President William Ruto’s top economic adviser David Ndii has carved out a niche for himself as the bearer of uncomfortable truths, something that made him a household name during the Jubilee government under President Uhuru Kenyatta.
But over time, and as an economic adviser to the Kenya Kwanza administration, the truths have taken a darker slant, and sting, with some observers saying he now appears to mock the pain of Kenyans, raising doubts as to whether he is doing more harm than good to the image of the current administration.
Just hours after Kenyans learnt that fuel prices have been increased yet again on Friday, Dr Ndii took to social media to remind all and sundry that the country is “in receivership”.
“This expectation that Kenya can abuse credit for a decade and the same people can make consequences go away painlessly just because there was a game of musical chairs we call elections? Are we sober? I told you two years ago Kenya was in receivership. Nothing has changed,” he posted on his X page.
When someone responded to his post by asking why then his bosses – Dr Ruto and Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua – had during campaigns promised to bring down the cost of living only to do the opposite on taking office, Dr Ndii’s response was swift and scathing.
“And you believed them?”
Through Thursday night to Friday, as Kenyans reeled from the news of higher fuel prices and the far-reaching consequences this would have on their households, which are already feeling the pinch of raised taxes, the Rhodes scholar economist stepped on the accelerator, his no-holds barred rhetoric of tougher times growing more unrelenting.
“I am not a politician. I don’t sell hope. Life will be painful. And it may not work. Even Oxford and Harvard trained doctors lose patients,” Dr Ndii went on, adding that Kenyans are now paying for the folly of “expectations that you can abuse credit for a decade”, a reference to external debt taken on by the Jubilee administration in the last decade.
Dr Ndii added that the same people (who helped you abuse that credit – where President Ruto was deputy president 2013-2022) can make the consequences go away painlessly just because there was a game of musical chairs we call elections” is a bad hope.
Dumbfounded, economist and avid social media user Mohamed Wehliye, in a brickbat exchange with Dr Ndii, pointed out to him that Kenyans are relying on the adviser and his team to bail them out and find solutions, not “rub it in”.
Asked if the Ruto presidency is becoming a painful boil in the lives of Kenyans with each passing day, Dr Ndii replied nonchalantly: “But we told you so.”
The social media exchanges this week are not new to the economist. They actually appear to be part of a trend.
When President Ruto is seen and heard agonising over how best to explain to Kenyans why a harsh tax regime is necessary, Dr Ndii abandons diplomacy and civility, taking on citizens with statements that some describe as unvarnished truths, but which observers view as reckless and tone deaf.
“Apart from being politicians on opposing sides, we are also realistic Kenyans and we know the exact economic problem we have. It is just that it is not our job as the opposition to help the government shine. We understand some of the policies. But Dr Ndii is behaving better than we in opposition. He makes his government look and sound bad and petty,” Nairobi senator Edwin Sifuna said.
Dr Ndii’s utterances on social media are said to have left even government loyalists at a loss for words, with a senior officer in Mr Gachagua’s office telling the Saturday Nation: “This man has gone rogue and is busy helping the opposition get ammunition to make us look really bad.”
“We are all at a loss as to why the President entertains him. How does he tolerate him and what value does he adds to our government as we struggle to shed the tag of a tax-happy regime that is immune to agonised cries of citizens buckling under high cost of living?”
While Dr Ndii is known for his fervent defence of President Ruto, he had a long stint with opposition Azimio la Umoja One Kenya chief Raila Odinga, including leading the People’s Assembly, with the ultimate idea to have parts of Kenya secede being one of the most memorable proposals.
For Dr Ndii, the secession, or rather breaking up Kenya, started long before, in March 2016, when he penned an opinion article titled “Kenya is a cruel marriage, it’s time we talk divorce”.
It was a Saturday Nation commentary where the Oxford-educated economist suggested that since independence, the Kenyan nation state had been wrongly designed, to the disadvantage of the majority and it was time to think about breaking it up.
The National Intelligence Service (NIS) is said to profile the economist as a government official with the tendency to “delve into controversial engagements outside the official ambit”.
Since his appointment, Dr Ndii has been a chronology of verbal disasters, with his infamies recorded in statements such as “we will not fight corruption”.
On December 5, 2021 – eight months before the 2022 General Election – Dr Ndii threw Dr Ruto’s candidacy into crisis when he said: “Kenya is as corrupt as sin... the first step to recovery from corruption addiction is acceptance.”
Dr Ndii has been sued by activist Boniface Mwangi after he reportedly said Dr that Ruto funded the anti-Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) project that sought to push for constitutional change through a referendum in 2021.
The BBI was an initiative of then-president Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.
Dr Ndii said Mr Mwangi and other anti-BBI luminaries like Martha Karua received facilitation money from the then-Deputy President Ruto.
While Ms Karua denied the allegations through social media posts, Mr Mwangi went gone to court and sued for defamation.
Dr Ndii, a man who is even seen to be competing with the President and his government for legitimacy, is on record as saying: “The bottom-up economic model is my brainchild, which was adopted by the United Democratic Alliance (UDA)”.
UDA, the main party in the ruling Kenya Kwanza alliance, was formed by Dr Ruto.
Until 2018, Dr Ndii was a staunch ally of Mr Odinga before defecting, issuing the statement: “I moved to Ruto’s corner because Mr Odinga had stopped being a progressive leader.”
This was dismissed by Embakasi East MP Babu Owino and many others.
Dr Ndii’s controversies also include his February tweet that “cheap electricity was not part of the Kenya Kwanza government manifesto.
“If you bothered to peruse our manifesto, you would have noticed that cheap electricity is not part of our promises,” he said, adding later that the government’s Hustler Fund, subsidised fertiliser and petroleum programmes would be scandals.