NEWS GANG: The Joint State of the Nation - Dear Mr. President
Over the last year and some months, we have seen the current
administration lay out its plan for the country. Without doubt, the one issue
that has plagued the country is the state of the economy and its effects on the
cost of living. It has been a difficult year for Kenyans. From job losses, to
increased cost of food and other essential items. In that time, we have seen
and heard, in elaborate fashion, about the plan. The plan to get the country
through the tough times we are living in. Indeed, we have learned of the
equally tough space the government finds itself in, what with debt repayments
falling due and squeezing them into a corner. That situation now coming to bear
hard on Kenyans of all walks of life.
However, we have been long on debate, long on talks, long on
arguments and Twitter banter about how we got here and who got us here. For
some reason, we still seem stuck in the past, in some respects. Stuck in long-winded,
verbose diagnosis about the problem, but short on solutions. Take for instance
a recent Parliamentary session with Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya
regarding the performance of the Kenya shilling against the major currencies.
He made an astounding claim that the Kenya shilling had been artificially
propped up by the previous administration. Yet that same man was in fact the
Principal Secretary of the very National Treasury that he accused of giving the
Kenya shilling a false sense of stability. It is a position he held for 6
years, that’s over 60% of the previous administration.
You see, this is the problem with constantly looking into the
rear-view mirror, you may encounter your own foibles, some of them literally in
the face. In fact, controlling the behavior of a national currency falls
squarely in the mandate of the Central Bank and the National Treasury.
Individuals who ran these two key organs then, are in the current
administration today. Yet, we see them heavy in heaping blame on the past
officials. Folks, this is but one illustration of the rear-view mirror
narrative and how in some ways it is akin to mutilating one’s own nose just to
spite the face.
So that we are not misunderstood, if you want to know where
you are going, it is important to know where we have come from. But folks,
there is a reason the windscreen is much larger than the rear-view mirror. It
is time to look forward now. Whilst we encourage government officials to engage
with citizens, it is surely not the place of these officials to engage in ad
infinitum arguments in public spaces. And so tonight, we are sending the National
Economic Advisory Council to think, rather than banter on social media. The one
thing we have heard over the last year is the illustration of how dire the
situation is and what caused it, now, we need to hear solutions and perhaps
hear less of the solution and see the actions bearing fruit over the next 5
years. On the economy, state and public officials must now shift to that deeply
deliberative, thoughtful and contemplative phase.
For the avoidance of doubt, one of our most precious resources
in Kenya is human capital. We supply the region and the world. Just look
around, there are great minds that can turn us around from our woes. Right now,
what can cost us more and worse than our national debt, is bad or wrong
decisions. And history demonstrates that politicians are highly capable of
wrong decisions. A leader’s vision can turn into a nightmare, if not well
thought through. And our scrapyard is teaming with evidence, including a one-time
attempt to manufacture our own cars. And this is not to downplay the ongoing
assembly of mobile phones locally.
We also ask for coherence. We should not have Cabinet Secretaries
competing to predict, how much worse things will get worse in the future. So,
our next celebrated CS, should not be one that can predict that a litre of fuel
for example will cost us, say, one thousand shillings a litre in 2025. Our
leaders, of all levels, and more particularly those in the Cabinet are supposed
to be solution providers not doomsday commentators.
On living beyond our means, we yet again heard the President
very clearly, earlier today, “The time has come, therefore, to retire the false
comforts and illusory benefits of wasteful expenditure”. Consistently across
the last 4 regimes, this kind of rhetoric sounds good. So let there be no
doubt, this is not a new line. One government tried a good one on Kenyans by
purportedly replacing fuel guzzlers with much cheaper Volkswagen saloon cars.
All Kenyans know how that story ended. We often see that saloon car converted
to a ceremonial ride during Budget Day.
So, it will be understood, if there are Kenyans out there who
will be just a bit skeptical about that living beyond our means line. And why
would they not be skeptical if simple things like the length of an official
motorcade of nearly any official in this country, tells a different story. So,
on that one, the President has some walking to do.
We conclude now with a little take on legacies. Members of
this administration have proved beyond doubt that legacies are about and
entirely around one person; the President of the Republic. For everything that
has been said about Uhuru Kenyatta the fourth President, more will be said
about William Samoei Ruto, 5 or 10 years from now, by ironically people who are
very close to him right now. So, to President Ruto, there is a legacy issue
here for your personal attention.
Legacy is a lonely destination. So, take it this early, that
when the chips come down, you are alone! If the plan fails, the first people to
hang you will be your plan mates. Some will even spend an entire year after
your term in office to vilify particular elements of the plan, whether its’s
about debt repayment, taxes, affordable housing and don’t be surprised about
that subsidised fertilizer.
So, Mr. President, there is something Kenyans like saying on
the street: Mapema ndio best!
Put your economic plan together and aim for clarity and coherence,
considering the great amount of public skepticism that prevails currently. Get
your economic team off the social media keyboards and deploy them to closed
meeting rooms of government offices where some deep reflection and thoughts
about turning around the economy should commence. From Treasury to the Central Bank,
to State House and the ministries, send the right message on the management of
Unlike other aspects of national politics, the economy is a more exacting space. Haina kubahatisha. And as you have seen in the last one year, the day of accountability is a lonely day for any President. That is our Take, Kicker and Sense rolled into one!
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