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William Ruto's hustler agenda scores high in context but weak on strategic interventions

Kenya kwanza Presidential Candidate William Ruto speaking to KTN town hall meeting on Thursday, July 7 2022. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Today, I once again assume that unenviable position of dissecting the hustler’s agenda for the nation. This is if the people choose to bequeath them the reins of power on election night of August 9. About three week ago, we did the same for Azimio la Umoja formation. I choose to exercise my liberties to skip the ones for the Roots and Agano parties.

For the avoidance of doubt, I have had time to go through the document word by word. Here, I only share deep reflections on the sum total of what has been said therein, either directly or implied. For clarity, we shall group the central issues around three themes: the generics, the good and the vague.

The generics

On aesthetics, there is an unmistakable feeling that it was highly rushed, maybe to meet the pre-commitment of June 30 deadline. It is also obvious that the entire manifesto oscillates around the ideas and thoughts of a single all-knowing central planner. The evidence to this is the many typos, missing statistics and the duplication of full excerpts/paragraphs back and forth. In fact, if you haven’t read the document, all you need is to read up to page 11 of the 66.

This raises a weighty question as to whether the candidate himself had time to go through, internalise and reflect the commitments he was making to a nation of an estimated 56.1 million people as at June 2022. This is also captured in sections of the manifesto. It further opens a fertile imagination as to whether this dominant voice of the central planner is also, what is universally shared across the entire leadership of the Kenya-Kwanza formation. Or it is simply a means to an end. Thus, should the people of Kenya take them seriously on their commitments? On the brighter side, the document veers off from theoretical academic flattery that is predominant on the Azimio manifesto. The primary issues are based on practical realities, official statistics and value chains domesticated to specific economic units. The formations’ central message of ‘hustlernomics’ is dominant, consistent and beautifully connects the candidate and his team to each chapter.

For example, the footprints of the candidate, his running mate and key allies on the campaign trail are real and authentic. Without the benefit of pre-conceived knowledge of their past, it is extremely hard to isolate them from the hustler narrative and a sense of touch with real issues. Whether this goes beyond skin-deep is a matter of conjecture, but for their campaigns, it does the job well.

The good

While the manifesto demonstrates so good connection with real issues in general, four things stand out. This includes an extensive use of official statistics and evidence, a realistic appraisal of the debt problem and a good conceptualisation of the healthcare, creative economy and governance components and/or proposed interventions.

Devoid of political bias, the hustler agenda extensively applies factual evidence to demonstrate the policy problems, their impacts and practical suggestions that they commit to adopt as solutions. This facilitates a consistent messaging and gives the reader a sense that they understand the problems of ordinary folks.

On fiscal space, they boldly diagnose the public debt problem, the costs and associated risk and impact of debt service charge on national revenues. Their interpretation of this is evidential on their subtle commitments on big infrastructure projects, away from the ‘big push projects’ philosophy of the current administration. In fact, they propose to divest from the big water dams in favour of smaller community projects and offer no new commitments on roads, opting for the existing budgetary allocations.

The same silent approach on potentially heavy budgetary consumers is noticeable on education, healthcare and social protection.

They propose either reforms to the existing programmes or a securitisation process. This contrasts Azimio’s ‘Babacare’, free basic education and Sh6,000 stipend to two million poor households. On healthcare, the team proposes reforms to the National Health Insurance schemes, a three tier approach to health financing, well contrasts benefits of better investments on preventive health as opposed to curative, and quietly navigates away from the politically hot question of management healthcare workers.

The potential of the creative economy and how existing investments in internet could be leveraged on to bolster youth employment and national revenues is well articulated. They drafters seems well appraised to the South Korean and Nigerian experience. Proposals to strengthen and enforce protection of property and copy rights are long overdue. This has highly limited the national potential of the creative economy.

Contrary to the criticism leveled against them by their main opponents, I find their governance pillar quite radical and bold. If this were not true, how then should we interpret the proposal to delink the Police Service from the direct control of the presidency by providing budgetary autonomy complete with an accounting officer? Further, they commit to establish the Judiciary fund to let the judicial arm independently execute their mandate. The same is proposed for the Chapter 15 Constitutional Commissions and EACC. The candidate pledges never to make a call to any of them in regard to matters before them on his forward.

Other commitments include the transfer of the Registrar of Political Parties to IEBC to give the office autonomy, appoint all judicial officers declined by the outgoing president, streamline transfers of sharable revenues to counties and facilitate them to grow own revenues, implement all court rulings disobeyed by the outgoing administration and establish a quasi-judicial commission to investigate state capture.

They also commit to legislate to establish the office of official opposition leader in Parliament. How these radical propositions escape their main critiques is surprising.

The vague

While there are several grey areas that lack tangible and actionable suggestions, three issues standout. First, is on the central pillar of agricultural productivity that the team bets on as the easiest path to rejuvenate the economy and create massive employment. The value chains and their potential are well diagnosed. But the proposed solutions miss out on critical considerations. Land and land tenure system weighs heavily on the economics of agricultural activities.

This has huge impact on economies of scale and its attendant forward and backward linkages in the value chain. Further, it is not clear how community water projects and harvesting will be done cost-effectively among small holder farmers scattered across the entire nation. Besides, most farming activities are done for subsistence purposes or as a cultural practice and not for the commercial side of it.

In my view, shift should be towards none rain-fed large scale farming and transparent regulated auction market for produce to eliminate middle-men who reign supreme in the sector. Providing cash inputs through the Hustler Fund to hustler farmers won’t simply hack-it. The second one is probably the one that gives fodder to their critiques. While the financial commitments may sound brilliant, they lack any foundational support.

Proposing budgets without well thought out programmes and projects is like fattening the calf for cartels and wheeler dealers. The Jubilee administration has perfected the art of defining their developmental achievements based on amounts spent as opposed to actual outcomes for households, communities and governmental revenues. It is this mindset to development that has fuelled its legendary plunder of public coffers.

Finally, the governance proposals take an activism paradigm that sounds like pitting the hustlers versus those perceived as dynastic. This is dangerous for national stability. While it is good to pursue necessary reforms, it takes leadership genius to re-order an economy from entrenched extractive political institutions. The fall of Zimbabwe should serve as a constant reminder of not how to radicalise economic reforms.