President William Ruto has been forced to review some campaign promises as the reality of the country’s economic situation hits home.
President Ruto rode on pledges to lower food prices, boost agriculture, provide interest-free loans to small businesses and integrate the informal sector into the economy.
But six weeks into his administration, the optimism within the Kenya Kwanza Alliance core support base that greeted his election is waning as the new government drags its feet or reviews some key pledges that resonated with voters.
On Tuesday, the president said it could take a year before the country finally enjoys lower food prices. It was a telling declaration from the government, especially regarding changes announced during Mashujaa Day celebrations on the proposed Sh50 billion Hustler Fund.
Alongside lowering cost of living, providing financing to businesses was easily the second most impactful pledge made by Ruto’s campaign.
During the launch of his manifesto in July, the president promised to bring down the cost of living in his first 100 days in office. But as he settles into the job, President Ruto is finding it increasingly harder to stick to the timelines he had given.
The price of electricity and fuel shot up as soon as he took office after the new administration withdrew subsidies on fuel introduced by his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta, with it the prices of essential commodities.
On Tuesday, Ruto said he needed a year to bring down cost of maize flour, explaining that the problem was more profound than he had anticipated.
“Those who spoiled the price of maize flour, and let it rise to Sh230 did it in four years but give me one year and I will fix it,” he said.
One of Ruto’s first actions in office was to use Sh3.6 billion to subsidise fertiliser, hoping it would lower cost of food production and in turn cost of food.
“I have already started the journey to reduce the cost of flour and cost of living. We have given our farmers one and a half million bags of fertiliser and we are giving them six million more bags to produce enough food and the food to reach the market with a good price,” he said.
As part of interventions to lower the cost of food, the Cabinet on October 4 lifted a ban on cultivating and importing genetically modified maize.
Some of the positions that Ruto has reviewed include the Hustler Fund, his flagship pledge to provide capital to the youth to help them run businesses.
Initially sold as interest-free financing, the difficulty of providing free money has sunk prompting the new government to restructure it.
Ruto has introduced new conditions to it too. On Mashujaa Day, the President stated that Hustler Fund will be a loan charged an interest of less than 10 per cent.
Match and double
But the borrower needs to be a member of a savings scheme which the government intends to match and double. Ruto is also facing pressure for the withdrawal of some of Uhuru’s schemes such as Kazi Mtaani.
In Kibera on Tuesday, the crowd, consisting mostly of young people shouted for the President to reintroduce the Kazi Mtaani, a programme started by President Kenyatta and designed to cushion the most vulnerable youth in the informal settlements from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This was a project covering the whole country where each of the 1,400 wards had 500 youths absorbed in the projects. Each of the more than 725,000 youth and women have been getting Sh600 per day since 2020.
Ruto said he had grander plans for the youth than having them walking around picking litter and clearing trenches for a pittance. “It’s a thing of the past,” he said. But as doubt starts to creep in, Ruto’s supporters see the changes as adaptations.
Nyeri Town MP Duncan Mathenge, a member of UDA, said while the party expected to keep their promises, they did not have a clear picture of the situation the country was in then.
“We were all highly expectant. However, the Kenya Kwanza team was campaigning from outside of government and upon assumption of office, the reality came home,” the first-term MP said.
Mr Mathenge nevertheless said President Ruto has been candid with the public and told them that some of the promises that he made could not be delivered as quickly as he had hoped based on the realities that we find ourselves in as a country.
But he said if things worked well within the short interventions such as the subsidised fertiliser for areas that will have received rainfall the cost of food would still come down within the next three months.
Sabatia MP Clement Sloya (UDA), said President Ruto did not want to play to the gallery.
“The president has a long-term solution to the food shortage as opposed to the short term which includes bringing in subsidised fertiliser which will lead to the increase in maize supply. It is better to state the reality than play to the gallery,” he said. But the government has to contend with the effects of the worst drought in 40 years which has exposed about 4 million people to hunger. The rains have failed and farmer’s hopes of planting or harvesting any crop have withered.