With less than 700 days to the end of his second and final term and caught between a pandemic and divisive handshake politics, President Uhuru Kenyatta will this afternoon face an economically ravaged nation and give it a plan.
The last time the president addressed a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the Senate, the Covid-19 pandemic was a distant rumour, and the only thing that weighed down Kenyans was spiralling debt.
At the time, the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) task force was still collecting views and the shilling was exchanging at Sh101 to the dollar. Peter Tabichi had just been voted the world’s best teacher and Eliud Kipchoge was the man to beat.
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The president addressed Parliament on April 4, 2019, and said he expected the economy to grow at an annual average rate of 6.6 per cent. There was no turning back on the war against corruption and impunity, BBI appeared as the magic dosage to heal Kenya and Jubilee’s Big Four legacy projects – manufacturing, food security, universal health coverage, affordable housing – were on track.
He also promised there would be no turning back on devolution and that the cost of food would come down.
“Our economic outlook remains positive, underpinned by the implementation of our transformative development agenda… During this period, we expect the economy to grow at an annual average rate of 6.6 per cent. Our focus is on socio-economic interventions in critical sectors that we believe will enhance the quality of life for all Kenyans in ways that are tangible and measurable,” he said during his last State of the Nation address.
The president likened the handshake to 'peace'.
“In all our cultures, Mr Speaker, a handshake is an expression of goodwill, friendship, trust and reconciliation. It is synonymous with peace. Our handshake has been followed by millions of handshakes across the length and breadth of the Republic,” he said.
One year and eight months down the line, the president will table his own scorecard and explain to Kenyans if he has kept his promises.
Today's address comes on the background of an economy ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, courts at loggerheads with the Executive, county governors lamenting of delayed remittances from the national government and a legacy threatened by deep political divisions as the BBI train hurtles down the homestretch.
The address also comes in the backdrop of data by the Ministry of Health showing that over 1,100 people have been killed by Covid-19, which has also led to the closure of businesses across the country.
More data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics show that 1.7 million Kenyans lost their jobs between April and June alone and the economy contracted by 5.7 per cent during the same period.
There are also daily reports of women who still die on the way to hospital and people dying of treatable ailments such as cholera.
On the political front, allies of the president and those of Deputy Present William Ruto cannot agree on BBI report that proposes expansion of the Executive to include the position of the prime minister and two deputies. There are divisions on whether the country should proceed to a referendum or not.
“Napoleon said that a leader is a dealer in hope. The president will give us lofty plans. The reality, however, is we are facing a worsening pandemic that is affecting the economy. We have an economy in recession the government is cash-strapped. The country is also divided because of the looming referendum and 2022 elections. The Big Four agenda is on the rocks,” observed former Mandera Senator Billow Kerrow.
Minority Leader in the National Assembly John Mbadi, however, said the president has made strides under difficult circumstances in the last one year.
"In terms of the economy, the whole world has been affected by the virus and until a vaccine is discovered, world economies will continue to suffer. The president is going to talk about exclusivity and democracy. He will give us a road map on the expected reform under BBI," said the Suba South MP, who argued that the president could have achieved more on the Big Four Agenda were it not for wrangles in Jubilee.
"The president's Big Four Agenda has been distracted by those in Jubilee not happy with the handshake. In terms of BBI, we have made tremendous progress. It has captured the views of all Kenyans. Even those opposing it, do not have major issues," said Mr Mbadi.