In his quest to become Kenya's fifth president, William Ruto, like the other three candidates, made sweeping promises that were both unrealistic and, as it is turning out, unfortunate. And those promises won him the election. At least, that is what the electoral agency declared, and the Supreme Court unanimously validated.
The issue is not that Dr Ruto made grandiose promises. Politicians can do and say anything to endear themselves to the people, sometimes giving the impression that they are indeed ready to deliver humanity from all scourges, stretching to levels that even the real Messiah never got to.
The problem is that Ruto made too many false promises at the wrong time. The packaging of Ruto as a latter-day John Keynes who would move the Kenyan economy to levels that no president has done before was a long con for two reasons.
First and foremost, Ruto's promise to address the plight of the masses was not genuine.
Estranged by what has come to be known as the 'handshake regime', Ruto took his politics to the people and quickly succeeded as the untainted voice of the masses. Talking about things like high cost of living and the rising debt at the slightest public appearance.
Everything he said to the masses during the handshake regime was about how to uplift them and destroy the national culture of privilege that serves the interests of the dynasties at the expense of hustlers. He told ordinary Kenyans that he understood their plight as a former hustler and would not betray them no matter what.
While I doubt if there is any genuine hustler who believed they would be appointed to a senior public office in Ruto's government, majority of the real hustlers expected that Ruto would do things that addressed their immediate challenges and aspirations. He hasn't. He has done the exact opposite. Appointing more than 50 politicians and crusaders into unconstitutional positions against the spirit of the very constitution he swore to protect and not undermine as his predecessor did.
The most urgent challenge facing Kenyans is the high cost of living. Before assuming office, Ruto said he had a plan through which he was going to rescue Kenyans from the rising cost of living. For instance, during the presidential debate last year, he argued that the cost of fuel was high because of the many taxes that the government imposed on the product.
The solution, he said, was to remove the punitive taxes. The Finance Bill 2023 that he just assented to has, in fact, raised the VAT on petroleum products by 8 per cent.
Hannah Arendt, the widely-quoted German philosopher, wrote in The Crises of the Republic that 'every organisation of men, be it social or political, ultimately relies on man's capacity for making promises and keeping them.' Kenyans are effectively relying on an organisation of prayerful and honest men and women who, while they can make pretty revolutionary promises, are sadly unable to keep them.
Secondly, extractive democracies are bound to produce extractive economies. Extractive economies are known to be wasteful – as Ruto's chief economic advisor David Ndii has admitted – corrupt and generally extortionist.
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson remind us in Why Nations Fail that extractive economies are often led by populists whose national ideas are suspicious. It is extractive democracies that are obsessed with building political parties whose primary goal is to rule for 100 years. Ruto's UDA has said through its secretary general Cleophas Malala that they will rule for a century.
Most of the policy pronouncements and implementations for the 10 months Ruto has been in office have clearly indicated that this government is and will remain extractive economically and politically. It is steadily weakening the opposition, has captured Parliament, and has shown its capacity to stifle protests.
As we protest what looks like a commitment to tax the life out of us, let us remember that this government didn't come into office with the single goal of saving us. In fact, it is likely to sink us deeper into misery.
Mr Ouma is a freelance writer. [email protected]
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