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Kenya Kwanza has huge task to regain public confidence

 President William Ruto. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

This year’s Jamhuri Day celebrations were probably the most lowkey, uninspiring and insipid affair in the country’s 60 years of independence.

Even the neighbouring heads of state didn’t bother to show up, and more Kenyans took advantage of the free entry to national parks than free admission to the national and county celebrations. The lack of energy, enthusiasm and joy around the day was indicative of where the country is at the moment.

Kenya is a tired and angry nation, harassed and browbeaten on every side by a regime that promised heaven on earth but has produced a living hell. Kenya Kwana got elected on promises that are far from being fulfilled 17 months later. They came to power announcing that the coffers were empty and declaring that citizens must tighten their belts, but they themselves continue to spend extravagantly and wastefully while rising food prices have pushed millions back into the poverty bracket. No wonder there is nothing to celebrate.

What is most disturbing about the current crisis, however, is that the vast majority of the population have lost confidence in the government’s willingness or ability to improve their lives. There exists a major trust deficit that the government is reluctant to acknowledge. Very few believe anything that the Executive tells them these days, whether it is about the cost of fuel, the frequent blackouts, affordable housing or even the weather prospects.

The other day, the President announced that inflation had dropped from 9.2 per cent to 6.8 per cent, but try telling that to the teller at your local supermarket when they tot up your food bill. The price of maize flour may have temporarily reduced during harvesting time, but man does not live on ugali alone. To further declare that the GDP has grown by 5.4 per cent in the past six months, taking Kenya into 29th position in the world, is not backed up by any concrete economic evidence. That is not what the FKE, manufacturing and banking industries are telling us. Nor the budget controller or KRA for that matter who are continuously failing to meet their revenue collection targets. Nor the CS Finance either who warned recently of the risk of insufficient funds to pay salaries or release NG-CDF cash.

Mark Twain said that there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. Put another way, he was suggesting that statistics are frequently used to bolster weak arguments and what the President relayed on Jamhuri Day will not be taken seriously by citizens whose daily reality portrays a very different story. The government of course does need to increase its revenue but the manner at which it has gone about it – presumably at the bidding of the IMF – is backfiring as citizens are being pushed to the wall and jobs are at risk. Many companies have decided to retain their workers as casuals rather than close their small businesses, but that too means less revenue going to KRA. The demand that kiosks start paying a percentage of their small profits to the government, despite paying hefty licenses to the county governments, will mean further closure of many of these family-run services.

While the President may claim the country is on the right track, it is probably only the IMF who will agree with him. The punitive taxation, endemic corruption and the submissive debt repayment are taking their toll on citizens’ pockets and patience. Rather than spend millions of constituency funds on late home-coming parties and mbuzi sessions, the Executive and MPs need to go on the ground during the long recess and listen, respectfully and sincerely, to the cries of the poor. They will quickly learn that kwa ground mambo ni tofauti and that citizens are suffering, angry and running out of patience.

Kenya Kwanza has a huge task on its hands to regain the trust of the public. It might take a first step forward by telling the truth for once, and responding to the needs of the citizens rather than seeking favour with foreign states who will always put their own political interests ahead of Kenya’s. Maybe that is the message that our own leaders need to grasp, Kenya kwanza, not tumbo kwanza.

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