The adage that you fight in poetry but govern in poetry could not have been truer to Kenya’s Kwanza government over the past week. President William Ruto had barely taken over the reins last Tuesday when he had to make his first economic decision.
There was no time for honeymoon and planning as the legal deadline for paying fuel bills expired two days after he was sworn in.
During the campaigns, the focus was on the two economic problems: the high cost of living and the burden of debt. The former is the most obvious and critical for the ordinary Kenyan.
As part of the campaigns, Kenyans were promised immediate solutions and statements made suggesting that the price of Unga would drop immediately after the election results were announced. And the fuel prices too.
While President Ruto’s decision to slash the price of a sack of fertilizer by almost half was welcome news, the action drew mixed reactions to fuel prices by removing subsidies.
It is recognized that subsidies were always short-term measures, but the impact of removing them resulted in higher prices for Kenyans. The resulting pain will continue to weigh on the budgets of most households.
The government and the Kenyan Kwanza Brigade have failed, give us time. The reality is that anyone who expected instant results is being dishonest.
Unfortunately, campaigns inherently breed such expectations, as those seeking votes lead citizens to believe that their plight will improve immediately after their candidate wins a seat at any level. The reality, of course, is different, hence the statement about the distinction between the approach of campaigning and governing.
It is therefore important that the President and his administration prepare Kenyans to move from campaign rhetoric to prevailing reality. The sooner Kenyans deal with the prevailing situation and have concrete plans to react to it, the better.
There will be no opportunity to blame the previous government. It’s without power now. The answer lies in what actions are taken to halt the slide into economic catastrophe and bring the country back to recovery.
Last week I saw a cartoon depicting the discrepancy between what is asked of citizens and what their leaders are doing, a case of drinking wine while preaching wine. Success requires everyone to follow the same path.
The elimination of fuel subsidies must be accompanied by legislative action to review the taxes levied on the product, and by the government to implement these recommendations quickly.
In general, however, once appointed, the cabinet should consider a thorough economic transformation strategy similar to the 2013 economic recovery strategy.
The only shortcoming over the past decade has been the limited use of planning and strategies to guide decision-making. The result has been reduced public support and clarity about policy directions and rationale.
Public participation was not introduced as a governance principle for nothing. It aims to allow for the consultation and participation of citizens in order to improve not only the quality of the proposed interventions but also the support to the implementation process.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the economic status of Project Kenya is dismal. It cannot therefore be solved by a tweet approach to policy making.
Government needs to draft a comprehensive national conversation about our economy to discuss options for the short and medium steps to stimulate the economy. In addition, the political class has to tighten its belts with the Kenyans. In the past, they were part of the problem rather than the solution.