William Ruto is breaking his promise of a lean government

President William Ruto during celebrations of KDF Day. [PSCU]

Any good political economist understands that politicians never get to provide “textbook” solutions to societal problems.

At best, they inhabit a world of balancing “first best” solutions against political incentives.

That said, there are politicians intrinsically motivated to do good and those who run for office for no other reason than to steal public resources.

At the beginning of each administration, it is often unclear which “types” of politicians will dominate.

It is fair to say the stealing types have dominated our governments since independence – with exceptions before 1975, a brief period in the early 1980s, and the Kibaki era.

All else equal, we ought to prefer having politicians whose primary motivation is public service.

Such politicians may every so often fall to temptation of corruption and clientelistic coalition building, but their public spiritedness never gets dimmed.

This raises two important questions: what type of politician is President William Ruto?

And what types of politicians and public servants will he surround himself with during his tenure? It is hard to answer either question ex ante.

Politicians get partially made by the realities they face while in office. However, we can speculate a little.

The 2022 election forced Ruto into sounding like a public-spirited politician.

Now that he has painted himself into a corner, Kenyans should demand that he actually acts like one.

His personnel choices, however, send a different message. Again, there is nothing wrong with coalition building.

However, coalition building should never drown out the capacity to deliver.

A vivid illustration of Ruto’s misstep in this regard is retention of the Cabinet Administrative Secretary (CAS) positions.

The move signals one of two possibilities: either the President over-estimates his managerial capacities or he has been completely swamped by realities of coalition building.

Now is not the time for a gravy train administration. Kenyans are hurting under the weight of taxes and sky-high cost of living and the Treasury is stretched to the limit.

The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University