In two days, Kenyans go to the polling booths in the most defining election since the country became an independent nation 60 years ago.
It is the most defining because Kenya has come of age, but the structural problems that bogged it down at independence are still glaring. Yet that is not unusual in developing countries. What is abnormal is that there have been no serious efforts to start dealing with the outstanding issues.
The key matters that make Kenya and a majority of its people lag behind include exclusivist economic and financial systems, unaffordable healthcare and education, and rigging of the whole spectrum of opportunities. Many Kenyans, no matter how hard they work and no matter the attempts they make, find the door of opportunity slammed shut against them.
These are the real issues. Sort them out and every Kenyan, irrespective of where and how they were born, will have a fair chance in the choice they wish to pursue in life. Many attempts have been made to solve the intractable challenges that face Kenya. But many a time, the efforts have been nothing more than spinning around the same point, and marking time at best. It has been akin to injecting painkillers to lull to sleep a ballooning tumour.
First, was the pledge that Kenya would change in about 20 years after independence. The refrain was that the country would be better for all by 1980: Water for all; education for all and healthcare for all. That was 40 years ago and counting. But water, for example, is still a basic requirement that has got scarcer since 1963 and the scarcest since 1980.
The same is true for healthcare and education. They have become increasingly unaffordable for the majority of Kenyans, especially because of the inefficiency, lack of enough medical staff, equipment and drugs in the public sector. Today, many pupils and students drop out at all levels of education because of inability to meet the costs, while many families are just an illness away from poverty.
A substantial section of the population does not even go to hospital, and merely stay put and wait for nature to take its course.
Many others have no opportunities in an economy that continues to return hefty profits for a few, with poorly paying jobs for the majority. Many attempts to join the business arena flop at the door of inadequate capital, demotivating regulation and a hostile environment.
It is for this reason that Tuesday’s election outcome is crucial because it will begin to shine a light on the issues that can make Kenya, the giant waiting to pounce, begin the journey to real, inclusive greatness. And this is why.
Deputy President William Ruto and United Democratic Alliance (UDA)/Kenya Kwanza presidential candidate began the journey to Tuesday with the call that this election will be about the economy, particularly for people at the bottom: Mama mboga, boda boda, mkokoteni, kiosk owners and jua kali artisans, among others. The bottom-up economic model was born.
And true to his word, this election has been about the economy. Even his competitors, who at first were demeaning the work Kenyans at the bottom do, found their Damascus moment, however pretentious. Nothing captures the strength of Dr Ruto’s success better than President Uhuru Kenyatta’s admission in Kisumu this week: “I have no problem with hustling. But it must be about building to bigger things.”
And, indeed it is, Mr President. Only when government policies and programmes are directed in this way will the efforts of Hustlers grow and become bigger. Hustling is neither glorification of poverty nor taking from those who have. It is about hard work, relentless pursuit and ‘having’.
And this is Dr Ruto and Kenya Kwanza’s plan: In the manifesto, the county charters signed with citizens and have been the message in all the villages, markets, trading centres, towns, estates and manyatta where the alliance has had the pleasure of meeting Kenyans of all walks of life.
The message has been four-fold. One, Kenya can be better for all if agriculture, the biggest sector in the economy, is better funded; the inputs subsidised, better produce prices guaranteed and more markets sought.
The ugly spectre of hunger will never be sorted out by handouts or relief food. Government must come in and make it easier for hardworking farmers to not only grow their own food, but also export to other parts of the country and the world. Fertiliser and certified seeds, among other inputs, must be subsidised and a guaranteed minimum return for various crops legislated.
Two, in addition to agriculture, other programmes and policies in manufacturing, value addition and housing must be deliberately planned to create jobs for the millions of youths out of school and college to get jobs.
By doing this, government won’t be doing the young people any favour. If this is not done urgently, what happened in Sri Lanka recently will look like a nyama choma parley. For these two plans, Sh100 billion will be set aside.
Three, more youths and women can go into business if the work environment is improved and the legal regime made friendly. The practice of unleashing police and council askaris on small business owners is cruel and must stop. They must get support, including cheap credit.
To this end, a Sh50 billion Hustlers Fund will be set up for small businesspeople to borrow from. To protect the traders, laws will be enacted to decriminalise their businesses and keep off law enforcement agencies from poking their noses where they are not needed.
And finally, Dr Ruto will reform the public healthcare system to make it possible for every Kenyan to have insurance, each paying according to ability.
Mr Buku works in the William Ruto presidential campaign; [email protected]