One year down the line, Dr William Ruto makes interesting reading. Elected on a platform of refocusing government on the needs of ordinary Kenyans, he has gone from colourful campaign attire, to plain suits and finally trim Kaunda suits.
All indications are Dr Ruto is a man in transition. Just where he will end up is a matter of conjecture. After spiritedly championing the needs of ordinary Kenyans, famously characterised as 'Hustlers', President Ruto came out blazing as a tax leader. Kenyan social media quickly nicknamed him Zakayo after the Biblical Zacchaeus the tax collector. It soon emerged that the 'Hustler' was reading from a script written in New York by the Bretton Woods institutions - World Bank and IMF.
The ’Hustler', who cut an image of fearless and independent man, now appears hamstrung. The 'Hustler', it seems, is not his own man after all. With the exception of the Hustler Fund which replaced the low end of the mobile lending market, the Kenya Kwanza administration has kept to the IMF rule book.
Cutting subsidies, and liberalising the investment market to attract foreign firms while raising taxes on local entrepreneurs. The Shilling has been left to its own devices, sliding against all foreign currencies including in our East African neighbourhood.
The effective devaluation has wreaked havoc on local markets with the price of oil rising beyond the Sh200 mark. Pundits reckon, the worst is yet to come for the Shilling. At Sh146 to the dollar, many reckon it will race towards the Sh200 mark as oil prices rise in the year-end.
Faced with a dour economic outlook as development expenditure falls, President Ruto has gone on a diplomatic offensive hoping to attract western foreign investment and aid. His forays into Europe and America have become almost quarterly sojourns. Initially, the plain-suited sojourns were characterised by spirited pleas for reform of the global financial order.
The impassioned pleas for reform of the debt markets to make the poorest pay reasonable interest rates comparable to those offered to the rich nations caught the eye of Africans. A successful Africa Climate Change Conference in Nairobi suspiciously dominated by narratives like carbon trading which are music to the heavy polluting nations also raised Ruto’s profile among Africans.
The chatter in the African internet was; here is the New African leader - eloquent, passionate and talking about Africa. Indeed, his fellow African heads of state saw the promise and made him Africa lead person on climate change. It was all for Africa until the Russia-Africa Summit where Kenya suddenly went low-key.
The official reason put forward by the Principal Secretary for Foreign Affairs was that coup leaders from Mali and Burkina Faso were also invited. Come the BRICS Summit in South Africa, Kenya went mute. At the BRICS-Africa dialogue, Kenya was conspicuous by its lack of input.
Neutral observers reckon shifting geopolitical boundaries mean we should have a stake in all new emerging camps to safeguard the national interest. In an eyebrow-raising encounter with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting, President Ruto took a turn away from the African Union position of strategic neutrality in the Ukraine war to pledge support for Ukraine.
He was invited to Kyiv to demonstrate his newfound support. If Ruto travels to Kyiv, he will be the only African head of state to make the pilgrimage of support to Ukraine.
No sooner had the Ukraine matter left the airwaves than a new Haiti bombshell was unleashed. Kenya, which has no diplomatic relations with Haiti, agreed to lead a United Nations police mission to the gang-plagued nation reeling from a presidential assassination.
After a deeply unpopular UN intervention in Haiti that ended up importing cholera and sexual abuse in 2019, few countries are willing to put their reputations on the line in the Caribbean nation.
It's possible that Kenya, running low on foreign currency has opted to export police services in return for some precious dollars. It doesn't matter that our policemen and women don't speak a word of French or Creole and will have to join language classes before embarking on patrols in the Haiti ganglands. There is also the little matter of familiarity with local issues and surroundings in Haiti.
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African Twitter, now called X, exploded branding Ruto an American stooge perhaps ignited by the unusual intervention in Haiti. As with many countries in America's backyard Haitians are wary of US intervention. All the efforts made courting the African public by Ruto seem to have evaporated into thin air.
It's possible Ruto ranks relations with the US and Europe as more beneficial to Kenya, hence the bold moves to appease their sentiments. The pan-African vibes following the Africa Climate Summit, including his insistence that the AU represent African positions in the international engagements appear to have been put on the back foot. Kenya has now abandoned its historic strategic ambiguity in geopolitical affairs to put its foot in America's camp. Or so it seems.
With the looming $2.5 billion dollars Eurobond repayment in June 2024, it's easy to see the motivation behind Kenya's bold new love for the EU and US international agenda. It's the economy- stupid!
Our highly dollar-leveraged economy is on the brink. The upcoming Eurobond repayment could break our backs. This is not the time to experiment with romantic ideas like pan-Africanism or to focus on local issues. Difficult times call for bold actions. Ruto appears to have thrown caution to the wind to follow the side with the butter.
Just how things play out after his momentary flirtation with African Unity remains to be seen. Indications are Ruto is a man against the ropes trying to make the best of a difficult situation. He is not in his full stride yet. He is a man in transition. Both his economic policies and diplomatic engagements are very much a works in progress. Give him time. He will mellow.