The culmination of Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidency this year coincides with a season when the nation is battling bitter challenges of a global pandemic, political turmoil, uncertainty and economic recess. Despite the ear-piercing decibels of criticism of his tenure, he has also admittedly overseen an era of progress and hope.
He emerges from the climate of comparative disfavour to which the passing time temporarily condemns him for all the ills and woes that afflict Kenyans; when the very machinery of the economy seems to be coming to a stop and a sense of depression-greatly related to Covid-19 related lockdowns – is settling on our major urban areas – creating a condition that may be found in a beleaguered capital in a time of war.
We feel that Uhuru’s decade at the helm of power could only be fairly judged against this complex background of negatives and triumphs.
Over the last two weeks particularly, the president has been blamed for practically all the ills facing the country, with many accusing him of placing the country in the worst economic trajectory it has ever been since independence. The ‘anti’ faction asserts that official corruption has reached record levels during his leadership. But this explanation for the ailing Kenyan economy seems to be too simplistic and populist.
For indeed, there has been a decade-long historical buildup of local and global factors which have contributed to the nose-diving of the economy. We argue that many factors, sampled below, prove that in fact, Kenyans themselves are more to blame for the economic decline experienced during this period.
One, in 2010, Kenyans adopted a ‘dream constitution’ which has had massive support from the global West. It was hoped that this constitution would magically cure cycles of violence, poverty, bad governance, poor economic policies, imprudent use of natural resources and perennial famines.
Soon Kenyans realised that the Constitution came with an incredibly hefty bill. For example, under the previous constitution, there were 222 MPs. Now there are 349 MPs in the National Assembly and 68 senators.
Two, it was largely anticipated that decentralisation and devolution would reduce corruption, increase participatory governance all around and halt neo-patrimonial practices at State level. In fact, the opposite has happened.
These vices were decentralised down to the local levels in an eventuality reminiscent of Michelle Wrong’s famous aphorism, “our turn to eat”. Wasteful patronage, mismanagement, rent-seeking and corruption spiked sharply in new constitutional dispensation, by happenstance Uhuru’s second presidential term.
Thirdly, corruption – now embedded in the fabric of Kenya – has become a veritable institution, just like the presidency. As Lonsdale says, “in Kenya if you are not eating, you are being eaten”.
Kenya is one of the world’s most corrupt countries ranking 143 out of 180 on Transparency International’s 2017 corruption perception index. Since 2018, corruption reports have dominated Kenyan public sphere.
This hemorrhaging of public funds has done enormous damage to the country’s already struggling economy and international image. Corruption has not been brought about by Uhuru, per se. It is an unfortunate badge of dishonour inextricably woven into the fabric of almost every institution countrywide.
Fourthly, and most seriously, the Kenya’s economy has been hit hard by an ‘external enemy’ in the form of Covid-19 which has severely affected incomes and jobs. Before the pandemic, the nation had reached, it seemed, a permanent plateau of prosperity. Business was expanding and foreign trade growing. The stock market was also upbeat.
The dampening effects on domestic activity have now exposed the economy. The fact that trade and travel were particularly disrupted means that the key foreign currency earners such as agriculture and tourism were impacted directly. We feel that it has been unfair to equate these eventualities to Uhuru’s mismanagement of the economy and Jubilee’s failures.
The president today finds himself in the shoes of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who through deft reassurances led the American nation through the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Ultimately it is not Uhuru who has ruined Kenya. It is Kenyans who have hexed themselves and then proceeded to desperately seek a scapegoat. All around us, we see phalanxes of unrepentant bandits and crooks- from all local lands and climes – using the State machinery to enrich themselves, their cronies and tribesmen.
This lopsided narrative, which has become an anthem for those prospecting for 2022 political fortunes, is a perfect recipe for wresting a legacy from the president.
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