President William Ruto
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Irony of Ruto’s concessions, U-turns on opulence, harambees

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President William Ruto (then deputy president) presides over a harambee in aid of the ACK Diocese of Mumias in 2019.  

Photo credit: Isaac Wale | Nation Media Group

Concessions and U-turns made by President William Ruto in the face of youth-led protests have exposed the irony of some of his long-held stances.

One of the major changes is the President’s directive banning public officers from harambees. Dr Ruto rode to power through generous church fundraisers that he conducted for years and donated millions of shillings.

His pronouncement against “obnoxious opulence” by some State officers in his government was yet another paradox.

Dr Ruto has admitted that arrogance by those in government, lack of proper communication, among other failures, could have contributed to the current disaffection by a majority of Kenyans.

But some of the decisions he has made go against the political standpoint he has long held.

“No State officer and public servant shall participate in public contributions/harambees henceforth. The Attorney-General is hereby directed to prepare and submit legislation to this effect and develop a mechanism for structured and transparent contributions for public, charitable, and philanthropic purposes,” Dr Ruto directed.

The President built his brand of politics through generous contributions in harambees, mostly targeting churches, women and youth groups.

Lord of poverty

So frequent were the harambees when Dr Ruto was the Deputy President between 2013 to 2022, that the opposition led by Mr Raila Odinga questioned his source of money.

But he always defended himself and labelled Mr Odinga the “lord of poverty”, who was not ready to empower the downtrodden.

“You are against raising money in churches, because you said it was corrupt; you are against any harambee even for women, because you say it is corrupt; but it is because you’re the ‘lord of poverty’ and you want poverty in our country,” the President said in July 2019 while at a women’s empowerment forum in Ekerenyo, Nyamira County.

“We are looking forward to the day when we will not be taking thousands or millions but billions of shillings to church. We did not have godfathers, we only had God the Father. Please understand us and allow us to worship God the way we feel we should,” he said in 2021.

Previous attempts by Parliament to regulate harambees have failed. Both the 11th and 12th Parliament all tried in vain to legislate on measures that would guide contributions.

Stringent measures

In the 11th Parliament, then Kisumu Senator Anyang’ Nyong’o sponsored the Public Fundraising Appeals Bill, 2014 that sought to provide stringent measures for a person seeking to conduct a harambee.

Although the Bill received support in the Senate, it was shot down in the National Assembly.

Among the people who vehemently opposed the Bill was Garissa Town MP and National Assembly Leader of Majority Aden Duale, who is now the Defence Cabinet Secretary. He said then that no one can stop the practice.

“In my community, charity and giving is a virtue. People contribute money to build mosques and schools. People contribute to send children to school and most of us are beneficiaries. There is no way we can stop this practice, “Mr Duale said.

For close to two years since he has been in office, there is a growing perception that the President and his top officials are arrogant, entitled and extravagant.

Displaying opulence

During his X Spaces, formerly, meeting with the youth on Friday, the President admitted that some of his senior officials have been arrogant. He also admitted that some have been displaying opulence in the face of scarcity among the majority of Kenyans.

“I agree that some of our officials are arrogant, some of them display obnoxious opulence, which angers the public. Sometimes I call some of those people and I give them a piece of my mind,” he said.

President Ruto was in the spotlight on social media recently, accused of wearing an expensive belt and shoes and chartering a private jet for his State visit to the United States of America. He said that “friends of Kenya” catered for the jet, and the Kenyan taxpayer only paid Sh10 million. Independent media enquiries had put the cost at Sh200 million.

Further, in the current financial year Sh1.3 billion had been allocated for the renovation of State Houses and State Lodges. The President has since directed that the budget for renovations across government be reduced by 50 percent.

And for the last 22 months that he has been in office, Dr Ruto has made 62 trips to 38 countries, gobbling millions of shillings of taxpayers’ money.

The 2022/2023 budget implementation report for the financial year ending June 30, 2023 shows that the Presidency spent Sh1.45 billion on travel; Sh1 billion catered for local trips while Sh361 million was spent on foreign visits.

The President’s decision to suspend the appointment of CASs also exposed his contradictions. He made the U-turn after pushing for approval of a law to anchor the positions despite complaints from the public.

Previously, he said that his Cabinet needs extra hands to deliver on the Kenya Kwanza manifesto.

“The issue of CASs is my plan for the government. It is my decision that there is a need for CASs because of the agenda I have for this country. My deputy (Rigathi Gachagua) almost sleeps in his office; Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi has almost lost weight because he spends too much time in his office. I need more workers because of the agenda I have for Kenya. I need more hands, I need more brains,” the President said during a joint media interview at State House, Nairobi on May 14.

Analysts believe that Dr Ruto drove himself to his troubles through his hustler versus dynasty narrative.

Class war

They said the narrative has created a class war, citing the recent attack on property owned by MPs by the protesters. His election campaigns that mobilised unemployed youth while promising job opportunities could have also triggered disaffection.

“Some of the things that led him to his current woes include failure to tackle ills like corruption, nepotism, fraud and police brutality. Another issue is implementing painful foreign-led austerity measures,” university lecturer Professor David Monda.

“President Ruto has few options. He needs to implement drastic reforms before the 2027 elections. Ethnic arithmetic alone cannot win the day as Gen Z demonstrations have shown. By drastic reform, I mean starting with low hanging fruit. Things he can easily implement like reconstituting his Cabinet and sacking or prosecuting Cabinet Secretaries implicated in corruption,” he said.

Professor of international relations Macharia Munene said that the President has to listen more. He says the government finds itself in a political crisis because it failed to listen to the people.

“The President needs to be more serious in fighting corruption, and get rid of incompetent people that he has surrounded himself with,” the don said.

“He was not sensitive to public concerns. He thought he could just get away with anything because he is the President,” added Prof Munene.