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Will having a scientist president be significant in Kenya policy making?

Xn Iraki

President William Ruto chats with Management University of Africa Chancellor Reuben Mutiso during the university's graduation ceremony in Kitengela, Nairobi. [File, Standard]

William Ruto won the presidential election against all expectations. We have in the past tried to explain why and how he won.

We are eagerly waiting for his cabinet to give us an idea how he will run the government. I am particularly interested in who will get the hot finance docket. Can we call these men and women minister or waziri, cabinet secretary is old fashioned and copied from US constitution?

We, however, haven’t looked at President Ruto’s academic credentials, which are unique. He is the first Kenyan president to have earned a PhD and the first scientist to occupy the house on the hill. He is a botanist.

Curiously he is a very religious man, starting from his student days. Religion is about faith, with few questions asked. It relies mostly on one source of knowledge, usually a holy book like the Bible or the Quran.

Science is about skepticism, not certainty as we are made to believe. Every scientific knowledge is tentative, till we get a more superior knowledge.

Remember at one time the atom was the smallest unit of matter? And we thought the Earth was the centre of the universe?

Why should we bother with Dr Ruto’s academic credentials?

Scientists think differently from artists, who call themselves social scientists. The latter try to imitate the methods ‘real’ scientists use to gather new knowledge after collecting data and testing hypotheses.

Social scientists are more bound by emotions, sentimentality and beliefs despite their dalliance with objectivity. They dislike being told that.

Scientists are known for objectivity, focus on cause and effect relationships and transparency. The methods they use to collect and analyse data are publicised and anyone can replicate their study if in doubt.

That is contrasted with social scientists whose key subjects are human beings with their prejudices and biases. Studies in social sciences are very hard to replicate, our views and beliefs keep changing. 

Religious politician

Given that Dr Ruto is a religious politician, we are eagerly waiting to see the scientific part of him. How objective will he be in his decisions? Will he make better decisions because of factoring the cause and effect relationship?

Being a scientist, will he demand data or evidence for most critical decisions? Will he remove our whims in making decisions that are important to this country? Will he make public participation more scientific? 

Will transparency reign in the spirit of science? Will he remove “siri“  from serikali ? How will he balance his religious beliefs with science?

A more curious question is if more scientists will get big jobs in the government. Don’t birds of a feather flock together? Will academic credentials compete with gender in job placements?

Instead of the two-thirds gender rule, why not two-thirds sciences rule? Ensuring a mix of social and ‘hard’ scientists in big posts?  Some think there will be a new mix in big jobs, religious inclination.

There is no doubt evangelicals played a role in Dr Ruto’s victory. What will be their dividend?

Will Ruto’s scientific side show in public? Drama and music festival winners in school competitions always visit State House. Will science and technology congress winners now also visit the president?

US has on office of science and technology policy under the presidency. Shall we have such an office under President Ruto?

Will Dr Ruto’s ascension lead to more students taking STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) at university level and catalyse industrialisation, which is driven by scientists and their engineer cousins? 

Will more money be provided for research and development? Today 75 per cent of university students are studying social sciences; will Dr Ruto reverse that?

Make a difference

Has Dr Ruto deconstructed the myth that scientists can’t make leaders? Jomo Kenyatta was an anthropologist, Daniel arap Moi was a teacher and Kibaki was an economist. Uhuru Kenyatta studied economics but rarely pronounced his academic area of interest. 

We should also accept that Dr Ruto’s science background is not unique. Margaret Thatcher was a chemist, Angela Merkel is a quantum chemist. Xi Jingping is a chemical engineer and Pombe Mangufuli was a chemist. Why do chemists make good politicians? Mixing things? 

Will Dr Ruto’s academic background make a difference to our economy and lead to its transformation? Remember the big fight over the degree requirement for our leaders.

We can only wait to see the direction Dr Ruto’s regime will take, starting with the cabinet appointments. Science has driven innovation, and industrialisation and changed our world views. And through it, civilizations have flourished.

Is science the missing link in our quest to transform our society? Will Dr Ruto and his science finally usher in the Kenyan renaissance?

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