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Has Jubilee administration delivered?

When President Uhuru Kenyatta received the ceremonial sword from late President Mwai Kibaki on April 9, 2013. [File, Standard]

Technically, the curtain came down on the Jubilee administration’s policy and economic management on June 30. What is now left is a political process to hand over the instruments of power and administration to the next government. This is because the government’s fiscal year is the period of July 1 to June 30 across any calendar year.

Formally, this is the window that all public entities must develop their plans, the supporting budgets, implement policies and approved plans, account and report before an independent monitoring, evaluation and oversight completes the cycle. 

The end of the 2021/22 fiscal year thus marked the end of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ten-year era. Good manners, established customs and traditions dictate that he defers any major policy decisions to the next administration, except in extreme cases of an emergency. Additionally, he has the sacred obligation to prepare for a smooth transition for his successor, whoever that may be as per the people’s exercise of the power of the ballot.

That said, we can now embark on the long journey to explore the economic and social impacts of his administration. However, this can never be exhaustive from a single event or newspaper article. The true legacy of the president, like any other national leader before him, will be a long voyage for many years to come. Some of his policies, decisions, errors of commission or omission would continue to shape our future. In this article, we only sample the events and discernible achievements of the past ten years.

For some strange reasons, however, he or his handlers have chosen an unprecedented path of competing with campaigners for advertisements to broadcast his legacy. Unfortunately, unless the sole objective of this is to influence his support base into voting in a particular way, this cannot be expected to re-write his legacy or lack of it thereof. Legacies cannot be told on billboards or paid advertisements; they are lived, experienced or impressed in the minds and hearts of the people. So, the first question to ask here is: What makes a president consequential?

Domestic challenges

When I embarked on my research for this article, I couldn’t find a single set of parameters that can be applied to examine the consequential effect of political leaders anywhere. If anyone in my audience knows of such established criteria, I would love to hear it. But from the rankings of some of the widely acknowledged consequential political leaders, certain themes emerge. Historians and leadership experts converge towards two main things as important in shaping a president’s legacy: One, the leaders’ ability to respond to domestic challenges of their time; and two, a demonstrable courage and vision to respond to foreign/external events that advance the national interests or mitigate threats to their countries.

For instance, Abraham Lincoln’s impeccable leadership qualities were defined by his emancipation proclamation, courage and decisive actions through his country’s worst internal conflict, and laying the foundation for reconciliation with his defeated Southern States to save the US union. Franklin Roosevelt steered his nation and the world through the longest depression, concluded World War II responsibly and set the world for diplomacy as the means of resolving international and internal conflicts.

George Washington midwifed the American Revolution, engineered Constitutional Conventions and established traditions of the office of the president, without any known precedent. These gentlemen are ranked as the most consequential presidents in American history.

In Africa, Nelson Mandela easily comes to mind for walking his people through Apartheid with grace, courage and no traces of bitterness towards those who oppressed him nor the years lost under custodial confinement. In Asia, Mahatma Gandhi stands out for leading his people through non violent means to defeat colonialism and found the world’s largest democracy.

Drawing from this analogy, can we find domestic challenges or external events that would have shaped President Kenyatta’s economic and social legacy? If so, did he utilise them effectively to cement his legacy and re-set the nation into her lost prosperity?

Covid pandemic

On a deeper reflection over the past ten years, three domestic events were clearly in favour of President Kenyatta. He is the first elected president under the 2010 Constitution, enjoyed a youth binge and would remain the youngest ever elected president even after the August 9 vote, and has enjoyed legislative majority in his entire ten year tenure. Externally, the threat of cross-border terrorism and the Covid pandemic provided the defining tests to his diplomatic and leadership abilities.

All the five events had the potential to directly or indirectly impact on the economic and social welfare of the nation. The next natural question to ask is: did he exploit his chances and respond to the threats well? To answer this question correctly, we must find contextual and circumstantial actions that could help us objectively assess his achievements. Since we lack pre-defined criteria to evaluate a president’s performance, here we shall explore key economic indicators, institutional capacity and governance parameters to appraise his achievements.

While there are several indicators that could tell us the health status of an economy and socio-economic welfare of the people, for this discussion we shall only highlight a few. For simplicity, I only compute the percentage changes for 10 indicators for the period between June 2013 and June 2021 or 2022 where the data is available. The data points were obtained from the Economic Surveys for 2014 and 2022. The banking data was obtained from the Central Bank’s commercial banks supervision reports. The summary is presented in the table below.  

The above statistics give a snap shot into potential adjustments that might have happened over the period at both the economy and household level. The GDP and GDP per capita are popular single measures of economic performance. The two indicators are what the Jubilee administration has frequently paraded as their demonstration of economic prowess. From the official data, the economy has indeed expanded by about 219 per cent and the per capita by about 170 per cent on nominal monetary measures. However, what baffles analysts and the central question for this article is why this stellar growth does not seem to be reflected in household incomes.

The question as to where this growth is will remain a subject for debate for many years to come. The administration is exiting at a time when over four million people from across 10 counties face extreme starvation with very little official response to the crisis. Besides, millions more traditionally considered as middle class stare a real risk of slipping below the poverty line on account of a runaway cost of living. The government is demonstrably unable and/or unwilling to intervene to cushion them. The question we ought to ask next is: Just where is this GDP? We could attempt to answer this by looking at other relevant statistics.

The employment data is a good indicator of the health of an economy. If an economy is experiencing robust growth, this must be reflected in created jobs and their quality. From the employment data and related public wage bill, the growth narrative seems to collapse flat. Formal employment grew by only 28 per cent, informal by about 37 per cent and overall employment by 36 per cent. The drastic spike on the public wage bill would suggest most of the formal employment was driven by public sector employment. This is true from the implementation of the devolved governance system with the 47 county governments employing their own staff.

The skewed growth in favour of the informal sector implies most economic impact has been on low quality jobs. The official unemployment data estimates the unemployment level is less than 10 per cent and was omitted here for good reasons. The tax revenues up to June 2021 reflected a growth rate of about 57 per cent as per the 2022 Economic Survey. The difference to 109 per cent is on account of this year’s reported Sh2.034 trillion tax revenue announced by Kenya Revenue Authority last week.

Either way, the paradox of the Jubilee’s growth can be explained by the public debt parameters. As at June 2021, the outstanding debt had jumped by at least 320 per cent and the debt service charge 410 per cent. These ratios exclude the debt incurred between July 2021 and June 30, 2022, which as per the approved budgets is estimable at over Sh1.12 trillion. Under the Constitution, this debt spike ought to have been invested into development projects. The administration has also unequivocally propagated the ‘BIG push’ projects.

Transformation narrative

The troubling question remains as to why this debt binge has not produced the equivalents on quality jobs and commensurate growth in government revenues? Could this be one of the black holes in the administration’s transformation narrative? Other events that would shape the Jubilee legacy would be the misinformed interest rates caps between September 2016 and November 2019. In addition, the country’s stock market did not register any major new listing except the bourse itself in 2014. This may explain why the private sector did not create as many formal jobs amidst a supposedly huge economic expansion.

The financial inclusion data is quite impressive with bank accounts growing by at least 247 per cent. As per data not presented here, monthly mobile money transactions averaged more than Sh622 billion in December 2021. The bank accounts were however driven by mobile money accounts. An unfortunate negative outcome of this has been the mobile based money lenders that have adversely affected millions of borrowers. While credit access has significantly improved, the cost of credit and listing on credit bureaus have robbed households of disposable income. Besides, less than 2.5 per cent of the accounts had a balance of at least Sh100,000 to underscore the hard economic times folks are in.

There is a lot of empirical evidence that supports the importance of strong institutions and good governance in economic growth and development. While the jury is still out there, these two areas may be the other black holes in the outgoing administration’s socio-economic legacy. Important economic structures either died or lost their saltiness under the Jubilee’s watch. For example, it is an open secret that the Cabinet rarely met as is the tradition. There is no public record of the National Economic Council, chaired by the president ever meeting in the ten years. Vision 2030 secretariat, Directorate of Performance Contracting, and the Efficient Monitoring Unit lost their texture as important drivers of performance management.

On the accountability continuum, from the Sh100 million luxury jet shortly after assuming office in 2013, there are an estimated more than 40 multi-million shilling scandals, both at the national and county governments. This cut across all sectors of government. Good examples include NYS I&II, Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme disaster, Arror and Kimwaror dams, Karen and Ruaraka land scams, Managed Equipment Supplies, Sh5 billion ‘Mafia scandal’ and Kemsa billionaires in the health sector.

Others have touched on security contracts, the border wall project, aircraft deals, Parliament, Rio Olympics and state corporations including NCPB, NSSF, NHIF, GDC, Kenya Pipeline and Maasai Mara University. The botched children’s laptops and questions on full accountability of Eurobond loans will linger on for a long time. In the devolved units the scandals span across all counties without exception. The true contractual obligations for big infrastructure projects with huge burden on tax papers are largely shrouded in mystery. Yet, in the war on corruption, the administration’s legacy will eventually boil down into three statements from the president himself. A chiding of the Auditor General; the ‘mnataka nifanye nini’ quip; and Sh2 billion is stolen daily goof.

Finally, on governance, the administration had a golden opportunity to re-set the nation’s dark past under the new constitutional order. Whichever way one may look at it, the Jubilee administration has significantly encroached on the Chapter 15 commissions, independent offices and associated agencies. It all started right from the onset when the Public Service Commission failed to pre-qualify Principal Secretaries as envisioned under the Constitution to depoliticize public service in 2013. In 2017 and now less than one day to the General Election, the Commission has not advertised or shown any desire to do it.

Other commissions have either grown lukewarm, barked without biting or probably have been filled with pro-regime loyalists. The public tirade against the Judiciary, outright disobedience of Court orders, budgetary deprivations have all worked against the sanctity of law that underwrites economic transactions and investment decisions. There is no evidence that the legislative majority over the 10 year reign has advanced the interest of ordinary people from their elected representatives. But ultimately, the collapsed BBI misadventure was the greatest assault to the new constitutional and economic order, and the supreme will of the people.  

Dr Muinde is a Development Economist  

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