William Ruto
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There’s still room to cut on wastage

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President William Ruto during an interview with top editors at State House, Nairobi, on June 30, 2024.

Photo credit: PCS

President William Ruto is clearly a worried man following the youth protests over the past fortnight.

The ‘Presidential Roundtable’ he hosted at State House on Sunday was very different from his other media engagements since the anti-tax demonstrations began.

This time it was a humbled President opening himself up to interrogation. The spotlight was on a man pained and confused by a rebellion he could never have predicted, and desperate to explain himself.

The President had clearly prepared well for hostile questioning, but this was not a forum where he could get away with glib answers and the ritual echo of development statistics.

There were areas where he was nonplussed and impatient with the lines of questioning. He was clearly at pains defending the security response, including the use of live bullets and the frightening deployment of shadowy police squads specialised in abducting suspects and holding them for interrogation in secret locations without formally booking them into police stations.

He also defended the decision to deploy the Kenya Defence Forces against own citizens, blind to the risk of possible escalation if soldiers who are not restricted by civilian rules of engagement turn heavy weaponry on the people.

Legitimate grievances

Although clearly willing to acknowledge that the protesters had legitimate grievances, the President still came out unrepentant in stated determination to catch and punish the violent elements who breached and trashed Parliament.

But he at least made a distinction between the peaceful Gen Z protesters, and what he called criminals who infiltrated the demonstrations in pursuit of their violent agenda. What remains unclear, however, is if those criminals to be pursued will include those who might have been detained by State security services or ruling party politicians.

There was one particularly chilling incident witnessed in President Ruto’s home town of Eldoret where a group of men armed with wooden clubs were sent out to the streets to challenge protesters.

At one point they engaged in what appeared to be rituals performed by warriors in preparation for war, a frightening reminder of past political violence where illegal ethnic militias are used to fight presumed enemies. That incident, too, must be investigated.

Spendthrift ways

Once again, the President signalled his intention to address concerns by cutting down on spendthrift ways. On Wednesday last week when he threw in the towel, he offered to drop altogether the legalised theft in confidential expenditure available to his office, as well as budgets for office refurbishment and motor vehicle fleets across the Executive.

On Sunday, he went further, announcing that separate budgets for the Office of the First Lady and the controversial allocation for spouses of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi would be scrapped. He also put on hold the hiring of Cabinet Administrative Secretaries, and promised more cutbacks in the coming week.

There is certainly much more that can be done. The obscene presidential motorcade can be reduced by at least 75 per cent without compromising his security. He can cut down drastically on foreign junkets, and when he must travel, keep the size of his delegation to a minimum. On local travels, he and all his Cabinet can cut down on the use of helicopters. That will not only cut costs but allow leaders to engage with the ground instead of forever flying over the heads of their subjects.

One security escort

He can also issue an order restricting Cabinet Secretaries and other senior officials to one motor vehicle not over 1800cc, and one security escort, and completely ban those primitive habits of sirens, disco lights, driving on the wrong side of the road and other bad manners. Giant four-wheel drive fuel guzzlers are totally unnecessary in our cities. Where there are visits to distant places with poor road networks, the VIPs can draw from a pool of hardy Land Rover Defenders, Toyota Land Cruisers or similar cars.

Then there is the whole issue of President Ruto engaging the disaffected youth. It is apparent that fellows at State House are already working on those to be invited for the proposed Multi-Sectoral Forum, and obviously, some have it in mind to stack the platform with loyalists purporting to comprise the majority. Convention of an honest dialogue cannot be entrusted to State House mandarins with their own selfish interests to protect.

A more neutral forum has to be considered. And while at it, the President can once and for all shut up his clueless social media warriors and idle politicians who are still busy defending the tax proposals and trashing dissenters; thereby negating all the good things coming out of his mouth.

[email protected]. @MachariaGaitho