A colleague exasperatedly remarked the other day about the seeming lack of direction in President William Ruto’s rule one year into office.
It seems that all that has been achieved is a series of misadventures in decision-making, execution and communication.
Scandals upon more, pledges not matched by action, management gaffes at Cabinet level, and constant motion on the part of the President.
She could not find any pattern speaking to form and substance. I advised her to look and listen more closely for what she was seeing and hearing was the intended delivery. In his form book, the President is doing what he promised, he is just not delivering it in the way that he promised.
For instance, he never said that the action he took to make good his promises could be painless, he just said that he could work very hard to lift the masses from the bottom!
The pain that a huge majority of Kenyans are now feeling is the sting of the antidote and people just have to live with it, is the clear message from the President. And that is what we are hearing from the advisers.
But the people have stopped listening. Those that know were aware even before this government came on board that the debt situation was parlous but there was a sense that the biggest challenge was one of discipline and that a government committed to not continue borrowing with the abandon we are seeing could, as the cliché goes, stop digging a hole that we were desperately trying to get out of. That is not what the people are seeing.
We are not only borrowing with the appetite of a thirsty Bedouin, but the government spending is that of a surprised thief that must exhaust illegal loot acquired suddenly and rather unexpectedly. This government has not shown the spending restraint that was expected of a regime keen to demonstrate a change of attitude. They are still guzzling fuel like the enormous reservoirs residing in the belly of Turkana land have been harvested!
New offices are being created with bonus extensions for wives of these dignitaries. Keen to spend even that which is not there, the President is determined that there must be offices of Chief Administrative Secretaries and the Members of the National Assembly that should draw a line on such excesses will acquiesce because they have been cowed to submission. Stories are told of the dread an MP feels when they receive summons to present themselves at State House!
Now that the Bill creating these positions (that the courts found to be illegal) has been formally presented to the House, the process will just rubber stamp the decision paving the way for the CASs to earn a salary as early as end of February 2024 and driving the country further into debt and financial stress.
The President pronounced a no tolerance to corruption stance and allowed some welcome demonstrations to affirm this intent. But even as we wait to see if former Governor Jackson Mandago actually does get properly punished for alleged serious impropriety, a blatant witch-hunt has been started against the one civil servant that has stuck her neck out to point out the existence of egregious corruption at the heart of public finance management.
The Controller of Budget, Dr Margaret Nyakango, is four years into her job, being hauled to court on some phantasmagorical charges of a crime purportedly committed three years before she applied, was vetted and given the current job! The people accusing her are the same that found her fit and proper for the assignment. Kenyans know that this is a sham and that her real crime is to tell Kenyans that thieves thrive within the Budget office and that corruption is routinely budgeted for. Rather than follow the thieves, the messenger is being hounded.
In such unforgiving circumstances, fear and the sense of self-preservation becomes the dominant behavior modulator. It is hardly surprising therefore that the Kenya Bureau of Standards stewards, overly eager to please their masters and self-preserve, are equivocating over a verdict they gave earlier that a Sh16 billion worth consignment of oil imported earlier in the year under highly controversial circumstances, was after all, OK for human consumption. It is not the first time something like this happens, and it looks like there will be many more.
In this “normal” state of affairs, life for the ordinary folk has truly taken a negative turn. The cries that two meals a day are now an abnormal feature in many homes are not vacuous attempts to get attention. Kenyans are proud, hardworking people and to see them sink to these depths of despair and helplessness is heart-breaking. But it should serve as a warning.
We saw raw anger recently when two ministers were stopped from speaking at public forums. Social media chatter, conversations in social places generally hint of a society about to implode. The brazen crime in formerly safe and quiet rural areas is a marker of dangerous times. On the evidence of work done by the President and his teams in the first year, Kenyans are persuaded that the team must be working away from the office.
- The writer is a communications and media consultant. [email protected]; @TMshindi