On November 30, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta delivered his eighth State of the Nation to the Houses of Parliament.
It was his second-last speech before he rides off into the sunset next year at the end of his term.
In terms of meatiness it was impressive. It was one of the richest speeches in good old-fashioned head-turning data and big picture brushes that an African leader has given.
Yet, if you lived in Kenya, you would have been forgiven for wondering which country Kenyatta was portraying, and that speaks to a problem that could well hobble his legacy. It is a problem that will be familiar elsewhere in Africa.
Consider, for example, that Kenyatta spoke of a Kenyan company known as Revital, operating in Kilifi at the Coast, and little known in Nairobi. It pivoted to become Africa's largest producer and exporter of vaccine syringes during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Kenya has increased its ICU bed capacity by 502 percent during the Covid period. In March 2020, it had only one laboratory that could test notifiable diseases of international concern like Covid. Today it has 95.
When Kenyatta came to power in 2013 Kenya was Africa’s 12th wealthiest nation.
Today, it’s the sixth richest. In 2013, there were 11,200 kilometres of tarmacked roads constructed over 123 years. His government in eight years has built 10,500 kilometres of roads, 15 times faster than the previous ones.
He doubled Kenya’s total power output to 2,600 megawatts and is generating 40 times more power than the past four governments combined. Kenya today leads Africa in household connections to electricity. In eight years, it has connected 1.7 million more households than second-placed Egypt, and as many as South Africa and Nigeria combined.
Some of it was arcane. In 2013, Kenya had just 99 public boreholes. Today it has 2,511, a 25-fold increase.
In 2009, it had a 66.9 percent transition from primary to secondary school. Today, it is 100 per cent.
It is also building an average of 1,265 schools each year, and 90 percent of schools are connected to electricity. And all this is just the tip of the goodie iceberg.
Yet, in the popular imagination and social media, Kenyatta is the worst president Kenya has ever had, and he has presided over an economic disaster. One flag-coloured view is that Kenyans have too high standards. Another reason could be that many people still don’t feel the benefits coming, as some will likely do, years down the road.
Third, it is politics. Like elsewhere, those who are of the opposite political view don’t see any good, and the Kenyatta government has made its fair share of enemies and undermined itself through corruption. Additionally, it has been rather hopeless at telling and selling a good story.
Yet, there’s hope. By 2013, as his time came to an end, President Mwai Kibaki was as loathed, if not more so, than Kenyatta. Today, he is presented as the greatest gift God ever gave to a country, a miracle worker.
Kenyatta just has to, first, leave without a fuss in 2022, and then be around for a few years. He could see Kenyans sing his hosannas to the high heavens. But not tonight, honey.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]