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ELECTION 2022

Run for your lives; the season of empty political promises is here

OPINION
By Githieya Kimari | Jan 17th 2022 | 3 min read

We expect more seriousness in campaigns for the Kenyan presidency considering that whoever wins the election will impact the lives of millions. [Courtesy]

When I was in high school, the chairmanship of the debating society was a hotly contested affair where candidates used all the political skills they could master to win votes.

To give the campaigns a political flavour, candidates competed in making outrageous promises because that is what they saw politicians at the national level doing.

A case in point was one candidate who promised to build a bridge across Waiyaki Way to facilitate visits between Nairobi School boys and Mosangari girls. Whether a teenager had the capacity and the resources to undertake such a project was a small detail everyone conveniently overlooked in the spirit of the campaign season.

I remembered the school politics while listening to promises of our presidential candidates. DP William Ruto has, for instance, has been popularising what he calls the bottom-up economic model which we are told will focus on empowering Kenyans at the bottom of the food chain.

According to Dr Ruto, funds will be set aside so that those at the bottom of the ladder can uplift themselves. What the DP is however not revealing is where the funds will come from or even how they will be disbursed. Lack of such details is concerning since mismanagement of money supply can have serious adverse effects on macroeconomic variables such as prices, interest rates and employment.

An equally worrying trend is the fact that, the DP has been going around dishing out millions of shillings during his campaigns. The last time a candidate used the strategy of pouring buckets of money into the economy was in 1992 when President Moi through YK92 released billions of shillings into the economy. The ensuing steep rise in prices compelled the government to introduce tight monetary policies whose negative impact on employment is still felt to date.

One would have thought that after nearly ruining the economy in 1992, politicians would avoid such reckless use of funds in campaigns. Many economies where a loaf of bread costs wheelbarrows of worthless cash starts with reckless pumping of money into the economy. Kenyans need to be vigilant lest we return to the hard economic times of the 90s.

Not to be outdone, the One Kenya Alliance principals while campaigning in Kajiado promised to reduce taxes by a jaw-dropping 50 per cent while at the same time increasing expenditure by giving free education.

In a country where tax collection is perennially short of budgetary needs, the idea that candidates want to reduce taxes by 50 per cent and simultaneously increase expenditure has to be taken with a pinch of salt. As things are, the government is heavily indebted to external and domestic sources. While many hate to pay taxes, I doubt anyone in their rightful minds would wish the government to fail in meeting its obligations.

While campaign promises by the DP and Wiper leader raises disturbing monetary and fiscal policy questions, my concern with Raila Odinga’s proposal is primarily on ideological grounds. According to Baba, one of the primary objectives of his administration will be to create a welfare system that will advance a monthly stipend of Sh6,000 per month to the deserving poor. Without even dwelling on the funding challenges of a welfare state, his proposes begs the question of whether you pluck people out of poverty by giving them a fish or showing them how to fish.

As Americans are finding out after giving out hefty Covid-19 stimulus cheques, citizens lose the incentive to look for jobs when the state is giving out stipends every month. Why work or think of creative ways to earn a living when you can count on a cheque from the state?

While watching candidates making empty political promises was good entertainment for High school election campaigns, we expect more seriousness in campaigns for the Kenyan presidency considering that whoever wins the election will impact the lives of millions of Kenyans. Although we appreciate the temptation to over-promise in the heat of political campaigns, Kenyans need real solutions, not political hype couched in fancy economic jargon.

-Mr Githieya is a political and economic analyst. [email protected]

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