Unpacking President Ruto’s national security agenda, vision and philosophy

Administration Police officers

Administration Police officers during a pass-out parade at the National Police College in Embakasi,Nairobi, on November 29,2021. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto has made policy speeches, created the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), appointed a National Security Adviser (NSA) and issued Executive Orders that together with the Kenya Kwanza Manifesto (The Plan) provide a glimpse of his national security philosophy.

In my piece ‘Time to Rethink the National Security Council’ (Sunday Nation, November 10, 2013), I called for the amendment of section 7 of the NSC Act 2012 to anchor the position of the National Security Adviser as the principal adviser to the president on national security matters.

I also proposed amendment to section 9 of the NIS Act 2012 to make the Director-General of NIS as the principal adviser on national intelligence matters and not national security per se. The president has adopted the best practice all over the world. It will create harmony and horizontal and functional coherence with the statutory mandates of the Chief of Defence Forces and the Inspector-General of Police.

In the National Security Sector, the president is cognizant of the enduring challenges of “criminalisation and insecurity,” stalled security reforms, the weaponisation of security agencies through “political interference; poor leadership and performance management; corruption; excessive use of force and torture; extrajudicial killings; and a lack of effective oversight and accountability.

The President has shown a policy and strategy intent to uphold the Constitution and sustain the instruments of national power as well as to revamp the national security organs (KDF, NIS, and NPS). The President has granted the NPS financial independence and operational command and control in line with the National Police Service Act, 2011.

The President, through the Plan, has also hinted at strengthening good governance and the justice sector. The President proposes to defend and uphold the Constitution, strengthen independent institutions, grow democracy and rule of law, and promote the Hustler Agenda.

From a national security lens, the Hustler Fund could spur social economic transformation, fight youth unemployment, increase access to affordable credit, de-risk the credit market, entrepreneurship, and enhance human security.

The anti-government protests during the 2010 Arab Spring in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Algeria, Morocco, and recently in the Sudan are markers of the demographic dividend. It is a double-edged sword. While the youthful population can herald expansion of economic productivity, unemployed and socially frustrated youth are also a ticking time bomb that threatens national security.

Economic storm

The President locates the enduring national security environment as operating within the constraints of the “perfect economic storm.” He lists three key challenges, namely: the external shock of rising inflation and interest rates, the national fiscal distress, and the structural weaknesses and imbalances in the real economy in Kenya.

The CIEC dataset www.ceicdata.com shows Kenya’s ratio of public debt to nominal GDP at 67.4 per cent in June 2022 and a budget deficit of about Sh800 billion. In 2010, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff warned against rising debt to GDP ratios as they undermine economic growth and distort public expenditures.

Recent open source Twitter data @TonyMurega shows Kenya’s public debt as of September 2012 was Sh1.79 trillion. In September 2022 it reached Sh8.7 trillion, with annual debt servicing of Sh1.19 trillion. This is projected to rise to Sh10 trillion in 2024, with an annual debt servicing obligation of Sh2 trillion.

On the debt burden, the President notes unsustainable public debt threatens national security. This is a candid departure from the old regime, which reposed Japan, a mega manufacturing hub, with Kenya.

President Ruto has called for measures to reduce the budget deficit in the FY 2022/2023 by Sh300 billion, increase national savings, inculcate a culture of saving, improve tax collection, and increase national social security contributions. While addressing a public rally in Kitui on October 23, 2022, the President argued “the only way we can truly be an independent State is when we can support our development with our own resources.”


On the Economic Transformation front, the President’s national security agenda is geared towards human security through the upscaling of five key productive sectors as elements of national power i.e., agriculture; micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs); housing and settlement; digital superhighway and creative economy; and healthcare. The focus on healthcare is directly linked to lessons learned from pandemics such as HIV/Aids, Ebola, and Covid-19.

In the Foreign Affairs sphere, the President seeks to bolster multilateralism, the democratisation of global governance, foster economic and commercial diplomacy, and strengthen “Kenya’s role as an anchor State in regional, continental, and global affairs.” History shows Kenya has pursued a foreign policy strategy anchored on multilateralism, and clearly, the President has committed himself to strengthening multilateralism.

At the Mashujaa Day celebrations, the President stated, multilateralism is the “fundamental plank of our diplomatic strategy and foreign policy.” As such in the East Africa Community (EAC), Kenya shall “continue to lead efforts to advance regional stability and peace, aid global initiatives to counteract violent extremism, and cooperate with other countries as a reliable ally or neighbour.”

President Ruto’s peace and conflict resolution efforts in the DRC, Somalia and the Ethiopia-Tigray region reside in the multilateral efforts of the United Nations and the African Union- sponsored mediation efforts. Indeed, Kenyan soldiers are serving in Somalia under Amisom and recently entered eastern DRC under the East Africa Regional Force to help neutralise the M23 rebels.

Without going into the history of M23, it is worth noting that the UN has indicted Rwanda and Uganda for supporting M23 against the DRC, while the DRC government appears to fund the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) that aims to topple Kigali. I presume the long list of questions in the General Colin Powell “doctrine” with a clear exit strategy have been simulated and mapped out. The DRC problem resides in the realm of deep regional security complexes where the danger of contagion, blowback, and long-term entanglements abound. It is, however, an important regional national interest.

The pursuit of economic and commercial diplomacy appears resident in the President’s support for a borderless EAC to enhance free movement of people, goods, and services as well an East African Political Federation. Perhaps from a national security realm, some restraint may be necessary in the search for a single currency.

During the 2009 Euro crisis, peer reviewed literature in economic and financial journals lamented the institutional weaknesses arising from the lack of a common treasury in the European Union. Similarly, in the EAC, the need for a single Treasury, which no EAC member will easily agree to; but without which a single Central Bank addressing monetary policy will falter on fiscal policy, requires concerted diplomatic efforts.

On the continental stage, President Ruto appears to sustain Kenya’s ‘Pan-African credentials’. There is intent to strengthen and domesticate various frameworks of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) and the African Union such as the African Union’s Agenda 2063 in national and regional development.

Regional anchor state

As a foreign policy doctrine, the President’s party manifesto denotes the imperative to “deploy robust, creative and engaging foreign policy to raise Kenya’s profile as a regional anchor State.” The call to amplify Kenya’s partnerships with the rest of the world, including Africa, China, USA, Europe, UK and India, among other partners, is in high gear. The pressure to look West appears intense. Whether Kenya will look West, while holding onto the East remains prescient.

The return of “Great Power” completion between USA, Russia, and China and the ensuing Russia-Ukraine war are geo-strategic and geo-political contours requiring Kenya’s undisturbed attention. Kenya is indeed in the “diplomatic pressure cooker” as demands rise due to its geo-strategic location and maturing democracy.

The domain of homeland security is the interesting one to observe. I consider Kenya’s internal national security operating environment as its greatest threat to national survival. The environment is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous to say the least.

The plumes of insecurity range from terrorism, radicalisation and violent extremism, ethnic politics, cyber insecurity, food insecurity, health insecurity, environmental degradation, climate change, man-made and other natural disasters, inter-communal conflicts, public debt, comparatively declining national performance, transnational organised crimes (TOCs), corruption, road carnage, a society of bad manners, boda boda truancy, banditry and cattle rustling, and even perennial election losers always disputing election results.

On climate change, the President, at Mashujaa Day, lamented the grave danger of “climate change and its impact on Kenya generally and our arid and semi-arid regions in particular.” The loss of lives and property in the pastoralist communities due to “prolonged drought, the worst in 40 years, and three years of absolute rain failure” is sadly the defining feature of our times.

To address the national security threat of climate change, the President has re-constituted the Climate Change Council under the Presidency and proposed short-term measures as well as long term measures.

The primary focus is to enhance Kenya’s forest (tree) coverage by 30 per cent before 2032, with the planting of five billion trees (2022-2027) and an additional 10 billion trees (2027-2032). There is also the proposed Special Presidential Forestry and Rangeland Restoration Acceleration Programme. At COP27 in Egypt, the President observed “by 2050, climate impacts could cost African nations $50 billion annually.” He campaigned for more targeted funding including a loss and damage fund for vulnerable countries.

Kenya has also suffered gravely from the scourge of the Covid-19 pandemic and emerging and re-emerging pandemics. The recent outbreak of Ebola in Uganda and the Marburg virus are constant reminders that viruses know no boundaries.

Recently, Kenya and many developing countries were victims of vaccine nationalism as well as unscientific conspiracy theories more akin to the Q-Anon problem in the United States.

At the Mashujaa Day celebrations, President Ruto called for “post-pandemic solidarity on a global scale to avert economic crisis in the wake of Covid-19” and mobilisation of international partnership and resilience systems.

For with it, all said, and done, I imagine in the words of Richard Neustadt “presidential power is the power to persuade.” The challenge for the President is to persuade and rally the people of Kenya on this national security philosophy.

Dr Kemoli Sagala specialises in national security thought leadership