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5th Jul 2024 | by: admin

President William Ruto of Kenya


By Femi Olugbile

For William Kipchirchir Samoei Arap Ruto, the past few weeks have been pure agony.
By his own description, he is a hustler. He does not belong to Kenya’s political royalty.
The traditional perception of Kenya as an agricultural and safari-driven economy has been substantially modified by the energy and accomplishments of its youths who are making it a hub for innovation in the digital economy. Its flagship digital innovation – the M-Pesa, was invented and patented by a young Kenyan student named Nyagaka Anyona Ouko.
But the streets have not been smiling in Nairobi lately. As in many other African countries, there is a huge gap between the uber-rich who live in exclusive enclaves and drive about the streets in posh, latest-model cars, and most of the population, who often have their work cut out eking out a living. 70 percent of Kenyans experience food insecurity, with resultant poor nutrition and high prevalence of preventable diseases.
By the standards of Africa, William Ruto, at 58, could be regarded as a young man. He is urbane, personable and passionate. Some people have regarded him as a harbinger of a new future for his country. He has cultivated a youthful constituency as he wended his way up the political ladder through an assortment of party affiliations – from Kenya African National Union (KANU) to Orange Democratic Movement, to Republican Party, to Jubilee Party, and finally to his present United Democratic Alliance. This youthful demography are now calling for his head. Something has gone terribly wrong.
There is a humongous national debt crisis, with public debt at 68 percent of GDP. The country owes billions of dollars to Western countries and the IMF, as well as China.
What brought matters to a head was the issue of Kenya Finance Bill 2024, which was put forward in May 2024 and which the government clearly intended to pass into law. The Bill proposed to raise 346 billion Kenyan shillings to pay off debt and fund development projects. It was going to place a 1.5% tax on local digital platforms, a new VAT on electric bikes, buses, and solar and lithium-ion batteries. A 16% VAT on bread and sugar cane, and 15-40% VAT on financial services and foreign exchange transactions. 16% VAT on imported eggs, onions and potatoes. An increase from 15% to 20% in excise tax on mobile money transfers. A 25% excise duty of vegetable oil, which could spike the cost of soap by 80 percent. An annual tax of 2.5 percent on motor vehicle owners, and an ‘Eco levy’ supposedly aimed at stopping pollution, which would affect the cost of diapers, batteries, smartphones, plastics and other products.
It is a lot for the citizens of Kenya to chew in one bite, and from the moment it was mooted there have been howls of outrage. William Ruto and his government were convinced that the nation’s dire economic state could only be tackled by such a remedy.
Just as the bill was making its final passage through Parliament, #RejectFinanceBill2024, a series of decentralised youth led mass protests, erupted in Nairobi and across the nation.
The supposedly peaceful protests quickly got out of hand, with the storming and burning of part of the Parliament and other buildings. The Kenya police is famous both for efficiency and heavy-handedness. It is part of the reason why it has been selected as the appropriate force to send a contingent to Haiti to bring order to that gangland. Haiti is a festering sore on the face of Africa – the first African population to attain independence from colonial oppression by force of arms. It is a sad testimony to poor governance that it is where it is, despite the well deserved blame heaped on France for pillaging the land and making it ungovernable. Many Kenyans are unhappy about their policemen going to Haiti, but that is another story. The police raised the ante by resorting to live firearms. The figures of casualties are contended, but the dead could number as many as twenty, perhaps more.
After initial tough talk, President Ruto did a reality check, and realised the voices on the street were not of fifth columnists and agents provocateur, but of the people of Kenya. He would not be signing the Finance Bill 2024, he announced.
The streets are still troubled, but the flames are petering out – perhaps.
Virtually all the commentary written about the Kenyan in mainstream and social media have been predictable and tendentious, focussing on how corrupt African leaders take their people for granted, and how the youths of Kenya are setting an example for other nations such as Nigeria. There have also been familiar condemnations of African leaders succumbing to ‘Bretton Woods institutions.’ Very little has been said about the implications of this popular ‘victory’ for Kenya.
Ruto is miffed and embarrassed as he explains the implications of his capitulation in recent recorded conversation.
‘…We have gone back almost two years…This year we are going to borrow a trillion shillings to run our government…I have been working hard to pull Kenya out of a debt trap…It is easy to say let us reject the bill…We will not confirm 46,000 JSS Teachers…We cannot support our farmers with 2 billion shillings…to get fair returns on their products…We cannot support the coffee debt …It means we will continue to import potatoes from Europe when we have potatoes in our villages…’
There is a serious leadership and credibility challenge in all of Africa. There is also a failure of empathy on the part of a ruling class, including public servants, with wealth of dubious provenance, that fails to tone down its own high-flying, in-your-face lifestyle. They cannot seem to understand the importance of perception in social psychology. This is playing out in Nairobi now, as political ‘Honourables’ are ducking for cover and abandoning their flashy cars and noisy escorts, for fear of being accosted on the streets. The empathy-failure has made it hard for people – whether in Kenya or Nigeria, to accept tough medicine, even when realistically there may be little by way of alternative. Debts need to be repaid, and budgets balanced. Kenya cannot live indefinitely above its means. It must empower its potato farmers so they can compete with imports. It must pay its teachers. It must develop. And corruption and ostentation must be fought to death.
Can Ruto eat humble pie, and show that he knows how much pain is too much pain? Can he convince Kenyans they are in the same boat, and there is no way to go but forward? It is a testing time for William Ruto, and for Kenya.

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