Kenya Kwanza's big mouth bitter pill

President William Ruto, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, Prime Cabinet Minister Musalia Mudavadi and Bungoma Governor Ken Lusaka during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Bungoma county Aggregation and Industrial Park. [PCS]

President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua campaigned on a horse carrying bags of hope promised to the hustler nation.

Day after day, the duo toured across the country with a pledge to uplift the lives of lowly Kenyans. Their campaign strategy was clear; blame every misfortune on President Uhuru Kenyatta and his handshake with opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Dr Ruto and Mr Gachagua rode to State House on a ruthless propaganda machine, pitting poor Kenyans against alleged dynasties along the way.

They cried for power, they begged for it, and when they were zealous enough, they beat their chests vowing no one could steal their votes because they were assured of victory.

The victory came. And in between celebrating their victory and officially taking the highest office in the country, Ruto, Gachagua and the Kenya Kwanza brigade both thanked God and insulted at their rivals with the same mouth.

It has been one year since President Ruto took power but nothing much has changed to better the lives of ‘Wanjiku.’ If anything, ‘mambo yamechemka’ (things have gotten worse).

They campaigned with big mouths, but their preferred remedies have become bitter pills to swallow by the citizens who voted them in. They are not only bitter pills but like poison in a honey jar that Kenyans from across the political divide are being forced to drink.

President Ruto seemed very passionate about creating opportunities for the common mwananchi during campaigns. He accused Mr Kenyatta of creating positions for his friends during Jubilee’s second term. He promised to undo this when he got power; his would be a government of hustlers.

Speaking to Nyaturago and Nyaribari Chache residents during one of his rallies in Kisii County, the former deputy president advocated for a bottom-up economic approach, “Tumekuwa tukipanga uchumi tukianzia kule juu mahali kampuni kubwa, wale wanaojulikana, ati pengine itafika huku chini. Mumengojea miaka hamsini haijafika chini.” He said. (The trickle down economic model employed by the government for the past fifty years has never gotten down to the ordinary citizen).

“Mnataka tuendelee kupanga na huko juu mngojee hapa chini ama mnasema tubadilishe tuanze na hapa chini safari hii? Tuanze na hapa chini? Ndio tupange ajira ya hawa vijana? Yaani hapa bottom, halafu twende up? Yaani bottom up?” He said with applause from the crowd. (Do you want us to continue with this model or start from the bottom going up?”

Unfortunately, the president appeared to have forgotten his personal attacks against his predecessor when he rewarded his close allies with cabinet positions. There was no space for ‘mama mbogas’ or boda bodas’ in his cabinet, instead he picked former governors, Kenya Kwanza candidates who had lost elections and individuals with questionable integrity.

This was evident in the appointment of Mining Cabinet Secretary Salim Mvurya who was the Kwale Governor, Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria who lost the Kiambu gubernatorial race, and Public Service Cabinet Secretary Aisha Jumwa who had Sh19 million graft charges on her back before the appointment.

President Ruto also went back on his promise of a lean and efficient Executive by appointing fifty-one Principal Secretaries (PS) and fifty Cabinet Administrative Secretaries (CAS). The Kenya Kwanza government almost doubled the number of PSs and CASs in the Jubilee government. This is despite DP Gachagua accusing Mr. Kenyatta of leaving behind a broke government.

Another item that formed Ruto and Rigathi’s campaign agenda was the rising cost of living. Despite the country having to cope with a global economic crisis occasioned by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine crisis, among other factors, which disrupted economies around the world, the belligerent pair accused the handshake of largely causing the suffering of Kenyans.

The also criticized Uhuru’s administration for introducing subsidies that lowered the prices of basic commodities like maize flour and fuel. They further alleged that this was a campaign strategy meant to win more votes for Azimio presidential candidate Raila Odinga.

Deputy president Rigathi Gachagua described this as state capture where he claimed a few government officials used public resources for personal gain. He vowed to expose these individuals and their clandestine operations when he gets power. He also promised to end the alleged state capture.

President William Ruto promised to introduce policies that would increase food production and lower food prices. "We are going to teach our competitors agricultural economics. They are subsidising consumption but we are going to invest in production," he said in October 2022 in Kirinyaga.

Ruto’s government removed subsidies on unga, arguing they would rather use that money to lower the cost of fertilisers to increase farm produce. Consequently, the president ordered the lowering of fertiliser prices from Sh6,500 for a 50-kilogram bag to Sh3,500.

While this was a relief to farmers, the price of unga has never gone down as he had promised during campaigns. Instead, he blamed Uhuru’s administration for the high prices and asked for more time to deal with the issue. "Wale walioharibu mambo ya unga mpaka ikafika shilingi 230 walikoroga hiyo mambo kwa miaka nne. Mnipatie mwaka moja peke yake nitakuwa nimenyorosha," he said. (Give me one year to sort out this mess).

The truth is, lowering unga prices has been a moving target for the Kenya Kwanza administration because none of its measures has worked. Instead, the Ruto’s government has been replacing old promises with new ones.

“By next week, you will begin seeing new prices in maize. The price of unga will go down and we have to ensure that the maize we are importing from other countries does not affect our farmers because they are the ones we depend on here in our country.” The president said in April while launching a project in Machakos.

Dr Ruto said that his administration had managed to reduce unga prices from Sh230 to Sh160. A week later, he promised that prices would go to below Sh150 for a 2kg packet of unga. In between, a ship carrying 48,000 tons of white maize docked at the Port of Mombasa on Saturday, April 14.

Despite his pronouncements, ugali flour has never been cheaper for Kenyans since President Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua took power. In fact, the prices have continued to rise, a packet of unga costs not less than Sh200.

Kenyans have also experienced more pain at the pump due to skyrocketing fuel prices. This is after the president removed a multi-billion-shilling electricity subsidy that was initiated by his predecessor.

The government’s decision not to renew the programme which expired December 31 2022 sent shockwaves across the country. Speaking during a New Year service in Bamburi on January 1 2023, the president sought to assure Kenyans that "We have already taken care of all the subsidies that we removed in August and we are going to ensure our manufacturers, our value-addition processors and all Kenyans including those on lifeline tariffs are taken into consideration as we review the tariffs going into the future," he said.

A statement on the president’s official website further said that the government was working towards lowering electricity tariffs. “In three months, we will have public consultation to ensure that we have tariffs that are affordable to those at the bottom of the economic pyramid and our manufacturers.” Read the statement in part.

Three months later, the government signed a government-to-government deal with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The agreement authorised three State-owned oil firms from the two countries to nominate oil marketing companies in Kenya to be their local trading counterparts.

The deal was meant to ease the pressure on the dollar demand resulting from petroleum imports. “This Government-to-Government agreement replaces the current process of Open Tender System (OTS) reported to incur a monthly cost of approximately 500 million dollars”, Energy CS Davis Chirchir told a Parliamentary committee that probed the deal.

If Kenyans thought this deal would lower fuel prices, they were wrong. Despite the president’s assurance, electricity prices went up by 63 per cent in April. Higher fuel prices, a weakening Kenyan shilling and increased taxation means things will only worsen for hustlers.

When former President Uhuru Kenyatta proposed various taxes including increased VAT on fuel, Ruto and his team vehemently opposed these measures. “These people don’t understand the damage they are doing to the people and the economy of Kenya with these taxes.” The former deputy president said during a rally.

In the National Assembly, Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wa and his Kiharu counterpart Ndindi Nyoro led the Kenya Kwanza brigade in condemning punitive taxes introduced by the Jubilee administrations.

“It is not just insensitive but inconsiderate to Kenyans, at such a time when the economy is at its knees, it is despicable to see our government increase the cost of living,” the Kiharu MP said during a heated debate in Parliament in September 2021.

Fast forward to 2023, Ichung’wah, who is now the National Assembly Majority Leader, and Nyoro, the Chairman of Budget and Appropriations Committee, are on the frontline supporting harsh taxation measures in the Finance Bill 2023 proposed by Ruto’s administration.

In addition to the contentious 1.5 per cent Housing levy, certainly, the 16 percent VAT on fuel will take the hugest toll on hustlers. Speaking to KTN News, Political Economist Billow Kerrow warned of chaos when Kenyans start feeling the effects of high taxes.

“The moment the cost of fuel goes up, the cost of production will go up and the cost of living will increase; things will be worse.” He said.

With a currency that continues to weaken against the dollar and other foreign currencies at an alarming rate, unnecessary appointments that have birthed a bloated executive leading to ballooning wage bill, runaway food prices and introduction of punitive taxes that will most definitely raise the cost of living and likely impoverish Kenyans; one wonders when President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua will finally come to their senses.

It is arguable to say that the president and his deputy used propaganda to sway gullible Kenyans into voting them in. But one thing is certain, propaganda has failed to turn things around for the Kenya Kwanza administration.

A piece of advice from former central banker and Ghana’s vice president Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, “Exchange rate movement are the most important indicator of underlying macroecomic fundamentals. You cannot manage the economy with propaganda.”