Presidents' legacies are defined by what they enact with passion

President William Ruto joins traditional dancers during the launch of the Uplands-Kijabe-Maai Mahiu Road in Lari, Kiambu County. [PCS]

President Daniel Arap Moi was an educationist, and his legacy revolves around education reforms and the environment.

Many institutions are named after him and many people went to school to drink Nyayo milk as others enjoyed the HELB boom in universities. Notably, he introduced the 8-4-4 education system and revolutionised higher education, churning out several scholars.

Thereafter came President Mwai Kibaki, a Makerere-trained economist. He led key economic reforms that we draw reference, to date. His innovative fiscal consolidation cut wasteful government spending while focusing on development spending including localising development through CDF. He also introduced Free Primary Education which benefitted millions.

Then came President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose legacy remains a mixed bag. Charlie Mitchell, writing in, debates whether Uhuru’s legacy is debt or development, and so are many Kenyans. Many argue that Kenyatta has left a legacy of infrastructure which was, however, not a priority to Kenyans, including the overpriced SGR. He overborrowed and more than doubled our debt as GDP ratio.

President William Ruto is a general scientist, with a background in Botany and Zoology, and looks like he is keen on his art of agriculture to be the anchor of his legacy. He inherited empty state coffers, and a public debt of over $83 billion. He swiftly implemented tax measures which have since seen Kenya steer back from the catastrophic cliff of debt distress.

Observers had projected that Kenya would possibly default and get listed on the sovereign CRB lists by 2025. President Ruto’s legacy in his first term will be his genius move to save us from the list of debt defaulters. Key enabler of this will be his measures to revive agricultural production and increase our exports through 9 agro-based value chains.

Last year, Kenya’s GDP growth was fuelled by a rebound in the agriculture sector, majorly buoyed by the government’s subsidisation of production over consumption. President Ruto has cut down non-essential government expenditure and opted to fund key economic projects that will pay dividends in the long term. The tax measures have been adjusted to facilitate the recovery.

In his first year, he subsidised fertiliser prices from Sh7,000 to Sh3,500. This subsidy has thus seen an expected yield of 61 million bags of maize, against 40 million bags the previous year. This success has prompted the government to further subsidise fertiliser to Sh2,500; which will see Kenya meet its national maize demand for the first time, meaning no further maize imports. This subsidy has since seen the price of unga reduce to Sh150.

President Ruto intends to construct 100 dams to transition from unreliable rain-fed agriculture to sustainable irrigation farming. The government will put 1.4 million acres of arable land under irrigation by 2026, and double that in future.

To cut on rice imports, 200,000 acres will be put under rice irrigation while another 500,000 acres will be under other food crops. Kenya has the potential to produce enough edible oils for consumption and export the surplus. Unfortunately, we import over 90 per cent of our vegetable oils, at a cost of over Sh100 billion, making it the second largest import after petroleum.

The Kenya Kwanza administration has prioritised the edible oils value chain, also championed by prospective producers like Homa Bay County. Governor Gladys Wanga will host an international investment conference to show investors the vast potential in the county later this month.

The Finance Act, 2023, set grounds for a resurgence of the fishing sector, which should be the economic backbone of the lake region and coastal fishing communities. The Sh100,000 tax per metric tonne on imported fish has significantly reduced fish imports while facilitating local fish production. The President also launched the Sh2.5 billion Kabonyo Fisheries Research Centre which will produce 7 million fingerlings annually.

These interventions indicate that Ruto’s legacy will be majorly hinged on agricultural production as a tool for self-reliance and to spur the economy.