Over the last year, President William Ruto has been on a global charm offensive to sell Kenya as a prime investment destination.
He has been aided by US Ambassador Meg Whitman as his force multiplier.
The process of putting Kenya on investors’ minds has included roadshows, summits (including the climate summit), panel discussions, and cooperation with Western countries (including, for example, police deployment to Haiti).
While reasonable people may quibble with specific tactics or policy positions, it is generally a good thing that the President is out there selling Brand Kenya.
More foreign investment, especially if it is targeted at mass job creation and export-led growth, will undoubtedly improve the material wellbeing of our people.
The problem, though, is that President Ruto appears to want to eat his cake and have it. While abroad, or when hosting summits, he likes to project the image of an efficient Kenya on the move – a country that is business-friendly, has institutionalised politics, has a culture of constitutionalism and rule of law, and protects property rights.
Yet on the ground things tend to be different. The President appointed a Cabinet that is well below par. Rapacious corruption, including in the Judiciary, goes unabated. Crass ethnic politics is a staple in the highest offices of the land.
Disciplined policymaking does not appear a priority. And the administration continues to stumble on without a clear economic agenda or fixes for the cost-of-living crisis.
The whiplash between Ruto the salesman and Ruto the administrator can sometimes be jarring.
It is high time the administration internalised the fact that sound administration, predictable policies, and an unwavering commitment to the rule of law is what will attract investors – both domestic and foreign.
The last thing we want to do is acquire the reputation of being an unserious country that runs on vibes and little else.
Without a concerted effort to make key parts of the government work better, all efforts at salesmanship will fail. Someone ought to remind President Ruto that, ultimately, the buck stops at his desk.
History will scarcely remember which political constituencies he was trying to pander to with mediocre appointments. What will be remembered is whether or not his tenure resulted in an appreciable improvement in our material and socio-political wellbeing.
-The writer is an Associate Professor at Georgetown University
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