Seven years of false promises

Making big manifesto promises is never the smartest move for politicians. For Jubilee, it has proven both unethical and disastrous

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By NLM Writer

As soon as the former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Luis Moreno Ocampo revealed the names of six Kenyans who he believed bore the greatest responsibility for the 2007/2008 post-election violence, he also inadvertently set the country on a full-blown campaign mode.

For Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, who were the prominent names in the list of six, it would be a campaign to save themselves from the jaws of the beast. And so, as the 2013 elections approached, the two, who had formed a coalition, looked for something that would divert public attention from the ongoing ICC matter.

Helped by a London Public Relations firm, BTP Advisers, they bombarded the public with populist pledges, slogans and social media messages for months: in their first term, the dynamic duo, as their supporters affectionately referred to them, promised that beginning the next financial year, which would be just three months after the election, every primary school going child would have a laptop as part of the new regime’s digital literacy programme. By that, they also sought to define a clear gap between them and their opponents, then CORD coalition. The digital versus analogue debate began.

Also, to ensure the country was food secure, they promised that the Jubilee coalition, as it was known then, would put a million acres under irrigation. That is how the Galana-Kulalu irrigation project came to be.  

Another major pledge the Jubilee team made in the run-up to the March 2013 elections was that the government, under their leadership, would construct five world-class stadiums across the country besides other small ones.

More promises were made in the run-up to August 2017: if re-elected, the government would initiate paid internships for graduate students. At his second swearing following the October 2017 controversial re-election, President Uhuru Kenyatta then looked at something that would prove to his supporters and critics that he meant business in his final after the first term of scandals upon another.

The Big 4 Agenda was born, an amorphous, ill-defined agenda that lacked clear thinking on its rationale and the framework for implementation.

The populist pledges seem to have done the job, in so far as election and re-election is concerned. However, all these lofty and ambitious pledges have one common thread about them in so far as implementation is concerned: they have not gone anywhere and, in some cases, like in the laptop and a million acres under irrigation, their proponents have been trying to avoid them as much as possible and also hoping the public will do the same and forget about them.

The examples above and others are the myriad promises by Uhuru-Ruto but which have not been implemented, or which have suffered a spectacular failure that they have been quietly been abandoned.

The Galana-Kulalu project, after sinking in more than Sh15 billion in feasibility studies, land preparation, a 10,000-acre pilot project done in collaboration with Israeli firm Green Arava Ltd, produced only 40,000 bags of maize of 50-kilogramme each, or 2,000 metric tonnes.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture got a shock of their lives when Irrigation PS Fred Segor, not fully understanding the import of his statement, casually told the senators that the government spent Sh580 million to clear bushes at the site of Galana Kulalu irrigation project. In the meantime, Green Arava, which signed an Sh14.5 billion contract with the government in 2015, has accused the government of frustrating the project by blocking its shipment of equipment. Essentially, the irrigation project has become a white elephant and an embarrassment to the Jubilee administration; it is just one in many others that have failed.

The laptop project meanwhile became almost a circus before eventually the focus quietly shifted to other things. It started as a laptop project but by 2016 when it started being implemented, after procurement delays occasioned by vendor wars, it had metamorphosed from laptops to tablets. Little to none in terms of training of teachers had taken place as only about 70,000 had been trained by May 2016 when the distribution started. 

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto in a classroom with pupils of Catholic Primary School in Wajir where they had visited to inspect the implementation of the Digital Literacy Programme(DLP).

In a short while, talk about the programme started being described in general terms as a digital literacy programme with the laptop component missing. Now the talk is about constructing digital laboratories – what the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and opposition had long been proposing should take place first but were dismissed for “attempting to derail Jubilee march to better lives of citizens.” Rather than transforming into a reality, this grand idea has become rather moot. A few tablets were eventually distributed have been seen during public functions being used by adults who were not the targets of the programme.

On social media, there has been a video – more a meme – circulating as Deputy President William Ruto gave an update on the construction of the ‘world class stadiums’ the Jubilee administration was constructing. In all, he said that, in fact, government was constructing nine instead of five they had promised and all or most of them would be complete “in another three months.” The clip of Ruto giving this update is from 2016 when Jubilee Party was launching after merging of parties that previously formed the Jubilee coalition. In the clip, President Kenyatta is standing next to his deputy on the stage smiling sheepishly as the audience cheers on as his deputy lists the ‘nine world-class stadia’ Jubilee was delivering. 

The sad thing though, is that the stadiums only exist on the government’s delivery portal and not as physical facilities. Like other promises that have failed or collapsed, little is being said about them. Except for stadiums initiated or rehabilitated by county governments, none has been done by the national government. And for President Kenyatta, who is just about three years away from retiring after serving his maximum two terms, the failure of his government to make any move in actualising this pledge is embarrassing enough that he has kept away from it. The same goes for his deputy.     

The broken promises do not just affect the ones made in the run-up to the 2013 elections. During the campaigns for 2017 elections, the Jubilee Party had promised that if re-elected they were going to initiate a paid internship programme that would take in up to 100,000 fresh graduates every year and reduce the levels of unemployment, especially among the youth.

“Starting next year university, polytechnic and technical training institutes’ students will be offered one year-long paid internships, this will also end cases in which graduates are denied jobs on account of lacking experience,” President Kenyatta said in his vote hunt in Meru. The graduates would be paid between Sh10,000 and Sh15,000 a month for one year, Jubilee promised. But as late as May this year, more than a year and a half since President Kenyatta was re-elected, Jubilee MPs are proposing bills actualise the pledge when it should be up and running.

Meanwhile, with the Big Four Agenda, even government insiders have confessed that the president ambushed them when he made the announcement about it during his swearing-in, in 2017. After the announcement of the Big Four – housing, manufacturing, food security and universal healthcare – and the communication of its components during the swearing in, cabinet secretaries and government bureaucrats were sent scrambling to prepare a framework for implementation, create budget lines and come up with a clear messaging on what the Big Four Agenda was all about. 

With three years until his term ends, his plan to construct 500,000 houses by 2022 is on the cusp of being shattered as courts slam on the breaks to stop the implementation of the housing levy, where the government wanted all salaried people to be deducted 1.5 per cent of their basic pay. The measure has been opposed by the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE), Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek) among others. But even if the court was to lift the injunction and the government started deducting the 1.5 per cent from the gross pay, it would be impossible to attain the targeted 500,000 unit by 2022. 

Implementation of the other aspects of the Big Four Agenda to remain fuzzy, as little has been seen on measures to prop up manufacturing. Instead, the government seems to have opened its borders to the Chinese who are bringing in everything and thus stifling the manufacturing sector. The universal healthcare is still being piloted but the uptake in the pilot areas have been disappointing. 

On food security, Galana Kulalu collapsed and there is no promise of starting other irrigation schemes. Instead, senior government officials working in collaboration with National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) imported maize that meant local farmers could only sell their produce at throwaway prices. Fertiliser for farmers has become politicised and with the low than expected rains this year, the outlook for food security in the country is gloomy.

While the above grand projects have failed or are on the verge of failing, there are many others whose viability remains just as worrying. The standard gauge railway (SGR) from Mombasa to Nairobi, built at a cost of more than Sh300 billion, the bulk of it being a loan from China, has continued to perform dismally in terms of revenue. Its viability continues to be questioned as it has yet to break even as loan repayment pressures and reluctance by importers and exporters to use it means it is thin on revenue. Extending the line to Kisumu now looks to have been abandoned after China declined to extend a further loan to Kenya.

Unemployment has also remained worrying even as corruption eats away at the already inadequate resources. With President Kenyatta relying on some of these projects to build his legacy, it looks like he has a lot to do to cajole his bureaucrats to ensure delivery amid prevailing scepticism.

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