Ruto's Catch-22: Caught between Gen Zs, Gachagua's NIS demand and IMF pressure

William Ruto

President William Ruto addresses the nation at State House, Nairobi on June 26, 2024.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • President William Ruto was forced to drop the controversial Finance Bill 2024.
  • DP Gachagua has demanded that the President fires NIS boss Noordin Haji.

President William Ruto is on the horns of a complex political dilemma as he confronts a youth-led nationwide revolt, a shifting Mt Kenya support base and a rebellion instigated within by his deputy, Rigathi Gachagua.

The President has also to wiggle around a Sh303 billion budget hole amid pressure and tough conditions by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that wants his two-year old administration to raise more taxes in the face of protests against additional revenue-raising measures.

His troubles have further been compounded by the arrogant, entitled and opulence-flaunting top officials and close allies, who continue to show disdain to the electorate that they rode on to power in the August 9, 2022 polls.

The President was forced to drop the controversial Finance Bill 2024 following days of deadly protests, but the youth are not pacified yet.

The amorphous group of Gen Z has since issued fresh demands to the President, including one to fire corrupt officials in his government.

Some individuals around the President holding key positions, have been involved in major corruption in the past while others have had their graft cases dropped in questionable circumstances, lending credence to lack of commitment by Kenya Kwanza administration to fight the vice.

They have also demanded scrapping of Chief Administrative Secretaries (CAS), offices of the spouses of the President, Deputy President and Prime Cabinet Secretary (PSC). They further want termination of the controversial 1.5 per cent housing levy.

Mr Gachagua has also demanded that the President fire National Intelligence Service (NIS) boss Noordin Haji for allegedly failing to inform the President about the magnitude of the protests.

"Had the National Intelligence Service briefed the President two months ago about how the people feel about the Finance Bill, 2024, so many Kenyans would not have died, property would not have been destroyed, offices would not have been destroyed. There would have been no mayhem, but they slept on the job,” said Mr Gachagua.

How the President will respond to these demands would have major political ramifications going forward to 2027 General Elections and would have a bearing on his chances of being re-elected.

The youths who have led the current revolt comprise the biggest voting bloc for President Ruto after he successfully weaved hustlers versus dynasty narrative that promised the majority poor an equal opportunity for jobs and businesses.

Only the well-connected political-elite seem to have benefited since President Ruto assumed office.

“If the Gen Z movement is able to organise at the grassroots to field youthful and aspirational candidates to local, county and national office, Ruto will be a one term president and the career politicians will be thrown out of their cosy fiefdoms,” says Prof David Monda a university don.

“Ruto’s successful dalliance with the US is one of the contributory factors to his unpopularity at home. The strict IMF austerity measures have forced the Ruto government to raise more revenue through higher taxes to pay off accumulating debt. This is supposed to allow the government to borrow more from the IMF,” he observes.

Mr Gachagua has admitted that the ruling party has lost its popularity among Kenyans for failing to listen to their demands. Mr Gachagua has been fomenting rebellion against the government, especially in the populous Mt Kenya that largely voted in the current regime.

Mr Gachagua has openly complained of an attempt to side-line him despite contributing to Kenya Kwanza victory in the presidential race, with his allies threatening to lead the region away from the President.

He has since started mobilising the region against the Kenya Kwanza administration by pointing out what he terms as mistreatment of the electorate.

He has been whipping emotions using the recent demolitions in Nairobi, which he claims targeted a specific community.

Dr Ruto’s win was secured by his home turf of Rift Valley and Mt Kenya. Should the DP succeed in consolidating the region away from Dr Ruto, he will have to go back to the drawing board to craft a new alliance.

"We were elected the other day as a popular government. How did we get here? When did the rain start beating us?” posed Mr Gachagua in an address from Mombasa.

“President William Ruto and I were the darling of the Kenyan people by listening to them, by engaging them. The decision by our President this evening to withdraw the Finance Bill after listening to the people of Kenya is a new beginning that should nurture the culture of consultation and engagement,” he said.

Prof Macharia Munene, a political analyst and university lecturer, says President Ruto has failed to deliver on the promises that he made in the run up to the last poll. He says the youth had high expectations in his government.

“Confidence in his leadership has eroded after their expectations were not met. The youths are frustrated. Their parents are also frustrated,” says Prof Munene.

But Suba South MP Caroli Omondi, an ODM member who has declared support for President Ruto, said the protests are not about the Head of State failure to bring down the cost of living.

He said the youth are responding to years of political deceit. He said it was time for a national dialogue to listen to them. youth.

“I firmly believe that the current economic challenges facing Kenya will not be resolved by political confrontation and other forms of political partisanship. It is time to have a national economic dialogue to find solutions to our collective economic challenges. Let our political competition be at the level of competing economic ideas,” said Mr Omondi.

National Assembly Majority Leader Opiyo Wandayi said anyone in power should be worried about the widespread protest led by the youth. He said apart from the youth who are the face of the protest, there are many other groups in support of the demos.

“The underlying issues are so deeply rooted that they affect many more groups than just the youths. The youth could be the face but more people like civil societies, the church and others seem to be reading from the same script,” said Mr Wandayi.

Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa said the Kenya Kwanza administration has many options of engaging the youth.

He said since the youth have no structure or officials, the government can resort to creating a website for them to submit their concerns before they can be condensed for action.

He also allayed fears that Mt Kenya could be shifting away from the President. He said the president reached the people directly without going through political kingpins. He said disgruntlement by one person is not representative of the region’s feeling.

On the day Dr Ruto climbed down by dropping the Finance Bill, 2024, he proposed austerity measures and budget cuts to balance the expected shortfall.

There has been a general feeling that the country has an expenditure problem. Some of the revenue raised goes into wastage through corruption and to finance luxury and extravagance.

“I direct immediate further austerity measures to reduce expenditure, starting with the Executive Office of the President and extending to the entire executive arm of government,” said the President.

“I direct that operational expenditure in the Presidency be reduced to remove allocations for the confidential vote, reduce travel budget, hospitality and purchase of motor vehicles, renovations and other expenditures.”

He also asked Parliament, the Judiciary and county governments to undertake budget cuts and austerity. Past pronouncements on the same have largely not yielded much, with those in power still displaying opulence.

The IMF has been pushing Dr Ruto to cut unnecessary expenditure on top of raising more taxes to finance its operations and service existing loans. IMF had foresaw the emergence of street protests against the tax measures, but asked the government to stand firm on new revenue-raising measures.

Prof Monda observes that “Kenya’s subservience to the IMF and US hegemony raises citizen frustration because Kenya loses its sovereignty.’

“Citizens feel decisions affecting them are being made by unelected neoliberal economists in Washington D.C rather than elected officials in Nairobi. That is to say, Kenya has become a neocolony of the US,” he says.

There is a growing perception that the President and his top officials are arrogant, entitled and not averse to displaying conspicuous consumption through their dressing and vehicles—and often contributing huge amounts in fundraisers.

Some of them have been displaying opulence and extravagance – in the form of expensive designer clothes and accessories like wrist watches and belts estimated to cost millions of shillings – at a time complaining of debt burden.