyatta, to take the baton from him. Now he is at the helm of power, and the countdown begins.

The challenges are enormous. The expectations too huge to fathom. In his final remarks as he prepared to exit, Uhuru Kenyatta sarcastically said he will hand over while smiling but that Kenyans would regret in three months. Of course, there is no love lost between the two.

No one expects kind words from Mr Kenyatta, as he sulked and threw bad vibes at Mr Ruto. But why would Kenyans regret in three months? Kenyatta knows he is handing over a government that has been dysfunctional, rudderless, out of touch with the reality, and worse, unaccountable. But perhaps more chilling, he will hand over a Treasury whose coffers are empty!

The economy is on a drip. The high cost of living has defiled our dignity, and the nation hooked onto Government subsidies of maize four, fuel, fertilizer and energy to avoid public backlash. Nearly all goods and services have been taxed to service the huge cost of Uhuru administration's binge borrowing, most of which was spent on consumption by a regime that lived large by any standards in Africa.

Facing hunger

Unemployment is at an all-time high. A third of the country has been ravaged by successive drought and millions face starvation. Farmers are counting losses as most subsectors such as cereals, sugar, coffee, tea and livestock underperformed. Poverty is up to nearly 45%. Health and education costs are driving many Kenyans into depression.

That's the legacy Mr Kenyatta bequeathed Kenyans. It's a burden that his predecessor will struggle with for a long time. True, in three months, it will come to ahead. IMF has demanded the scrapping of the subsidies. With subdued exports and rising cost of raw materials, further devaluation of the shilling will be imminent, especially if Mr Ruto takes the Treasury off the drip - loans. External shocks such as global recession and high cost of energy will significantly impact on the economy. Yes, Mr Kenyatta knows in three months it will be crunch time. Nearly sh7 out of sh 10 collected by the Kenya Revenue Authority will be used to service public debt. The balance will hardly be enough to cover recurrent expenses. In the short term, the new President may have to borrow to prevent the Sri Lankan situation. Or else, his pledges to the hustlers will be hot air!

But Ruto was part of the Jubilee administration, in fact its architect, until the fallout with his boss in 2018. Jubilee project was big on pledges, ambition and promised us the moon. In the end, it was a ruling junta characterised by arrogance, hubris and insults.

Service to Kenyans was a privilege as its Cabinet members sought to outdo each other in mediocrity, sycophancy and authoritarianism. They disregarded court orders with abandon. Parliament was subdued and became the Executive's appendage, willingly doing its bid. Its leader, Uhuru Kenyatta was obsessed by his legacy, leading to misplaced priorities as his administration sought to finance expensive vanity projects at a cost to the ordinary Kenyans.

Immediately after swearing in, Kenyans will be keen to see Ruto's cabinet team. Will it be hustler sensitive, driven by service to the people? Will it be a subservient team that will rubber-stamp the President's dreams unquestioningly, or will it reflect dynamism and fidelity to Constitutionalism, and service to the people?

Will Ruto disprove his detractors by appointing persons of integrity, not implicated in corruption? Will it reflect the face of Kenya? In his 10 years, Uhuru did not deem it fit to visit most parts of this country, and did not hide his disdain for some regions. Many expect Ruto's policies and actions will address inequitable allocation of national resources, and make all Kenyans proud of their nationality.

When President Kibaki took over from Moi, the socio-economic situation was similar. Corruption was pervasive in public service. The economic growth was stunted at 0.6 per cent. Kenyans were disillusioned. Though he missed the opportunity to fight corruption despite goodwill by Kenyans, he turned around the economy, addressed challenges in education sector and left us in good mood. Ruto has a similar moment. Corruption, through state capture, is deep-rooted. The economy is in shambles. The nation is hurting in all aspects. He enjoys the goodwill of Kenyans, and has Parliament under wraps. His bottom-up economic approach that turned political campaigns on its head is shared by most ordinary Kenyans. He has singled out ordinary Kenyan hustlers as his target for reforms through various stimulus packages.

In short, Kenyans expect the President will walk the talk. He must get his priorities right. It's all written in his book - the Manisfesto of his party. All Kenyans have copies. Times are hard and Kenyans may not have much patience in store. His government must cut its cloth to fit it's size. Hustlers may not expect to see his Cabinet members driving in a fleet of chase cars, with private plates. Or a 100 member delegation to visit UK for the Queen's funeral! Kenyans need food on the table - priority No.1.

He needs to hit the ground running, in the right direction, and fast!