State of the Nation address and deflated expectations

President William Ruto during the State of the Nation Address at the Parliament buildings, Nairobi. November 9, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The introduction to the President’s speech made the case for it. Never mind the idea was borrowed from America, like many other sections of the 2010 constitution.

The appeal to national values early in the speech is instructive. Soft issues often matter more than cold statistics.

The key economic problems are identified early, a testimony to the centrality of the economy in the national psyche. They include “external shocks, fiscal distress, and structural imbalances.”

The President then explains the origin of these problems. His allusion to those at the bottom of the pyramid is instructive. That is his key constituency, better-called hustlers. The term hustler is being slowly muted. Why? Mama mboga is mentioned. Why not baba mboga? 

Citizens’ rights and reforms to safeguard them come early; soft issues again. 

Key thrusts of his economic agenda are expounded, “expanding agricultural productivity to deal with the cost of living, affordable housing to create jobs and dignified dwellings, universal health coverage for a healthy productive population, digital transformation to create jobs and efficient and effective access to government services, the Hustler Fund and the prudent management of national resources.” 

The solution to the high cost of living is seen as increased agricultural productivity; through more land under maize, and subsidised fertiliser.

What of other crops? The current price of a two-kilo packet of maize is debatable. When shall we move away from maize?  What of mechanisation? GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms? 

Mentioning ordinary farmers by name; was humanising the speech, a good political move.  The head of State touched on post-harvest losses and other sectors like dairying, coffee and sugar.

The emphasis on agriculture is a testimony to its big political constituency. 

He then shifts to debts and deflates the fear of defaulting by stating that the Eurobond will repaid partially in December this year, ahead of time to shore up market confidence.

Getting onto good books with multi-lateral agencies is another highlight. A curious one because the Kibaki regime, which Kenya Kwanza is benchmarking with, moved away from these lenders. 

The Hustlers Fund’s success is highlighted, with individual names. The growth in credit given by banks should also be highlighted, data is available. What of other digital lenders?  Savings are mentioned through the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). Other savings? Affordable housing was on the agenda. How about the number of those who are already owners through that programme? Why were food markets put together with housing?

Education focused on the Competence-Based curriculum (CBC), funding, and access. There should be more emphasis on content, and what our children learn. That is the high road to national competitiveness. More teaching jobs are highlighted, but I have heard grumbling about how they are distributed. 

Universal healthcare is mentioned including Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa) reforms and changes in legislation. Kenyans are waiting for the outcome of the new law. Add digitisation of government services, hoping it’s accompanied by a change in culture and attitudes. Corruption is covered in three sentences.

Security has its share, with the National Youth Service (NYS) becoming the route to national security services. I miss pre-university youth service. It taught me to “swallow food” and live without sleep. 

The final section of the speech focuses on international obligations with highlights on the meetings we have hosted and the role of the diaspora. The three reports namely, “The 10th Annual Report on Measures Taken and Progress Made in the Realisation of National Values and Principles and Governance, the 10th Annual Report on Progress Made in Fulfilling the International Obligations of the Republic of Kenya, and the 10th Annual Report on the State of National Security” should have been an appendix to his speech.

Finally, there is a mention of the current national dialogue. How about mentioning possible outcomes? The speech in my opinion contained no surprises. Perhaps one year is not enough to surprise us. Most sectors have work in progress.

The speech was devoid of statistics like inflation rate, and GDP growth. We would have expected something on the 60th anniversary of our uhuru.

The ordinary Kenyans must have expected something about high fuel prices which like food drive inflation. What of the currency depreciation and taxation? 

Our great expectations were left unmet. Maybe, after a year in office, the risk of promising too much is now apparent.

What of possible targets for the next year? That would have uplifted our spirits.

Though the speech addressed issues dear to us, it left no doubt that the government has finally faced its economic moment of truth. We hope after that; things can only get better. 

Finally, should the governors also give their state of the counties every year, after all, they call themselves H.E (His or Her Excellence?).