President Ruto's 2023 gamble

President William Ruto speaks at State House, Nairobi, on September 25, 2022. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

President William Ruto entered the new year on Sunday with several economic and political problems in his tray.

At the heart of them all is the magic he must perform to lower the cost of living for the overburdened populace bearing the brunt of the economic policies of the Jubilee administration of which he was a part.

And on the political side, a restless Opposition keen to rein in his administration and a clash of ambitions in his star-studded Kenya Kwanza team will keep him busy for the rest of the year. 

Perhaps it is on the economy front where Ruto is burdened the most. Having won on a pro-poor political agenda, he now finds himself in a political dilemma of either giving quick fixes to restless citizens or building a foundation to expand the economy.

The majority of Kenyans hope their suffering will end instantly. Tomorrow, he leads his Cabinet to a retreat to figure out both short-term and long-term solutions to Kenya’s economy. 

There are fears that in the last few months, the measures taken thus far have not struck a chord for a rebound of the economy.

“The feedback from the various opinion polls published on Christmas eve is crystal clear this administration is yet to strike a chord with consumers and businesses. For any good and objective economic analyst, there have been evidential traces of blunt shots all over,” development economist Patrick Muinde wrote in The Standard this week.

On the first day of the year, Ruto’s government quashed the 15 percent electricity subsidy as per the Budget Review and Outlook Paper 2022/2023 and electronic money transfer charges and transaction taxes suspended over the Covid period were reintroduced.

These moves added to the disaffection caused by the cessation of subsidies on maize flour and fuel which economists agree were necessary moves, but inconvenient to consumers.

Ruto has given every indication that he will not settle for short-term solutions, and will instead pursue long-term goals to secure the economy.

He’s emphasising on subsidy at the production level such as fertiliser subsidies and the enhancement of irrigation-fed agriculture.

“Redirecting subsidies to agricultural inputs like seed and fertiliser moves the focus from consumption to long-term production solutions. And because Kenya seems to be headed for yet another failed rain season in most parts of the country, it makes sense to focus funds on the building of dams,” Leornard Khafafa, a public policy analyst said.

President William Ruto. [Kelly Ayodi, Standard

On the political front, Ruto has to deal with a deeply hurt Opposition whose captain still believes he was robbed of his victory. In a pre-Christmas television interview, Azimio leader Raila Odinga said institutions that dealt with the August 2022 election were biased against him.

He has promised to revisit the political bit of his electoral loss this year by offering direction to his supporters. Again, analysts hope the political environment will accord space for the economy to recover and will be looking to Ruto to deliver.

In his attempt to fix some of the political issues that may come into play, Ruto wrote to the National Assembly and the Senate on December 9 proposing constitutional amendments. 

The amendments were to re-introduce the role of an Official Leader of the Opposition, allow Cabinet secretaries to attend Parliament sessions, and were generally couched as meant to “institutionalise governance, strengthen oversight, and deepen democracy in Kenya.”

“I am a great believer in an accountable government. That is why we want our oversight institutions, Parliament and the Opposition to be empowered,” Ruto said.

Away from the constitutional amendments, a gruesome legal battle also awaits President Ruto where his bid for the re-introduction of County Administrative Secretaries (CASs) positions was halted.

High Court Judge Antony Mrima in August 2021, declared the CAS positions illegal noting that the law was not followed while they were being created by former President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2018.

The courts also stopped the Public Service Commission from filling the 21 positions in October 2022 after the agency advertised for the same. The matter of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) also remains live in the courts.

The president still has the arduous task of ensuring that his Deputy Rigathi Gachagua toes the line and does not jeopardise his relationship with governors across the 47 counties.

There is disquiet in Nairobi over a disagreement between DP Rigathi Gachagua and Governor Johnson Sakaja. Their tiff stems from their different views on how the capital city should be run.

Gachagua on December 20, 2022 warned Sakaja against relocating matatus from the CBD to GreenPark Terminus saying that the move would disrupt business and financially hurt the Mt Kenya business community.

President Ruto is further expected to justify the creation of the Office of the Prime Cabinet Secretary occupied by Musalia Mudavadi. 

Then there is the reconstitution of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission following the resignation of three commissioners after the August polls.