On November 23, 2023, President William Ruto delivered his first State of the Nation Address. It was an opportunity to demonstrate progress his government had made towards delivering on the promises he had made during the campaigns last year.
The promises were based on a radical economic philosophy that sought to reverse the “trickle down” economic practice of previous regimes. He called this the “bottom up” economic philosophy. It claimed a development plan informed by the needs of the “wretched of the earth” – the Mama Mbogas, Boda Bodas and others at the bottom of Kenya’s economic stratum.
The campaign pledges were lavish and irresponsible because they, in effect, promised “heaven on earth” in record time for the poor. The pledges had simplistic diagnosis of the economic problems and even simpler solutions.
He blamed the high cost of fuel, staple foods, power, tuition and other fees on the policies he and Uhuru Kenyatta presided over. The solutions he offered varied from reduction of taxes on different products to different ways of approaching, for example, the importation of fuel.
Yet, one year since assumption of office, Ruto’s “revolutionary” government has only served up the business as usual approach that has underpinned Kenya’s underdevelopment since independence.
Corruption continues at a steady pace. Sensitive jobs are given to loyalists, not the best in the country. Government officials continue with their wasteful ways. Negligence and incompetence, as exemplified by the chaos at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, continue. Punitive levies have increased. Vague plans and bumbling efforts have failed to bring the cost fuel down.
The cost of staple foods has remained high. His cabinet has proved to be the most incompetent in a long time. By his own admission, most of them are addicted to foreign travel and know very little about the dockets they head. The president himself is not averse to foreign travel, having made a record 38 foreign trips in one year.
There have been attempts to intimidate critics. Some police actions are reminiscent of the dark Kanu days. In summary, the poor have become poorer, and we are not any nearer to achieving our ambitions to becoming a prosperous equitable and fully democratic country by 2030. As a matter of fact, Ruto’s State of the Nation Address conceded that things will get worse for Kenyans. There was little trace of his erstwhile utopian vision.
Many people expected the address to offer concrete actions of recovering the momentum, offer a new Cabinet to put the train back on its tracks, outline new ethical rules for government officials, declare a merciless war on thievery and waste, etc.
Instead, the address was vague and short on detailed action. At one point, said Ruto, “The cost of living is a reality experienced by all households, which can be addressed through practical action and effective measures.” This is not a precise and concrete plan to put the country back on its tracks.
Tee Ngugi is a Kenyan-based political commentator