President Ruto's grand plan to fix economy, politics
What you need to know:
- Dr Ruto is already making significant departures that portend major shifts in the country’s economy, agriculture, political realignments as well as the relations with western powers.
- Unlike Mr Kenyatta, Dr Ruto is actively keeping a pulse on both administrative and political goings-on.
- Previously stalled projects like the importation of gas from Tanzania have been rekindled in the few days Dr Ruto has been in office.
President William Ruto’s hands-on and decisive style of leadership is quickly replacing that of his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta’s laidback stance, even as he continues to shape his administration through key appointments and policy decisions.
Barely two months into office, Dr Ruto is already making significant departures that portend major shifts in the country’s economy, agriculture, political realignments as well as the relations with western powers.
Kenya in Dr Ruto’s eyes is a country capable of collecting more taxes; where social protection funds like the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) have sizeable amounts trickling in, depending on a person’s earnings.
Some of these plans are likely to rattle the taxpayers since they mean raiding their already dilapidated pockets further. They could also face legal and implementation challenges, given previous attempts.
He has since abandoned some of Mr Kenyatta’s pet projects, some of which had direct and immediate impact on the common man.
Dr Ruto recently abolished the Kazi Mtaani programme that was introduced as a stimulus to put money in the pockets of the most vulnerable youth due to the effects of Covid-19. He also brought to an end fuel and maize flour subsidies that were meant to cushion Kenyans from the high cost of the two crucial commodities.
The President believes these policy departures will pay in the long run. Some of his critics, however, see them as radical and have the risk of backfiring.
“There is every effort by the President to depart from Uhuru’s style of leadership, for instance shunning Kazi Mtaani and fuel and maize flour subsidies. This could be his way of saying that he is different from Uhuru,” says governance expert Javas Bigambo.
Unlike Mr Kenyatta, Dr Ruto is actively keeping a pulse on both administrative and political goings-on.
In crafting his Cabinet, the president has managed to give out government appointments to regions not only in his support base but also to individuals from areas that overwhelmingly backed his main opponent in the last election, Mr Raila Odinga.
This, some say, is a smart political chess game that could have the double effect of ensuring stability but also gaining points for the 2027 election.
Dr Ruto has also made deliberate visits to some of the places that did not back him to show that he remains the president of all, including those who opposed his candidature.
“He would really want every corner of this country to be represented in his government. When appointing the principal secretaries, he would apply the same desire to try and achieve regional balance,” says Baringo Senator William Cheptumo, a key ally of the President.
He adds: “I can say that he has a clear agenda for the country. He is committed to fulfilling the plans. He is not a hands-off person. He is hands-on in everything and he is concerned about every detail. He values the contributions of each and everyone in his team. He values the ideas of others.”
Azimio la Umoja leaders have, however, described his style of leadership a few weeks into the presidency as restless. They also accuse him of remaining on campaign mode by his statements and actions despite the elections having been concluded.
“Dr Ruto is a restless leader who relishes victory in the battlefield and takes no prisoners. These are attributes that are good for winning elections but not for building a nation,” says Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang’.
“He must make a deliberate effort to slow down and become a statesman, a symbol of national unity and an icon of stability.”
His Vihiga counterpart, MP Godfrey Osotsi, notes that Dr Ruto was trying to borrow everything from the late President Daniel Moi. He says the President and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua appear to enjoy making roadside declarations that are not well-thought out.
“Ruto seems to have read from the Moi script which gave maximum premium to political patronage, roadside declarations and Machiavellian approach to serious policy issues,” says Mr Osotsi.
Below, we look at Dr Ruto’s perception of various aspects that will shape the nation in the next five years and beyond.
President Ruto has largely kept his pre-election agreement with his coalition partners. He has appointed former ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi as Prime Cabinet Secretary, a position he promised to hand him when they entered a coalition agreement in the run-up to the August 9 polls.
Dr Ruto, through UDA, also ensured that Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula was elected as the National Assembly Speaker as agreed before the polls. Former Kilifi Governor and PAA leader Amason Kingi also landed the plum Senate Speaker’s seat as per the deal.
Others appointed on the basis of the political agreement include the former Maendeleo Chap Chap boss Alfred Mutua, who was is the Foreign Affairs CS and former Speaker Justin Muturi of the Democratic Party, who has succeeded Paul Kihara as the Attorney-General.
In the past, political deals have been reneged on and players betrayed. Dr Ruto has also kept his long-time allies by handing them critical dockets in his new administration. A majority of his allies who were kicked out of their plum positions at the height of the Jubilee fallout have been appointed into key dockets.
Former Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki, who was kicked out as Senate Deputy Speaker, has landed the powerful Interior ministry.
Mr Kipchumba Murkomen and Mr Aden Duale, who became major casualties by being kicked out as majority leaders in the Senate and the National Assembly respectively have been appointed to the Roads, Transport and Public Works and Defence dockets respectively.
“I am living testimony that you don’t have to betray your friends to thrive in politics. Ignore that nonsense. I stood by William Ruto, now he is the President,” Mr Duale said.
He added: “He also stood by me. The currency of political hygiene is loyalty. Being principled. Can your friend rely on you when it really matters?”
Dr Ruto also appointed Felix Koskei as his new Chief of Staff and Head of Civil Service, replacing Joseph Kinyua, and Katoo ole Metito to the powerful position of State House Comptroller. The two form part of his inner circle in the day-to-day running of the government.
State House Comptroller, Head of Public Service and individuals in charge of security tend to become powerful in every regime because they are the eyes and ears of the president.
“State House Comptroller is like the hatchet boy. He is the president’s gatekeeper. Head of Public Service is the link between the President and the entire government,” said former State House Comptroller Franklin Bett in a previous interview with the Sunday Nation.
Dr Ruto’s 22-member Cabinet is largely from the Rift Valley and Mt Kenya regions. In making the appointments, the President also picked individuals from other regions like Nyanza and Ukambani that did not vote for him.
Immediately after his election, Dr Ruto deliberately reached out to some politicians who backed Azimio in the August 9 polls in a perceived effort to work with them.
Some of the politicians who were in Azimio and are now working with Dr Ruto include Mandera Senator Ali Roba, Ugenya MP and MDG party leader David Ochieng, politician Nicholas Gumbo, former Kisumu Governor Jack Ranguma and politician Odoyo Owidi among others.
In the Cabinet, Simon Chelugui (Co-operatives and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, MSMEs), Murkomen (Roads, Transport and Public Works), Ms Florence Bore (Labour and Social Protection) and Mr Davis Chirchir (Energy and Petroleum) come from the President’s region.
CSs Alice Wahome (Water, Sanitation and Irrigation), former Tharaka Nithi Senator Prof Kindiki (Interior and National Administration), former Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria (Trade, Investment and Industry), Prof Njuguna Ndung’u (National Treasury and Planning), Mithika Linturi (Agriculture) and Zacharia Njeru (Lands, Housing and Urban Development) are from the larger Gema community.
From Nyanza, Dr Ruto appointed former Nyaribari Masaba MP Ezekiel Machogu and Eliud Owalo to be in charge of Education and ICT and Digital Economy dockets, respectively.
From Western, Mudavadi has landed the powerful Prime Cabinet Secretary post while former Budalangi MP Ababu Namwamba and Ms Susan Nakhumicha have been appointed as Sports and Health cabinet secretaries respectively.
Former Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya (Mining, Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs) and Aisha Jumwa (Public Service, Gender) are from the Coast region.
From Ukambani, the President appointed Mr Mutua (Foreign and Diaspora Affairs) and Peninah Malonza (Tourism and Wildlife).
Former Narok woman representative Soipan Tuya (Environment and Forestry) became the only Maasai in the Cabinet and Mr Duale (Defence) from North Eastern.
Azimio secretary-general Junet Mohammed described the Cabinet as having a majority from the two dominant communities. He questioned the distribution, saying the appointments had disenfranchised small communities.
“The region where the President comes from, four ministers come from there including him. The region where the DP comes from has eight ministers including him. When will a Turkana, a Borana, a Kuria be a minister in this country?” posed Mr Mohammed during the approval of the nominees by the National Assembly.
Mr Bigambo, however, says that the President distributed the slots in a fair manner.
He says the Cabinet seats are limited, making it impossible for each and every community to get a seat in the Cabinet.
“We may want to agree that it is only the grand coalition that managed to achieve regional balance, and this was because the cabinet then was nearly double the 22 currently provided for in the constitution,” says Mr Bigambo.
He says that by picking individuals from the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition, the President has shown that he does not hold political vengeance.
“He has made Cabinet appointments even from places that did not back him,” he says.
In terms of the country’s finances, Dr Ruto’s view of Kenya is that of a republic with as few consumption subsidies as possible and where commodity prices are reduced from their very sources. From recent comments, revenue collection will be front and centre.
He also views access to cheap credit as the highway to prosperity, same as a saving culture among the populace. He is toying with the idea of a government top-up of savings especially on NSSF and a borrowing system based on how much a person saves.
Dr Ruto believes the current credit referencing system is unhealthy in that it banishes a borrower once and for all and Kazi Mtaani wasn’t the best stimulus in Kenya, Dr Ruto believes.
Rather than have youths pick garbage, he has said before, they can channel their energies into constructing low-cost houses.
“The demand for affordable housing is an opportunity to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Our manufacturing sector, which already supplies many products in the construction industry, will have expanded business opportunities,” he said in his Mashujaa Day speech.
How far he will go with his bid to empower those at the bottom of the pyramid in his famed bottom-up approach will be a key yardstick for gauging his presidency.
International and regional relations
Business deals with Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia among other foreign territories are already speaking to the way Dr Ruto visualises Kenya vis-à-vis its neighbours.
Previously stalled projects like the importation of gas from Tanzania have been rekindled in the few days Dr Ruto has been in office.
Speaking with Al Jazeera last month on Somalia, Dr Ruto’s remarks opened a window into his attitude in his first days in office: “We can do what neighbours do: we can always engage and find solutions to the challenges that face us as neighbours.”
The President has also visited the United States and the United Kingdom, with some saying that even though these events-specific visits—the Queen’s funeral and the United Nations General Assembly — they signal the return of the West to the driving seat if considered together with recent delegations to State House.
China has for more than a decade been the favourite international partner, especially in infrastructure development backed by generous loans.
A lot is likely to change the longer Dr Ruto stays in office, but in the honeymoon of his presidency, Dr Ruto appears to be striking all the right tones as far as Kenya’s foreign policy is concerned.