The 2022 General Election is upon us. The official campaign period has started and thousands of Kenyans are seeking various elective positions.
The numbers running show a huge increase from a few cycles back, an indicator of aspiration to serve the public, and an appetite for political power and perks.
It is a great relief that, unlike in past elections when “tyranny of tribal numbers” mattered most to win, there is an increased focus on policy matters in the discourse presaging the forthcoming polls.
This contest of ideas on economy, natural resources, human capital development, governance, and ethics, among others, is a refreshing ingredient for our elections to mellow, and democracy to mature.
Raila Odinga of Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition and William Ruto of the Kenya Kwanza Alliance are the front-runners, and they should be lauded for making their contest a ‘battle of ideas.’
Raila has emphatically promoted his idea of the third liberation of Kenya entailing inclusive economic prosperity through education for all children, ‘Baba Care’ health insurance, and social protection through monthly cash transfers of Sh6,000 for each household that has no income. He has also promised job creation by subsidising farm inputs, supporting value addition and increasing lending for business start-ups with a seven-year repayment moratorium. Ruto has drummed up support for his ‘bottom-up’ economic model where the government focuses on creating an enabling environment for small businesses run by ‘hustlers’ such as ‘Mama Mboga’ grocers, push-cart transporters, construction workers, and others to increase their incomes from more accessible credit and state support for production and marketing.
The most consistent survey that measures the perceptions of Kenyans on major problems that they want government to solve is the Afrobarometer survey, a pan-African collaboration in many nations, with the local partner being the University of Nairobi through the Institute for Development Studies.
This survey has data on Kenyans’ perceptions on policies running as far back as 2014, so it is possible to see trends on respective matters.
The latest survey was released in March 2022. When Kenyans were asked in the survey, “what are the most important problems facing this country that government should address,” management of the economy was the top priority with 40 per cent of respondents citing it, followed by curbing corruption at 35 per cent, creating jobs at 32 per cent and improving healthcare at 26 per cent.
It is therefore no surprise that Raila and Ruto have the economy as the main theme of their policy stances. Raila has asserted that he will place all Kenyans on the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) and promised to jail corrupt people in order to recover stolen the public funds for use in delivering his social protection programme and other services to Kenyans.
Ruto has elaborated how he would assist small businesses with a government fund to facilitate credit and production. He has responded to Raila’s NHIF plans by proposing to lower monthly premiums payable by Kenyans from Sh500 to Sh300. Lowering the premiums has its limitations as NHIF is currently almost unable to sustain its finances, often asking patients to prepay their premiums for several months ahead before approving treatment.
This is because, for instance, it raised Sh60.8 billion from contributions and spent Sh54.1 billion on payments for healthcare in 2020/21, according to the Economic Survey, leaving almost no money to provide for large payouts that may accrue, and for operational expenditure.
Reforming the NHIF without making it insolvent is vital and this shall entail incentives for more Kenyans to join its membership, state support for those with low incomes, and high levels of employment to ensure most Kenyans can afford to pay the premiums that will make its funding sound.
Raila has focused on fighting corruption, promising to fire and prosecute perpetrators of graft. Ruto has not dwelt much on anti-corruption, apparently deciding that he would want constitutional bodies such as the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to deal with it. However, Kenyans see graft as a priority in the Afrobarometer survey, and those who cite corruption as a major problem that government should defeat doubled from 15 per cent in 2014 to 35 per cent in 2021.
Kenyans reiterate these concerns when they are asked in the survey, “how well or badly would you say the current government is handling the following matters,” where worst performance (fairly or very badly) is cited on creating jobs by 85 per cent of respondents; improving living standards of the poor by 83 per cent; managing the economy by 83 per cent; and fighting corruption by 77 per cent of them.
The determinant of the winner of the presidential election could well rest on the superiority of ideas and the perception voters have of the viability of the proposals of candidates. It is therefore imperative that the presidential candidates and their coalitions focus on the main concerns Kenyans have. The argument that shall win this election is going to be one that responds most lucidly and convincingly to these priorities of Kenyans.
The writer chairs the Association for Equity and Development, a research and advocacy non-profit organisation in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: [email protected]