Forget about manifestos, what we desire most is authentic leadership


Azimio la Umoja presidential flag-bearer Raila Odinga and running mate Martha Karua during the launch of the Azimio manifesto at Nyayo national stadium. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]


In whichever way one may look at it, it is very difficult to ignore the grandeur that was of the Azimio-One Kenya manifesto launch early in the week. It was reminiscent and comparatively undistinguishable from The National Alliance (TNA) and Jubilee pomposity in 2013 and 2017. On the substance however, there isn’t much freshness in ideology.

For the presidential candidates, it would be of much interest for them to read the Biographies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for two main reasons. First is that there are manifest similarities to our current political and economic scenarios; and second, their administrations turned around difficult economic environments for households into unprecedented prosperity in recent history. Bill Clinton recounts the pale state of the economy that he found on assuming office in January 20, 1993, contrary to the prosperous one that President Bush senior had projected in official data.

For Obama, he assumed office in January 20, 2009, in the thick of a major global recession as a result of the 2007/08 global financial crisis. In comparison, the current transition is happening when the authenticity of official data as to the true state of the economy is seriously doubtful. The local economy is also battling a global health crisis and contagious external conflict in Ukraine. A bonus read would be the ‘Leadership Gold’ by John C. Maxwell. This classic clearly isolates the responsibility of a leader in the success or failure of any organisation. With that, let’s now turn to a candid dissection of the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Alliance manifesto.

The BIG Picture

At the technical level, the Monday, June 6th 2022, fete was largely a political statement rather than a forum to disseminate the Azimio’s aspirations for the nation. The texture of the moment was made public at the unveiling of the Azimio la Umoja formation on December 10, 2021 at Kasarani Stadium. Presumably, the final draft shared on Monday is the sum total of what the people of Kenya would expect of their administration should they form government after August 9, 2022.

The manifesto is founded on three pillars: Economic Revolution, Social Transformation and Good Governance. Thus, any objective critique of the proposals therein can only be evaluated against these benchmarks. Simply put, how do the finer details address each of the three primary goals? In many ways, campaign manifestos provide insights into the thinking of a candidate or their core teams expected to assume strategic roles if they win.

From a broad perspective, three things stand out of the Azimio Manifesto. One, it is ‘big in words/language’ but highly deficient in specifics. In a political science class, it will score an A, but for real issues facing ‘Wanjiku’ presently, it falls flat. Two, the trails of Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and the remnants of the Jubilee administration are unmistakable. At best, it sounds like an amalgamation of parts and thus lacks a single coherent and clear line of thought/sight. Three, in the details there is evidence of both a lack of tangible crystallisation of where the country is and a generational disparity. While there is a clear mention of the digital economy, the sum total of it leaves one wondering as to whether the intent is to re-establish the 1970/80s economic order or compete in the 21st world economy. There are two important questions that we must ask here: First, what is the game changer here? And second, what is the vision of ‘the President Raila Odinga’ should he assume the reigns of power in the land?

Discernible fault lines

There are five critical assumptions that will eventually determine how the three foundational pillars will be addressed. These are the role of government in a modern economy, reliance on credible evidence to inform policy, investment prioritisation, actionable plans and quality of leaders in the fold. On the role of government, the proposals under agriculture, manufacturing, trade and industry and women agenda for instance insinuates a heavy government involvement as opposed to a market driven agenda.

The country turned into a market based economy back in the 1970s. What has lacked is a single coherent policy to enable the private sector to thrive partly due to conflicts of interest attributable to the Ndegwa Commission report. In agriculture for example, the government invests a considerable budget in irrigation schemes that have never been able to solve the problem of food and nutritional safety imported from the Jubilees ‘BIG 4’ agenda. One wonders what commercialising idle public land by the same government agencies will achieve that they have not been able to do in the past six decades.

The problems of the agriculture and aggro-processing value chains are due to rogue cartels that enjoy air cover from the political and administrative elites in the country. It matters not what sub sector one looks at, the rules are the same. On the question of evidence, the manifesto picks pieces of basic statistics and academic value chain flow charts as evidence. A better approach would have been a clear demonstration of understanding community level issues, policy gaps and interventions that the incoming administration will undertake to resolve them.

A good case in point here would be the textile value chain. It is not surprising how the ‘Mitumba’ comment has stolen the show from the Azimio brigade on social media and with folks in the streets. The Mitumba association seems to be doing a better job in demonstrating how they contribute to taxes, job creation and household incomes. The livestock and fisheries value chains suffer the same fate. Am sure the small scale dairy farmer in Ngurumo Village in Karatina or the seasoned fishermen of Lake Victoria better understand their problems than what this manifesto speaks of.

Interestingly, Kenya Kwanza seems to have stolen the show on this through there community engagement forums. It would be curious to see what they would come up with by June 30th as they have said. The investment prioritization and actionable development plans can be discussed together. Looking at the Azimio 100 days commitments, one cannot fail to notice a lack of clarity as to what the formation seeks to deliver. It cannot be that every aspect of their agenda will be achieved in their first 3 months in office. This is however not an isolated case, the entire document has not put any timeline for any single target or goal.

In fact, it is not clear as to whether it’s a five year or 10 year policy guide. From a developmental perspective, it simply means the coalition promises everything without promising anything. Any plan that has no defined target outcomes or specific timelines, it is best treated as an economic satire. No one can figure what indicators to expect, when, with what inputs for what outcomes and impacts.

The leadership question addresses itself to the governance pillar. Reflecting on the manifesto in total, it is very hard to see or hear a consistent voice of the leader himself. The political scientist had their say, but where is the leader? On corruption, a valid question to ask is: Can two walk together if they do not share same values and ideals? Who are the faces behind their campaign and who has been lined up for big positions in their proposed administration?

The Swahili catch phrases have refused to trend like the hustler narrative. The education and healthcare proposition are clear misfirings. At official policy basic education is free and Universal Healthcare is under implementation. The only logical question here would be why they are not working as expected. The water for all is the joke of the decade. Finally, what exactly does Azimio One Kenya Alliance stand for?