Saturday, July 20, 2013



By Alex Kamau

The greatest disappointments are borne out of the greatest expectations- Vladimir Putin- Russian President.

When Uhuru was confirmed president, a fatigued and bitterly divided country agreed in the name of peace and country to carry on. In speeches full of hope he promised to make Kenya better for all.

Over 100 days later, there’s little to show and unless President Uhuru provides decisive leadership, the future may be bleak. Shrewd leaders understand that any new government has limited time to make its mark. Once the honeymoon dissipates; a disillusioned electorate begin to view speeches as rhetoric and promises as falsehoods. President Uhuru must avoid this eventuality.

His privileged background means the expectations on him are enormous. He is likely to succeed if he identifies issues of greatest concern to Kenyans and devote his energy to these; conscious that Kenya’s myriad challenges can’t be solved in one or even two terms.

History is replete with examples of leaders who focused on few areas and succeeded.

Within days of being elected British Prime minister in 1997, Tony Blair took three bold decisions he is remembered for to date. First his government mandated the Bank of England (the country’s central bank) to set interest rates free of political interference. Secondly they passed a law guaranteeing a minimum wage for all employees. These two acts met the needs of two competing constituencies -the capitalists on the one hand; and employees on the other.

His later attempts to pass landmark laws were harder and of course the Iraq debacle eternally tainted his reputation. Ronald Reagan in 1980s America championed market deregulation and the crusade against communism; culminating in the fall of the Berlin Wall. Obama’s healthcare plans ring true here as is Kibaki and free primary education.

For president Uhuru, the following six may be a start:

First, although he had a difficult task choosing cabinet secretaries, Uhuru and Ruto’s communities disproportionately took the juiciest ministries thereby missing an opportunity for national healing and renewal. Safe for Jubilee supporters, other Kenyans feel marginalised. He should have boldly given two powerful ministries to Odinga’s acolytes thereby neutering his bitter nemesis and validating himself as a nationalist. All is not lost and the president could in addition to ensuring devolution succeeds; make future appointments represent the face of Kenya and accommodate his opponents. Obama did this with Hilary Clinton and also offered Mitt Romney a position though he declined.

Secondly, imposing VAT on essentials including food is unfortunate.  From Antoinette’s 17th Century France to 2013 Egypt, history teaches that when citizens are unable to feed themselves their avoidable actions have dethroned monarchs and presidents. Mr President has the opportunity to put food security at the heart of his government and achieve for the hungry Kenyans what his father and two successors failed in 50 years in office. VAT on food will not help.

Thirdly spiralling insecurity remains a nightmare for Kenyans. With a resurgent police force, a reforming judiciary, the president needs to position his security team to ensure criminals receive punitive deterrents to dissuade them from their trade-including annihilation. Criminal cases must be expedited through the courts. Importantly, the root cause of crime-youth unemployment is core to the Jubilee manifesto and what’s needed is leadership to bring coherence to existing policy.

Fourth the profligacy of elected leaders has left the public nauseatingly disgusted. With a majority in both houses, President Kenyatta should have cracked the whip; requiring the greedy legislators to drop their demands. However with his close ally the Speaker of the National Assembly acting like a Union steward in defence of the legislators, the opportunity to tame the gluttony of the already well paid lawmakers was lost. It was a matter of time before public servants took to the streets to demand higher pay. Teachers have and others shall follow. Why blame teachers for asking a rise of Kshs. 20,000 while MPs demand Kshs. 400,000 on top of Kshs. 600,000?

Fifth, Uhuru’s munificent upbringing allows him; from the vantage of high morality to relentlessly fight rampant corruption. Having the dubious distinction as the 4th most corrupt country on earth isn’t a badge of honour. As long as police receive bribes in full glare of cameras, corruption shall be more spoken about with little action. This requires leadership, courage and boldness.

Finally, the deaths on our roads remain a national tragedy. Every accident victim is someone’s mother, father, child, etc. President Uhuru should take action and establish an independent and well-staffed quasi-Judicial body-The Driving Standards & Safety Authority to delineate and judiciously enforce driving and safety standards across Kenya; with severe punishment including punitive fines, bans and jail terms for offenders. Any death is one too many. 

The driving skills of many Kenyans are appallingly reckless and more deaths sadly await us all. Ours may be the only country where it takes a few months from getting a licence to becoming a matatu driver. In Britain a similar body ensures that all drivers receive rigorous driving instructions with severe punishment for offenders. About 52% of those who sit the driving test in the UK fail. It may explain why despite having comparably more vehicles, the UK has a minuscule fraction of the carnage available on Kenyan roads.

Additionally, circumstances may dictate that cherished manifesto promises are abandoned. Many Kenyans are rightly sceptical about the need to provide laptops to pupils- half of whom may be malnourished.
That said, the president can wait for 2017, to be confronted by a savagely divided, hungry, insecure, broke, corrupt and mourning country; all ingredients for electoral obliteration. The choice is his.
Mr Kamau is a lecturer in the UK; and a Director and Strategy advisor to Rock Ventures, a Diaspora Investment Company.