Transformative value of Ruto’s bottom-up economic talks

William Ruto

Deputy President William Ruto during the Nyamira Economic Forum at Nyamaiya Stadium in Nyamira County on May 5, 2022.

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

In annulling the 2017 presidential election results, Justice David Maraga famously declared that an election was a process, not merely an event – sentiments that underscored the significance of paying attention to elements that constitute free, fair, transparent and credible elections.

We are in yet another electioneering phase, that colourful and dramatic countrywide ritual that happens every five years. Electioneering is the hallmark of liberal democracy and in our case, is nascent and evolving.

During this campaign cycle, there has been some positive development, including an atmosphere of political tolerance. Some parties, like UDA under the leadership of Deputy President William Ruto, deserve commendation for strengthening and improving the electoral process. UDA picked most of its candidates through a successful nomination process, reduced barriers often faced by candidates, and is unique in conducting county-level pre-election consultations. By nominating the greatest number of female gubernatorial candidates, UDA is unequivocal; womenfolk deserve real power – not tokenism.

The Deputy President has projected his campaign as being “issues-informed and agenda-based” and that he seeks to rid the country of the failed trickle-down policies, a legacy of colonialism. He has argued that his bottom-up economic model would be significantly different and superior to the current approach where development finance is concentrated in few mega projects, which ultimately benefit an elite group and the middle class.

He seeks, instead, to commit a large share of public resources to the grassroots, addressing the needs and priorities of mama mboga and poverty-stricken wananchi who are the majority.


While it is tempting to dismiss bottom-up arguments as campaign sloganeering, Dr Ruto’s development philosophy reflects his own humble beginnings, and his message does in fact emerge from the ongoing nationwide Bottom-Up Economic (BUE) county forums. His BUEs align with the participatory planning and development model promoted by donor nations and international development organisations. The World Bank has defined it as a “process through which stakeholders influence and share control over development initiatives, decisions and resources which affect them”.

The theoretical underpinning for BUEs, and the involvement of local stakeholders, in the selection of development priorities, and the designing of various strategies, plans and projects is that they foster ownership, transparency, and accountability – all of which are key predictors of project performance.

Participatory development places members of targeted communities at the heart of decision-making and is touted as a better model for developing countries, which face chronic market and government failures.

Rural and community development champions contend that it enhances collective action, builds social capital and puts the poor and the intended beneficiaries of public intervention in control. Because the model strengthens the capacity of beneficiaries to hold local governments accountable, it is highly regarded for improving delivery of public services, reducing inequality, alleviating poverty and distributing development gains more evenly.

BUEs are potentially transformative because people cherish opportunities to contribute to strategies and decisions related to the future of their communities. Furthermore, studies show that local public goods, such as roads and drinking water facilities, provided through participatory mechanisms are often of better quality and that public services, such as schools and community health centres, function better.

Dr Ruto’s attempt at incorporating civic and grassroots voices into his campaign platform is a welcome initiative as it could help identify need and build capacity in communities. So far, efforts to decentralise power and resources through devolution have yielded mixed results. While many counties have faced a steep learning curve, devolution is impeded by lack of capacity, corruption, incompetency, power struggles between the executive and legislative bodies, as well as interference from the national government.

Sustainable development

Each of our counties is unique, endowed with different resources, and faces different development opportunities. The incoming national government, and at the very least, UDA governors, could localise BUEs at the ward level, and leverage them as platforms for generating ideas, identifying development priorities, setting community action plans, and supporting sustainable development.

Whereas Dr Ruto is promoting bottom-up development, Raila Odinga and the entire Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition brigade including the President, believe in centralised power, personality-based politics and trickle-down economics. This is what informed their failed Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) enterprise and explains Mr Odinga’s continued promise to offer positions to regional kingpins like Mr Ali Hassan Joho, Mr Kenneth Marende, and Mr Wycliffe Oparanya – instead of speaking directly to pressing needs of the voter.

There has been a near blackout on Dr Ruto’s BUEs, yet it is imperative for the Press to cover, report and analyse their importance. They represent a positive addition to our electoral process and align well with development cooperation forums that the United Nations recognises as critical for rapid, broad-based and inclusive growth and development. Although participatory planning and development has not been adopted widely, the late Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi embraced it wholly. It formed the foundations of Libya’s political and economic framework and is credited for the country’s rapid sustainable development spanning more than three decades.

Mr Chesoli is a New York-based development economist and global policy expert. [email protected].