The year 2022 has witnessed heightened political activity that culminated in the August 9 General Election, whose major clarion call by leaders across the political divide was the revival of the economy to address the high cost of living.
As the year ends, Kenyans can heave a sigh of relief from the intensified political activity associated with the elections and focus on a calm 2023, but the government has a daunting task to return the country to the rails of an economic renaissance.
A reflection of the year paints a grim image of a country badly hit by tough economic times, occasioned by local and global challenges.
From socioeconomic and political activities to governance, education, health, agriculture and security, among other vital sectors, President William Ruto’s administration faces an uphill task in promoting shared prosperity to restore public confidence. As a pointer to his commitment to tackling the tough economic question, Dr Ruto has appointed a council of economic advisors, led by economist David Ndii, to help address the situation.
The change of guard has also come with a shift in the running of the country’s affairs, with Dr Ruto reversing some of his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta’s policies, even restructuring government and expanding the Executive to include the office of the Prime Cabinet Secretary.
Some of the key policies that have witnessed Executive shift include the scrapping of fuel, unga and electricity subsidy, the transfer of the National Police Service’s budget from the Office of the President to the office of the Inspector General of Police, the abolition of the Kazi Mtaani programme and the reversion of port operations and cargo clearance to the Port of Mombasa.
Kenyans will from tomorrow pay 15 per cent more for electricity after Dr Ruto opted against extending a multibillion-shilling subsidy initiated by his predecessor.
Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra) director-general Daniel Kiptoo said the 15 per cent discount would not be extended beyond its expiry date (December 31), setting the stage for costly electricity and pressure on the sky-high inflation.
Some of the President’s actions have attracted a barrage of criticism, especially from the opposition, with Azimio la Umoja One Kenya chief Raila Odinga leading his troops with a January 2023 ultimatum for their reversal.
Mr Odinga has demanded the restoration of subsidies to unga, fuel, school fees and electricity by 2023; restoration and enhancement of cash transfer to the elderly and vulnerable; the enhancement of the Linda Mama Programme to protect pregnant mothers; and the discarding of the government’s plan to import genetically modified maize.
“It’s a cruel twist of fate indeed for millions who were duped into believing that this regime would be pro-poor,” he said.
The President had ordered the cutting of the Budget by Sh300 billion and the removal of the fuel subsidy following calls from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for debt transparency, domestic resource mobilisation, and discipline in public expenditure as the answer to Kenya’s problems due to its debt.
Addressing corruption, which has continued to rear its ugly head, also remains a challenge.
The decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji to stop corruption cases touching the President’s perceived allies has raised eyebrows on whether the Ruto state is eager to tackle the national menace.
The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) has since sounded a warning shot. LSK president Erick Theuri says the DPP's move is a serious threat to the rule of law and intended to foster impunity.
“We have, in the recent past, witnessed events that pose great danger to the administration of justice. The DPP must have the interest of the people and avoid interference.”
Some of Dr Ruto’s key allies who have been pardoned include Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, who was facing corruption charges, Cabinet Secretaries Aisha Jumwa (Public Service), Mithika Linturi (Agriculture), former Kenya Pipeline Managing Director Joe Sang, ex-Kenya Power Managing Director Ben Chumo, former FKF president Nick Mwendwa and former Samburu Governor Moses Lenolkulal.
The Ruto administration, however, insists that the previous administration politically instigated the cases and targeted his associates.
“We have noted disdain for the Constitution and a flagrant violation of Chapter Six of the Constitution on Leadership and Integrity. Because Chapter Six of the Constitution has been ignored, the government now looks like a gangsters’ paradise or a scene of the crime,” says Mr Odinga.
The country is also back to the constitutional amendment debate, even after an attempt by Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga under the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) framework failed.
Dr Ruto is keen on the formation of the office of the official opposition leader that is expected to be occupied by Mr Odinga, who has, however, opposed piecemeal amendments to the Constitution and is pushing for the revival of the BBI.
Veteran lawyer John Khaminwa says the President and the Azimio leader should abandon the plans to amend the Constitution and shift the energy to rebuilding the economy. “What is critical for the nation is improving the economy; constitutional amendments do not enjoy any priority now. The Constitution is working for us all. What we should focus on now is the economic revival. The economy is currently beaten and the cost of living is high,” Dr Khaminwa says.
United States International University don Macharia Munene argues that the state of the nation is fluid as the President tries to find his bearing in an uncertain world.
“He does not seem to be giving confidence to the people and at the rate that things are going, he is likely to lose touch with reality. An impression arises that there are free rides for the select. In the process, there is excessive chest-thumping, which seems like cover-ups for clear policy inadequacies,” Prof Munene says.
“As ministers and governors go separate ways, education, economy, health, agriculture, and security are all in poor 'health' and no cure is on the horizon.
“It seems as if Kenya is held hostage on two fronts. On the domestic front, as he recovers from his loss shock, Raila is rebranding himself and trying to find political relevance by silencing his would-be replacements as opposition leaders and by devising different ways of harassing Ruto politically. At the international level, he is hostage to IMF dictates to make the cost of living for Kenyans rise and Ruto has no choice but to comply and then make unconvincing excuses. New Year, 2023, is, therefore, not starting well for the country or President Ruto.”
But Council of Governors (CoG) chairperson Anne Waiguru faults the Uhuru administration for the tough economic times even as she expressed confidence that a recovery plan is in the pipeline.
“Some politically convenient but damaging policy decisions, which are not only unsustainable but also harmful to the economy in the long run, were made by the last government. These include fuel subsidies. Their removal has hurt the public severely but that was inevitable,” the Kirinyaga governor says.
“Unfortunately, the rains have also been failing without a corresponding investment in water protection and widespread irrigation. We are, therefore, having to import food crops, battering our already struggling shilling. All these combinations mean people are suffering.
“But there is hope. The ongoing investment in subsidising production, providing affordable credit to ‘hustlers’ and numerous other pro-people programmes means there is light at the end of a long tunnel.”
For National Assembly Minority leader Opiyo Wandayi, the state of the nation is deplorable “simply on account of the legitimacy deficit that the Kenya Kwanza administration is suffering from.”
He adds that every aspect of national development is impacted heavily by the legitimacy of the team in power. “The President and his team must strive to win the confidence of about seven million Kenyans who didn't vote for them and another eight million who didn't vote at all in August. Unfortunately, they are doing extremely little in this endeavour. On the contrary, every step the government has taken since its inauguration has tended to divide other than unite the country. It’s a recipe for disaster,” says the Ugunja MP.
But what is the state of areas that are crucial to the country’s stability and prosperity?
With the exit of two top officers– former Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai and head of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) George Kinoti, President Ruto moved quickly to nominate Mr Japheth Koome and Mr Mohamed Amin to the positions respectively and ensured actualisation of his proposal to give the police financial autonomy by transferring the National Police Service’s budget from the office of the president to the office of the IG.
He said the operational independence of the police is necessary for its efficiency, professionalism and accountability.
The president has also, in a bid to boost police officers’ morale, appointed a 20-member task force chaired by former Chief Justice David Maraga to review their welfare.
Further, the government is seeking to issue firearms to chiefs and assistant chiefs in bandit-prone areas of the North Eastern region in a bid to complement State efforts to combat the threat and beef up security in the regions.
According to Interior Cabinet Secretary Prof Kithure Kindiki, the National Government Administrative Officers will be subjected to a thorough screening exercise to establish whether they are suitable to carry firearms.
Nonetheless, North Eastern Kenya and parts of the Coast, particularly Lamu County, remain under the constant threat of Al Shabaab militants. Bandit attacks in the North Rift, particularly in Baringo and West Pokot counties, also remain a headache despite tough talk by the authorities.
President Ruto has argued that the government is making huge strides to eliminate banditry, cattle rustling and urban crime.
He has also pointed out that regional stability is essential for Kenya’swell-being.
“Our neighbourhood may be rough, but we live in peace and fraternity with all our neighbours, and play our role as a member of the regional and international community. The Kenya Defence Forces continue to demonstrate, through their professionalism, commitment to solidarity, and commitment to humanitarianism,” he said during Jamhuri Day celebrations at Nyayo National stadium.
President Ruto’s administration undertook to review the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) following the concerns of many stakeholders, especially parents and teachers.
He set up a Presidential Working Party on Education Reform to engage stakeholders, report and recommend measures to be taken.
The team recommended in an interim report a myriad of issues including having Junior secondary schools - Grades 7, 8 and 9 domiciled in the existing primary schools.
It also recommended that Grade 6 Kenya Primary School Education Assessment (KPSEA) will not be used for placement in Junior secondary school as well as the construction of an extra classroom and laboratory in every primary school.
The country, according to the Ministry of Education currently has 32,594 primary schools, 10,482 secondary schools, 12 national polytechnics, 259 technical and vocational education and training institutions and 87 universities.
President Ruto reiterated that his government's health plan is founded on fundamental reforms in how healthcare is financed.
He promised to reform the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) to make it a social health insurance provider, improve procurement of medical supplies, deploy an integrated state-of-the-art health information system and provide adequate human resources at all levels.
Contributions, he noted, would be graduated and will now be based on income.
The president has, however, faced criticism from Mr Odinga for failing to keep his promise to Kenyans of ensuring every individual is covered by the scheme by December 2022 after taking power.
Ms Waiguru argues that the interventions towards UHC will need to be relooked at considering the factors that led to the unsuccessful implementation of the pilot UHC in four counties in the last regime.
“Three things that are fundamental in my view to get us to UHC - a relook into healthcare financing, service delivery, and the overall governance of the sector with special focus on primary and preventative health care.”
The president says the government, working with the private sector, has engaged suppliers to import 300,000 metric tonnes (6 million bags) of fertilizer.
He says the government will continue to subsidise the price of fertilizer and farmers will buy at Sh3,500 a bag.
He has also promised to restore the former glory of our cotton-producing regions by putting in place interventions to revamp the textile and apparel industries and revive cotton farming by providing high-yielding, disease and pest-resistant hybrid varieties to farmers.
Drought and famine
The Ministry of East Africa Community, ASALs and Regional Development estimate that some 4.35 million people still require humanitarian aid as risks of acute malnutrition are still being reported in ASAL counties, where 134,000 cases of pregnant or lactating women who are acutely malnourished and 942,000 cases of children aged 6-59 months who are still receiving treatment.
At least 13 counties including Taita Taveta, Isiolo, Kilifi, Kwale, Samburu, Turkana, Wajir, Kitui, Kajiado, Mandera, Garissa, Tana River, and Marsabit, have been categorised as being in the alarm drought phase.
Seven counties— Narok, Tharaka Nithi, Makueni, Nyeri, Meru, and Laikipia are in the alert drought phase. Three counties—Baringo, West Pokot, and Lamu—are experiencing a normal drought.
President Ruto appointed four Court of Appeal and two Environment and Land Court judges moments after his swearing-in on September 13.
He has since appointed 20 judges of the High Court and escalated the actualisation of the Judiciary Fund which he says will increase the allocation of resources to match the need of enhancing access to justice throughout Kenya.
However, the opposition has accused President Ruto of capturing the Judiciary, a claim the Kenya Kwanza Administration has denied. Chief Justice Martha Koome has also had to defend the decision and conduct of the Supreme Court in the presidential election petition following the August 9 poll.