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Why DP Ruto’s bottom-up economic approach is dishonest

By John Ouma | July 30th 2021
Deputy President William Ruto addressing wananchi at Ukunda, Msambweni, Kwale County on July 18, 2021. [Jonah Mwangi/DPPS, Standard]

The term wheelbarrow, introduced into our political lexicon by Deputy President William Ruto, has dominated the country’s mainstream conversation. It has permeated the collective consciousness of the proletariat with the vigour of Haitian revolution of 1791.

While some people have dismissed what has come to be known as ‘wheelbarrownomics’ as a treacherous ploy to hoodwink the electorate, others believe it is the panacea to the trouble with Kenya, as far as the economy is concerned.

During a tour of the Coast in January, MPs aligned to Dr Ruto took turns to address a political rally from a wheelbarrow. Most people viewed this style of politics as a brazen mockery of the plight of the people.

“Give us a break”, Father Gabriel Dolan wrote on Twitter. Ruto, and politicians sympathetic to his 2022 bid, is trying to speak the language of the proletariat. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, his sudden obsession with the plight of ordinary Kenyans raises fundamental questions.

The bottom-up economic approach that he is trying to sell is dishonest, for the simple reason that it’s coming from him. There are two groups in Kenya’s political equation: The political elite and the masses. DP Ruto belongs to the former. He is part of the upper class bourgeoisie that controls Kenyan economy. He might like to cling to the ‘hustler’ tag by virtue of his story, but he lacks the legitimacy to do so.

For a long time, as he rightly points out, the ordinary Kenyan has had the raw end of the pineapple. Since Jubilee government – in which he’s the principal deputy head – came to power in April 2013, there has been significant rise in the cost of living with an increase in commodity prices and limited jobs.

Eight years ago, this government promised to create at least one million jobs annually and oversee a double-digit economic growth. None of that has happened. If anything, more jobs have been lost than have been created during the period that Jubilee has been in power.

One in three Kenyan youth is unemployed. According to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, only 1.87 per cent of Kenyans are employed out of an adult population of 22 million. Additionally, at least 1.72 million Kenyans lost jobs between April and July 2020 as a result of economic meltdown occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.

By early May 2020, as the impact of the pandemic was starting to play out in the global economy, IMF was projecting that gross government debts would increase by $6 trillion to $66 trillion at the end of 2020. Or from 105 per cent of GDP to 112 per cent – the greatest rise than in any year during the global financial crisis.

By the end of 2020, Kenya’s debt stood at Sh7.2 trillion – 70 per cent of the GDP. This is more than 720 times what it was in 1980 when the public debt was $1 billion. Of course there are valid reasons such as population increase that explain why the debt has grown.

It means every Kenyan had a debt of roughly Sh137,000 by the end of 2020. Ruto, being part of a government that has presided over this level of economic failure, has no moral authority to hawk hope. In short, Ruto is part of the regime that has plunged Kenya into an imminent economic crisis. It’s dishonest of him to purport to offer solutions when elected president. 

Mr Ouma is a First-Gen scholar

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