Columnists

The leadership priority question

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President William Ruto chairs a cabinet meeting in Kisumu State Lodge on October 9, 2023. PHOTO | PCS

More than 435 days have passed since Dr William Ruto was sworn in as the 5th President of Kenya. He had promised that as soon as he would put down the Bible on September 13, 2022 he would get into business and fulfill his pledges. He then asked for time to first form his government, which he did by March 23, 2023.

To date, none of his promises geared towards the Wanjiku has been fulfilled. As he tries hard, against evidence, to self-praise and proclaim Kenya to be on path to greatness, many of his lieutenants are asking Kenyans to give him time and at the same time brace for the worst.

With more misses than hits that characterise this government, several questions thus arise: Did the President pick novices despite his long experience in politics and government since 1997? And if so, why?

The second question is even more interesting: Is the Kenyan crisis a ‘crisis of government—issues government needs to solve such as public debt, interest rate, cost of living, unemployment etc— or ‘a governnment in grisis’ —dysfunctional government?

Before becoming president, Ruto was elected as Eldoret North MP, first from 1997 to 2007 under the Kanu and then from 2007 to 2013 under ODM. He has served the government in various capacities between 2002 and August 2022.

Ruto then became President Uhuru Kenyatta’s deputy for 10 years between 2013 and 2023. That makes him the most experienced politician by the time he became president as compared to all his four predecessors. One would be forgiven to think that he would be the most successful president Kenya has ever had.

However, is he really running the government as an experienced politician that he is? According to InfoTrack polls, 40 percent of respondents has given him an 'Average’ performance score in his first year in office, while 30 percent has given him a 'Poor’ score. Only a mere 21 percent thinks that he has done 'Good’ while nine percent thinks that his performance is 'Excellent’. The question is, is he using his experience for the benefit of Kenyans or his own benefit? Is he running the government or the government is running him?

Admittedly, President Ruto inherited an economy weighed down by a myriad of challenges, including a severe drought, high inflation and a weakening shilling. But this cannot be an excuse because during his campaign trail, he had told voters that he was up the task of turning around the economy. Among his priorities were job creation, well-being of the citizens and lowering the cost of living.

But one year later, the President’s scorecard on economy is one of mixed results—one hit here, three misses there. Though inflation has eased, it has been replaced by increased interest rates. These high interest rates undermine yet another priority of making affordable credit available to Kenyans, especially those at the bottom of the pyramid.

Though Dr Ruto’s government thinks that they have finally found the silver bullet through the controversial Finance Act 2023, many Kenyans are struggling and are grateful to afford two meals a day. The poor have lost hope, the middle class are one disease away from poverty while the upper class fear that they may soon lose their social status. More frustratingly, it is difficult to detect any stroke of genius in the decisions of the president and his government.

Their poor economic decisions such as over-taxation and government-to-government oil deals, has made the shilling weaken tremendously adding about Sh2 trillion in our debt book. Remember that every time the shilling loses one value to the dollar, about Sh40 billion is added to the Kenyan debt book.

My eyeball tells me that the government is facing a crisis that is stopping it from delivering on its mandate. The crisis in the government (dysfunctionality) is hindering it from tackling the crisis of the government, which include skyrocketing public debt, high inflation, high interest rate, high cost of living and high unemployment rate among others, as more time is spent dealing with the problems of the dysfunctional government, focus on the real problems of Kenyans have taken a back seat.

A close friend in government whispered to me that some State officers, having invested their resources for the campaigns or bought their way into shortlisting and appointments, they came entitled but without the desire or competency to make economically sound decisions.

This incompetency was confirmed by the President himself, when he once said that some Ministers were incompetent, adding that he knew more than them concerning their respective ministries. However, the tone changed in the recent two-day retreat of Kenya Kwanza government Cabinet secretaries, PSs, and Council of Advisers at the Edge Convention Centre in South C, Nairobi, when the president said his Cabinet has now gelled together.

If this retreat has indeed solved the issue of a dysfunctional government, then Kenyans can expect better things in future. But if that does not happen then the President may have to sort out the crisis in his government by replacing it with a team that can first sort out the crisis of the government.