President Uhuru Kenyatta used the Madaraka Day celebration to defend his legacy and policies.
On what could be the biggest stage before he exits State House later this year, the President enumerated his accomplishments and gave his vision for the future.
“As Kenyans, we often dwell on the what and the how, without asking ourselves why,” Uhuru said.
This statement set the tone for a speech that ran for over an hour, a self-appraisal since 2013.
“Why has my tenure in office seen so much emphasis on transformative programmes and reforms in healthcare, education, agriculture, energy, titling of land, housing, social protection, affirmative action, commerce and industry, and the ease of doing business? Why the Big Four Agenda?”
Yet, that “why” has been the most persistent question of Uhuru’s development, especially his investment in mega infrastructure projects, which has put the country in heavy debt.
This question is shaping the campaign messages of would be Kenya’s next leaders, especially his Deputy President William Ruto.
“The naysayers said we should not invest heavily in infrastructure because people don’t eat roads and floating bridges,” Uhuru repeated a familiar criticism.
That, he said, was a simplistic way of looking at infrastructural development. Infrastructure, Uhuru said, has a way of turning swamps into cities, dead spaces into high value properties, and village shopping centres into city malls.
“Without infrastructure, there are no ways of finding new possibilities. And that is why we made it one of our Big Push Investments,” he said.
New roads, ports and railways, he said, meant farmers and fishermen would earn more, the value of land would similarly rise and small villages grow into vibrant towns.
“I refused their pessimism because I know what a new road means to the farmer who has for decades been unable to get their produce quickly to the market.”
He took the opportunity to hit back at his critics at on rising debt.
“But how much is ‘too much’ borrowing? When does borrowing become ‘too much’ and unbearable to a nation?” he said.
Uhuru’s answer was that the country’s debt is sustainable and would only be a worry if it ended up in private pockets.
“The only time that debt is a burden to a nation is if the nation is led by a cabal of looters. But in the hands of a visionary administration, debt is a catalyst for rapid development.”
The question was not whether debt is good or bad, he said.
“The more legitimate question has to do with what the next administration will do with borrowed funds. Will they end up in private pockets or will they be used to accelerate economic advancement?”
Uhuru spoke as his would be successors sat not far from him.
“To maintain the tempo of our accelerated achievements, the fifth administration should not shy away from using ‘other people’s money’. Debt, in a cleaned-up government, is an enabler, not a burden,” he said.
He lauded the integrity of the military, which has been given authority to manage some institutions.
The Kenya Meat Commission, he said, was making profits and the Kenya Shipyard Ltd was “poised to be the largest shipyard in sub-Saharan Africa.”
“This is evidence that in an environment that is not contaminated, it can be done. If we could build this museum (Uhuru Gardens) using the disciplined forces in only 22 months instead of 10 years, and restore the glory of Nairobi using the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS), it can be done.” he said.
The president also sought to show Kenyans from his perspective on the investment in security, change of the education curriculum and investment in healthcare.