Blaming Uhuru can never be a growth strategy

Sunday November 26 2023
Kenyan President William Ruto.

Kenyan President William Ruto. PHOTO | TONY KARUMBA | AFP


In 2002, Mwai Kibaki took over power after defeating Kanu’s candidate in that year’s polls. Over the years, Kanu’s vision of a prosperous, equitable and free nation had been vandalised.

The clique who took power at Independence replaced that glorious vision with one of selfishness and greed. When Bildad Kaggia protested this subversion, Jomo Kenyatta berated him in public. “Kaggia,” asked Kenyatta, “what have you done for yourself?” By the 1970s, people realised they had merely replaced colonial despotism with African despotism.

The secret police lurked in the shadows, listening for non-conformist views. “Heretics” were hurled to Nyati House, and later to the purpose-built torture chambers at Nyayo House, where they were tortured until they confessed to non-existent acts of sedition and subversion.

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Under Daniel arap Moi, the country became one big mess. Roads were a series of gaping holes, public hospitals and schools collapsed under neglect. The corrupt environment, and intimidation by power brokers, suffocated businesses, and chased away foreign investment.

The young lost hope in the future and did everything possible to escape to greener pastures.


When Kibaki took over, therefore, the work of reviving Kenya seemed an impossible task. The new president assembled a brilliant team and, slowly, they began to reconstruct the country, department by messy department.

There was a new optimism and energy. By the time he left office, even his greatest critics agreed that Kibaki’s tenure was transformative.

No doubt, Kibaki’s achievements could have been even greater had he not succumbed to the usual temptations of African leaders. But the point I want to make is that as he worked, Kibaki hardly ever mentioned Jomo or Moi, although, given the hellhole he had inherited, he would have been justified in blaming them. He knew his work would speak for itself.

Read: NGUGI: Kenya urgently needs national renaissance

It is, therefore, disheartening that one year since William Ruto and the United Democratic Alliance took power, they have never transitioned from a campaign into a governing mode. As soon as he came into office, Ruto and senior members of his government began campaign-style tours of the country, promising this and that, and blaming Uhuru Kenyatta for everything that was wrong with Kenya.

Uhuru did his part. Columnists, including myself, have written about his achievements and failures. In the fullness of history, we will gauge his legacy more accurately. It’s now Ruto’s turn.

In his recent State of the Nation Address, Ruto all but admitted that his first year in office, when measured against his campaign promises, was a failure. After such an admission, one would have expected the president to revolutionise governance: sack incompetent Cabinet members and replace them with more inspirational and untainted Kenyans; break the old-boy cartels that hold the state captive; inspire a new national optimism and energy.

Instead, he and his team resumed their campaign rhetoric. Tragically for the country, campaign rhetoric and blaming Uhuru are not socioeconomic strategies.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator