Joy, suffering and tension make up for surreal moment
It is kind of a surreal reality, but it is all so real.
Ignoring lamentations and pleas from across the country, and effectively dumping a commitment to Kenyans that he could run a lean, mean government that prides in providing opportunities and delivering services to forgotten hustlers and others at the lower end of the pyramid, President William Ruto casually appointed 50 people to serve as Chief Administrative Secretaries in 23 ministries. Some ministries will have three people serving in this capacity.
That is additional billions to be charged to the exchequer in the next five years as salaries and other perks, a period during which the President has promised to shed off Sh900 billion from the budget. That notwithstanding, in the 2023/2024 financial year, the government plans to borrow up to Sh700 billion to bridge the funding gap in its Sh3.6 trillion budget.
As he layers expense upon another, the country is restive.
Presidential election loser Raila Odinga is in a rebellious mood. He has rallied his troops to march out tomorrow to protest against, inter alia, the high cost of living, the ongoing recruitment of new commissioners for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), and press demands for opening of IEBC servers to find truths they believe are hidden there.
If crowds seen at various meetings across the country to drum up support for the protests are anything to go by, then there definitely will be crowds out tomorrow in Nairobi and elsewhere. In Migori and Kisumu earlier last week, there was evidence of excitable anger that can very easily degenerate.
The President and the police have cautioned Mr Odinga and his supporters against stoking tension and encouraging circumstances that can threaten peace. The police statement asked for the protests to be called off because of intelligence that a clash of opposing ideas and interests may lead to riots and violence.
Mr Odinga and his colleagues are resolute that the meetings will go on and that he has no intention of “teaching police their work”. It is a deja vu moment. We are back in 2018, with everything in place for police and rioter confrontations, tear gas, potential destruction of property, and definite shutdown of business as traders and manufacturers choose caution and shut their premises.
Profligacy of new government
As the President and Mr Odinga stare each other down, commodity prices are generally going up. Petrol prices went up again this past week, a trend that is set to continue. The fact that this reality had been predicted once it became clear that the option of subsidies was untenable is not sufficient consolation for suffering wananchi when viewed against the profligacy of the new government.
The pain is compounded by the relentless squeeze on the dollar reserves. This balloons the dollar-denominated foreign debt, adding fuel to an inferno. It is also putting huge pressure on importers and generally creating a shadow market where dealers selling the rare currency at rates way over what the Central Bank of Kenya argues it should be. The market finally seems to be having its way against the CBK wishes.
As CASs are being appointed, office spaces being sought or existing ones refurbished, as we get ready to feast at the inevitable homecomings, hunger continues to kill in the arid and semi-arid regions. So bad is the famine and drought situation that the absence of reports of human deaths is being viewed with disbelief. How can this disaster target only plants and animals?
It is too soon to dance in the showers that have been received in parts of the country because experts warn that this does not mark the start or long, crop-sustaining rains. It is a spurt that will taper off, leaving freshly planted crops exposed. The uncertainty about food security will continue, as will the heated discussions about food imports, introduction of GMOs, etc.
It is true that all these problems were not created by the new government. It has been in office barely six months. It is also true that even if Mr Odinga had taken power last August, he could not have fabricated his fabled Canaan by now.
His calls for protests are understandable but also quite disingenuous and unhelpful. That he is resorting to protests than work through Parliament is clear capitulation that he has been check-mated. He must devise other tricks to make his role as opposition leader more effective.
As for the President, it will really help him if he can replay the many clips containing key promises he made to Kenyans. If they include a promise to raid taxpayers money to reward acolytes and tribes-people, then Kenyans should shut up and take their punishment.
If the messages are different, he should pause and reflect next time he is tempted to invoke God.
Mr Mshindi, a former editor-in-chief of Nation Media Group, is now consulting. [email protected]; @TMshindi)