Kenya's political philosophies: From Jomo’s Uhuru na Kazi to William Ruto’s Bottom-Up model

William Ruto

A boy is hoisted up on a wheelbarrow, symbol for the ‘Hustler Nation’, at a campaign rally addressed by Dr William Ruto in Nyamira County in February last year. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Founding President Jomo Kenyatta and his contemporaries embraced the principles of African socialism.
  • The 2002 elections brought the end of the Moi era and the rise of Mwai Kibaki, who espoused a philosophy of "Yote Yawezekana."

Since gaining independence in 1963, Kenya has witnessed a dynamic and evolving political landscape, marked by the emergence and transformation of various political philosophies. From the early years of nationhood to the present day, these philosophies have played a crucial role in shaping the country's governance, policies, and aspirations.

At inception, Kenya's political philosophy was rooted in the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the struggle for liberation from colonial rule. Founding President Jomo Kenyatta and his contemporaries embraced the principles of African socialism.

This philosophy aimed to promote communalism, equitable distribution of resources, and economic independence through collective ownership. Kenyatta's administration implemented policies that sought to address social inequalities, promote education, and foster a sense of national identity.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Kenya experienced a wave of political activism and calls for democratisation. This period saw the rise of the second President, Daniel arap Moi, who introduced a different political philosophy known as "Nyayoism."

The 1990s witnessed a significant shift in Kenya's political landscape, as multipartyism was reintroduced and a more liberal political philosophy took hold.

The advent of multiparty democracy led to the emergence of new political movements, most notably the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford) and the Democratic Party (DP).

These parties championed liberal democracy, individual rights, and market-oriented economic policies.

With the new millennium came further political transformations in Kenya. The 2002 elections brought the end of the Moi era and the rise of Mwai Kibaki, who espoused a philosophy of "Yote Yawezekana." Kibaki's government focused on promoting economic growth, infrastructure development, and improving governance.

His successor Uhuru Kenyatta anchored his presidency on the same through his agenda of the "Big Four" pillars: food security, affordable housing, manufacturing, and universal healthcare. However, like Kibaki, Uhuru faced criticism for alleged corruption and limited progress in implementing promised reforms.

The "Hustler Nation" movement, spearheaded by President William Ruto, gained significant attention ahead of the last General Election. It emphasises economic empowerment, entrepreneurship, and a bottom-up approach to development.

Uhuru na Kazi

As Mzee Jomo Kenyatta took over from the British in 1964, he emphasised on "Uhuru na Kazi" which is Kiswahili for "Freedom and Work".

"Uhuru na Kazi" encapsulated Kenyatta's vision for the newly independent nation of Kenya. It reflected his belief that true freedom could only be achieved through productive work and economic development.

Kenyatta emphasized the importance of building a strong and self-sufficient nation. He underscored the need for self-reliance and encouraged Kenyans to embrace a spirit of entrepreneurship and hard work.


Not far into his presidency, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta adopted "Harambee" a Swahili word that means "pulling together" or "working together." Harambee represented Kenyatta's belief that the country’s progress could only be achieved through the collaborative efforts of its people. It was used to mobilise people at various levels, from local communities to the national level, to pool their resources, skills, and labour for the development of infrastructure, education, healthcare, and other public projects.

Harambee was often, and still is, associated with fundraising events and campaigns.

Kenya’s highest GDP growth in its entire history was recorded in 1971 at 22.1 per cent. However, economic benefits were not distributed evenly, leading to significant wealth disparities.

Politically, Kenyatta’s tenure was haunted by consolidation and centralisation of power as well as ethnic favouritism.

Kazi ni Kazi

Kenya’s second President, Daniel arap Moi, was known to many as Nyayo (footsteps) . At its core, Nyayoism aimed to establish a one-party State under the control of the Kenya African National Union (Kanu), which was the ruling party during Moi's presidency.

The late President also held a political philosophy christened "Kazi ni Kazi", a Swahili phrase that translates to "Work is Work".

"Kazi ni Kazi" reflected Moi's emphasis on the value of hard work, productivity, and personal responsibility. It conveyed the message that every form of work, regardless of its nature or status, should be respected and given due importance.

While the "Kazi ni Kazi" philosophy promoted the value of hard work, it was also criticised for downplaying other important aspects such as social welfare, equality, and the need for a conducive and fair work environment. Critics argued that it sometimes served as a means to suppress labour movements and workers' rights.

Moi’s tenure was characterised by autocracy, political repression, and a disregard for human rights with opposition leaders, journalists, and activists facing harassment, intimidation, and detention. Rampant corruption and tribalism were also prominent characteristics of the Moi era.

Yote Yawezekana

As Moi exited the scene in 2002, ‘Yote Yawezekana’ (Everything is Possible) became the clarion call for Kibaki’s National Rainbow Coalition. The motivation for this call was that Moi and Kanu had messed up the country and it was time for Kenya to move forward without that baggage.

It also emphasised Kibaki’s belief in the ability of the Kenyan people to overcome challenges and achieve progress. This made him the symbol of hope and possibility for many Kenyans.

Kibaki's presidency, which lasted from 2002 to 2013, was marked by several notable achievements. He implemented a number of economic reforms that led to sustained economic growth, introduced free primary education, improved infrastructure, and made efforts to combat corruption.

Kazi Iendelee

While seeking re-election in 2007, President Kibaki adopted "Kazi Iendelee" which encapsulated his vision and commitment to promoting progress, development, and continuity of the work started under his administration. The phrase emphasised the importance of ongoing efforts to improve the lives of Kenyans and advance the nation's development agenda.

Kibaki inherited a GDP growth of 0.5 per cent. During his tenure, GDP growth averaged around five to six per cent per year, with notable progress in sectors such as telecommunications and financial services.

Kibaki also emphasised the need for transparency, accountability, and good governance as a means to ensure that public resources were used for the benefit of all Kenyans. However, his tenure was also faced with major corruption scandals such as Anglo Leasing, Goldenberg and Maize. Besides corruption, the Kibaki era was dented by unfulfilled promises and the post-election violence of 2007/08 that led to the death of over 1,500 Kenyans and the displacement of over 500,000 others.

Tuko Pamoja

Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s fourth President, borrowed much of his policies from the previous three presidents. However, there was an emphasis on national unity and reconciliation in his first term with him and his deputy William Ruto facing charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.

“Tuko Pamoja” became a key rallying call to their supporters with an emphasis on the importance of national unity and reconciliation to overcome the divisions and tensions that had characterised Kenyan politics. Uhuru aimed to build a united and cohesive Kenya, transcending ethnic and regional differences, and promoting a sense of shared national identity.

Like his predecessor, Uhuru also laid an emphasis on economic development and job creation as central pillars of his political agenda. He advocated for policies and initiatives that would stimulate economic growth, attract investments, and generate employment opportunities for Kenyans.

Other key pillars of Mr Kenyatta’s philosophy were devolution, inclusive governance, social welfare, and poverty alleviation. With this in mind, he came up with the “Big Four” Agenda that laid an emphasis on food security, affordable housing, manufacturing, and universal healthcare.

Tuko Pamoja” was however short-lived as it collapsed midway through his second term after falling out with Ruto. This followed the 2018 “handshake” with Opposition leader Raila Odinga with Dr Ruto saying this had derailed their development agenda with Mr Kenyatta focusing a lot on cohesion.

The second Kenyatta took over when Kenya was experiencing a GDP growth of slightly below four per cent. During his tenure, the country had a varying GDP growth of between four and seven per cent with the Covid-19 pandemic year taking it to 0.25 per cent.

Bottom Up

President William Ruto's bottom-up approach to national development focuses on the needs of the people at the bottom of the pyramid. It has four key pillars.

The first is Agriculture, which Dr Ruto believes is the backbone of the economy. He has pledged to invest in agriculture, including by providing subsidies for farmers and improving access to markets.

The second is manufacturing, with the President pledging to support the development of small and medium-sized enterprises and to provide incentives for foreign direct investment.

The third is infrastructure. Dr Ruto has pledged to invest in roads, bridges, and other projects.

The last pillar is social welfare, where the President has pledged to increase the number of people receiving government assistance and to improve the quality of social services.

Dr Ruto's bottom-up approach has been criticised by some for being too simplistic and for not providing enough detail on how it will be implemented.

However, it has also been praised for its focus on the needs of ordinary Kenyans.