A letter, a word of caution to the new President of Kenya
What you need to know:
- Cost of living is the number one priority for many ordinary Kenyans.
- Mr President, the youth are complaining about having skills but lacking employment opportunities.
The campaign period for Kenya’s 2022 General Election has come to an end.
On Tuesday, August 9, Kenyans will be electing leaders for six elective posts.
The most coveted are the President, governor and member of the county assembly (MCA).
Others are seats for the Senate, National Assembly and the county woman representative.
The campaigns for the presidential election have revealed new dimensions in Kenya’s electoral politics.
The usual disparaging attacks on some communities and general prejudice against candidates, again based on their ethnic identity, did not feature prominently in these campaigns.
The Kikuyu versus the Luo conflicts or the Kalenjin versus the Kikuyu conflicts that have marked past campaigns did not find a platform in the 2022 campaigns.
There is a dramatic shift in what has shaped the 2022 General Election and steered the campaigns away from the traditional fault lines of ethnicity.
Two factors have contributed to this. One is the political narrative of ‘hustler’ versus ‘dynasty’ that came in vogue about two years ago.
This narrative sought to create consciousness of the economic challenges and the inequalities that constrain Kenya’s social-economic transformation.
Both the poor and the rich certainly became conscious of the deep inequalities and how this stands as a powerful keg to explode at any opportune movement.
The army of unemployed and well-educated youth was slowly getting disillusioned by the state of things.
Corruption and who your parents become important qualifications.
This narrative eroded the basis of organising ethnic-based politics.
The second and most important factor was the historic alliance of the Kikuyu and the Luo political leadership in one of the two major political formations.
The political leadership of these two communities have been, generally, opposed to each other.
From the early days of independence and 1966 in particular, the two have not had a harmonious relationship.
Every time they make a bed, they suddenly become uncomfortable bedfellows.
But the post-2017 election reconciliation between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his opponent, the opposition leader, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, brought this to an end.
Their ‘handshake’ and subsequent institutionalisation of their political relationship created new dimensions too.
These new dimensions in Kenya’s politics mean a lot for how the new government should begin its work and forge a new beginning.
It is these new dimensions that have urged me to write a letter to the new President of Kenya.
Of course, by August 10, we shall begin to have a good indication of who the new president would be but the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) will be waiting for physical result forms from across the country to Nairobi for tallying before making the official announcement.
A letter to the new President of Kenya.
Dear Mr President,
The campaigns are over. I am sure you have witnessed the many challenges that face Kenyans in all regions.
It is my hope that you have been touched, at a personal level, by the general condition of the ordinary citizens.
I am sure you have visited many places where people complained about basic services such as health, access to education, water, and infrastructure.
You saw how people insisted on addressing the challenge of the cost of living.
They are paying three or more times what they paid for their food a year ago.
You have witnessed armies of youth, many with university degrees and many with technical skills certified by technical institutes. Mr President, the youth have skills.
They have a good education. But they have no jobs.
Cost of living
Mr President, the campaigns for your election have identified several urgent problems that you should tackle immediately after you get into office.
Cost of living is the number one priority for many ordinary Kenyans. They have tightened their belts and no extra notch.
The costs they bear for food are the result of many taxes that they pay for many things.
Production costs of maize, among other items, are relatively high compared to production costs in the region.
Those in Busia generally cross over to Uganda to buy food because it is cheaper.
It is hilarious that many go across the border to drink Kenyan beer brands because they are cheaper in the neighbouring country.
Those in Namanga also cross the border to buy food in Arusha.
Today we have many imports from across our neighbouring countries because they are produced at lower costs.
We pay more for what we need because of many factors. It is not just taxes. But the cost of inputs such as fertiliser is high.
Cartels and middlemen, who are well connected to politicians and bureaucrats in government ministries, have made life miserable.
Fight the cartels
Mr President, please deal with cartels in the supply chain to make life better for ordinary citizens.
Sir, I must admit it is not easy to deal with these cartels because they are not only entrenched in the public sector but also because they finance politics.
In this election, many financed campaign rallies at all levels. They are very clever in how to capture politicians.
But Mr President, please ignore them. They have had their time and their say. Say goodbye to them. They will do nothing. After all, they have had enough. Just tell them off.
Mr President, there are ways of making food production cheaper, easier, and more efficient.
Our universities have produced tons of documents on this but cartels have made it difficult for this knowledge to be used.
Mr President, you do not need to reinvent the wheel. Just ask the University of Nairobi’s departments of Agricultural Economics; Food Science and Technology; as well as the Tegemeo Institute at Egerton University for some quick thoughts on it.
Create a conducive environment for investors
Mr President, the youth are complaining about having skills but lacking employment opportunities.
Employment is difficult to get because we have made manufacturing a very difficult enterprise in this country.
For instance, if you want to start a cottage industry, you will be required to get many licences.
And these are not got from one office. You get them from several offices. Some will require you to get a licence from greedy county officials.
You will also require a licence from greedy national agencies. The greed is so institutionalised that it is a blockage.
Mr President, investors are complaining about difficulties encountered in doing business.
Investors want to invest, make money, but also create employment, but many give up because of the hostile corruption barriers that stand in their way.
I am sure you are aware of the internationally renowned entrepreneur who wanted to set up a cement factory in Kenya.
But he failed to do so because in every office he went to, everyone wanted to be a shareholder of his new company by paying nothing.
Many investors tell this story in silence. That political elites are so corrupt that they want a share of your company before groundbreaking.
Mr President, you have a problem to deal with. This is a problem called corruption. It is practised by people who have endeared themselves to many in your recent campaigns.
They do not mean well for your effort to transform Kenya. All they want is to transform themselves at a personal level. Please shut the door on them.
Mr President, Sir! Do not worry about the corrupt individuals and cartels. Shut the door on them.
They will bark a little bit like a fearful dog, they will immediately tuck their tails between their legs.
This will help you break with the past and create a new beginning where people are judged on the basis of the content of their character.
Please make Chapter Six on leadership and integrity a badge of honour for all.
Prof Kanyinga is based at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), University of Nairobi. [email protected], Twitter: @karutikk