President must deploy his untapped potential

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By Ahmednasir Abdullahi, SC

Reading history, there are only a few times when leaders have been received with such relish and optimism as when Kenyans welcomed the Kibaki presidency. After 27 years of a stagnant economy, an over-reliance on Western donor support, rampant corruption, land grabbing, general impunity and a limited political space, anyone else other than Moi was always going to be good.

Hours into the Kibaki presidency, citizens were arresting bribe munching police officers and presenting them to court. Kibaki followed cue and set up two commissions to investigate the rot – the Ndung’u Commission, to deal with the land problem, and the Bosire Commission, to investigate the Goldenberg scandal. In the meantime, economic growth shot up from sub-zero in the year 2002 to 3 percent in 2003 and subsequently to 4.9 percent in 2004. People were happy.

Soon Kibaki the indecisive showed up. Constitutional reform was deferred to a later date, the Bosire and Ndung’u reports were never implemented and worse, the Kibaki administration delivered is own rendition of grand corruption in Anglo Leasing.

The quesion of terms

Thankfully, by the time Kibaki was exiting the stage, the economy had recovered from the lows of the post-election crisis of 2008. He had also conceived the Vision 2030 blue-print and set the ball rolling with the infrastructure investment and a new and robust constitution.

Kibaki is not unique. Presidents begin their terms on a high then fizzle out in the midterm before returning with a vengeance towards the end of their service. Generally, they tend to perform better in their second term. Riding a wave of momentum and goodwill, they start keen to implement their campaign promises and distinguish themselves from their predecessors. Then come the midterms when the desire to get re-elected suddenly reminds them of the importance of satisfying political friends: politics and corruption take centre stage and everything grinds to a halt. The final term is about securing their legacy which means breaking old alliances that have prevented progress. 

Others start on a high only to plummet and never recover. This could be because the men are simply bad and never and any desire for reform to start with. Joseph Desire Mobutu of Congo Zaire, Mengitsu Haile Marriam of Ethiopia, President Moi and Yoweri Kaguta Museveni next door are prime examples of such men. Others regress, not for want of desire but for poor advice, lack of support and bad economics. This may be the case for President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Peace and the fight against impunity will not mean anything when the economy is in turmoil

Uhuru started in the footsteps of President Kibaki. He placed a lot of focus on infrastructure development in his first term and thanks to this, the economy maintained a steady growth.

The President campaigned on the promise of delivering the Big Four, unity and dealing decisively with corruption. As it is, he has made considerable progress in delivering the last two. For the first time in a long while, we now have a robust and functional office of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions and the Criminal Investigation Department. Kenyans are also getting used to major indictments. If the exceptional investigation into the murder charge facing Migori Governor is of any instruction, it’s reasonably optimistic to expect that a fair few will end with convictions. It’s a good start.

However, if he does not take immediate steps to address some pertinent issues bedevilling his administration, Kenyatta’s waterloo might just to be the economy.

Peace and the fight against impunity will not mean anything when the economy is in turmoil and the cost of living has skyrocketed. Unfortunately, because of two bad mistakes, this seems a path the Jubilee government may not be able to avoid. The first I have already mentioned: the country is deeply in debt. The second is related to the first and stems from what happened in the National Assembly during the discussion and vote on the President’s reservations on the Finance Bill.

Irate MPs, including those from the President’s political backyard, not only openly defied the President and almost sabotaged his motion but also promised to derail the Big Four Agenda, if they couldn’t have their way. They openly demonstrated their capacity to go against the wishes of the ruling party. This is something we have not seen for a long time and it shows that the President is going to have a difficult time marshalling the support he needs to secure his legacy. Will he disappoint? (

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