Today (Sunday, March 19, 2023) marks 222 days – roughly 32 weeks - since our August 9, 2022, general election. This leaves us 1,605 days (about 229 weeks) before the next one our 2010 constitution demands on Tuesday, August 10, 2027.
We don’t like long-term, but this is the medium-term space to transform Kenya right now (basically, 261 weeks in total between our last and next election). March 13 was six months since the presidential inauguration on September 13. Let’s stick with this count of time.
Today is 187 days (half a year) since inauguration; 143 days (about 20 weeks) after Cabinet Secretaries (CSs) were sworn in; 107 days (about 15 weeks) since the same happened for Principal Secretaries (PSs) and 72 days (about ten weeks) after the revised version of the executive order on the organisation of government was issued.
We are a few days into the latest mega-appointment of 50 constitution-defying Cabinet Administrative Secretaries (CASs) on pay and benefits, and operations and maintenance including everything from red carpets to a shift of policing from public patrols to private bodyguards. This is Kenya!
The basic good governance leadership that Kenya deserves must be the result of a systematic 261-week work plan driven by a clearly articulated “what” from which the “how” is detailed and the “whom” are selected. Simply, a term plan, not a daily diary. But, no, we think only of today.
There are two troubles for everyday Kenyans here. Kenya Kwanza’s trouble stems from the difficulty to explain what they are up to in a way that makes sense. Within their apparent “good cop, bad cop” strategy where one leader is doing things and the other is saying things, it is not unfair to hear increasingly widespread commentary that these guys were terribly unprepared to run the country. There is a fine margin between “learning by doing” and “doing then learning”.
On the other side, Azimio’s trouble is irrelevance. In our “American” presidential system, Kenya Kwanza can do pretty much what they want to. So Azimio might be correct in their view that the “one party benevolent before malevolent dictator” is on the cards. The trouble here is an increasingly powerful agitation that closes down our economy. What are your plans for Monday?
Exactly. Here is where we are. A Sh10-Sh15 (now Sh14) trillion economy that should be looking at Sh50 trillion in zero time. The campaign trail on both sides was all about “it’s the economy, stupid!” with a few subtle, not game-changing, differences. If only we all sat down and really thought through the Kenya Vision 2030 that Kibaki left us. In purely strategic terms it was all about productivity for competitiveness (economic pillar and value chains), our brilliant human capital (social pillar) and the creation of one nation (political pillar).
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You will not hear any Vision 2030 proclamations from either side of our tedious political divide. It is a divide about the physicality of positions, but it is not a divide about intellectual positions.
On one side (Kenya Kwanza), we hear about “BETA” (Bottom-Up Economic Transformation Agenda) but all we seem to be getting is plenty of “hot air”, as our Supreme Court might put it. Maybe Kenya Kwanza doesn’t quite have a 261-week work plan and is playing everything by ear.
On the other side (Azimio) we see a fluid mish-mash that starts with the 2022 election and ends with our painful cost of living. The interesting point here is neither side gets it. We want to be better Kenyans in a better Kenya. We get there without endless jousting, jostling and cacophony.
Must the everyday Kenyan be subjected to this perennial “stress test”? In moments of reflection, it is worth considering if we are willing parties to the growth of our democracy or if we are actually feeding an insatiable beast that clever people call a kakistocracy. Same jungle, with the same animals.
Which is why, to cut a long story short, I have little clue about the end-game in Azimio’s “mass action” enterprise. Open the IEBC servers, and then what? Do we do a recount or do we vote again? Stop IEBC recruitment, and then what, again? If I am not wrong, we need to have an electoral boundaries review done by next year (2024) even before we think about the 2027 election.
Reduce the cost of living immediately? How? There is already so much financial murk and fiscal dirt in what we are reading about the cancelled food (maize) and fuel subsidies that Kenya Kwanza might have been correct to put a stop to them. But this is the same Kenya Kwanza dishing out low-cost fertiliser to fertile regions while praying for rain and threatening farmers with competing imports if they don’t take their maize to national stores at prices below their break-even points.
I have no idea what will happen today or any future Azimio “mass action” dates, but I do know that, in actual words and deeds, this Kenya Kwanza administration seems to be operating as if it will be Kenya’s first-ever one term, if not one year, leadership enterprise.
Indeed, in their insistence that they are a company with preference shareholders, there is a bombast to the language that sounds pretty much like captains shuffling deckchairs on the sinking Titanic.
Manifesto to transactions
In easier terms, there is an irony to the idea that the policy thinking that their campaign manifesto offered has now been reduced to transactions – food imports over here, fuel deals over there (yes, it’s always about food and fuel as our key inflation, read, cost of living, drivers).
Lest we forget, Kenya Kwanza prioritised five things for Kenyans on the campaign trail. Not the “Big Four” plus the digital agenda they inherited that includes agriculture, MSMEs, healthcare and housing. There were five starting promises. Bring down the cost of living. Eradicate hunger. Create jobs. Expand the tax revenue base. Improve our foreign exchange balance.
None of these is a short-term result, but this does not mean that we must struggle to see or hear coherence in the pathway toward achieving these goals. In a world where perception is reality, we are unable to filter noise from action, even as we are buffeted and befuddled by the harem of loyalty positions dished out left, right and centre when we can’t see a position of principle.
Monday begins Week 33 of Kenya Kwanza’s 261-week election to election term. Fortunately this time round, Kenya has private initiatives such as the Mzalendo Tracker to trail this administration on its delivery of every single one of its promises in the immediate, short, medium and long term.
The last graphics I looked at from this tracker signified an administration at average performance; with substantially more bark than bite. In a parliamentary system of government, existential questions would be flowing. Let me add my own tracker to this moment. We will go with four really big things here – fiscus, economy, government performance and government accountability.
Let’s do a quick summary today, with details for the future. On the first, we are hearing some noises about steps taken to stabilize the fiscus. But we are still borrowing, the tax take remains off-target and we are not even close to dealing with our expenditure challenge systematically. It remains beyond comprehension that we actively and passively refuse to address public spending.
On the last two, we have little to shout about. Service delivery is pretty much unchanged, and accountability has been reduced to innuendo and unsubstantiated allegations.
Which brings us to the economy. Plenty of the big economic (as well as fiscal and budget) policy thinking now resides in State House. It is clear that much of this thinking revolves around a painful restructuring and reordering of the economy in the hope of long-term gain. And, to repeat, it will take time.
But we could do without daily diatribes about monopolies and cartels that appear to be targeted at individuals and family holdings. Domestic and foreign investors read the news too. And one assumes that the shilling’s “collapse” is premised on export (hence, production) potential.
We will revisit these matters in more detail in forthcoming columns.
As I will say for the umpteenth time, I have no idea what Azimio’s end-game is. But I increasingly get the feeling that Kenya Kwanza isn’t equipped to deliver the 3rd and final liberation we deserve. Maybe all of this noise about the “hustler agenda” was nothing more than another wet blanket.