Sunday, July 28, 2013

Will Jubilee Coalition pass the test?

As time goes by, I am getting this feeling that the Jubilee government of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto will most likely be no different from that of the just retired grand coalition of Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, or from those regimes of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi, before it. I have this gathering sense because tell tale signs show an increasing civilian dissatisfaction with the actions that this government has taken since its election in March.

The Jubilee government was elected under gravely acrimonious circumstances. The reason is that the margin of victory was so small that close to half of Kenyans still believe the election was stolen from Raila's Coalition of Reforms and Democracy (CORD). Although I do not subscribe to that way of thinking, the fact that Jubilee was declared the winner means that it has the mandate of behaving responsibly in tandem with its manifesto and in response to the expectations of the people.

However, events during the last 100 days of Jubilee government appear to suggest that the regime is on the way to retrench not only an avaricious system but one that is intolerant of freedom of expression. The closure of the press center at Parliament is one example of the extent of intolerance we are seeing from our leaders. The Forth Estate - despite constant assurances and passing of legislations - has every reason to feel jittery and guarded. Some of the Jubilee stalwarts in and outside parliament have, in a very short period of time, inflated their chests to such an extent that they spit fire at every passing shadow.

But what is of utmost worry to Kenyans is the blatant extravagance in the use of public money. I have no problem with the refurbishment of the presidential mansion or the deputy president's residence, for this is normal whenever a new occupant moves to occupy an institutional residence. However, the monies that were quoted for that purpose were completely out of tune with the reality in a country where 60 percent of the people live below the poverty line. Recent reports that the government planned to spend 2.5b shillings on building monuments for retired presidents and on an entertainment programme to celebrate 50 years of independence cast a long shadow on the state's commitment to fiscal discipline. The whole idea is insane and immoral and should be discarded. Why not give Kenyans a day off to celebrate in their own private way?

Kenya is facing a potentially serious economic crisis. Both the foreign and domestic debts are weighing in heavily on the country. The wage bill has reached a dangerous level given past fiscal mismanagement and obnoxious salary demands by our elected leaders. Unemployment is at a record high among the youth who represent 65 percent of the people. Doctors and other hospital workers, as well as teachers and lecturers in our institutions of higher learning deserve pay increases to put them at par with other professional cadres. Thousands of dispossessed Kenyans, victims of the 2007 general elections, are still crying for re-settlement and justice. Many of our children continue to study under trees or under very undesirable conditions. And our hospitals and dispensaries are ill staffed and often do not have enough medicine. Yet we want to spend billions on a party?

Kenyans elected the Jubilee government because they wanted a new dispensation; a new "digital" leadership. They chose youthful leaders because they yearned for people with new ideas, energy and a moral commitment to deliver services to the people. They did not want a Jomo or a Moi or a Kibaki. They did not want an old school leadership style that saw and heard no evil. Harassment of opposition politicians is old politics that has no place in a "new" Kenya with a new constitution.

My gut feeling is that unless Uhuru enforces strict discipline in the manner in which his government is spending public money; unless he curbs unbridled corruption in the public sector; and unless he fully adheres to the principles of democracy, of tolerance and inclusivity, he is likely to be the first one-term president Kenya has ever had.

The youthful advisers he has employed to help him govern must advise him well to avoid the cardinal mistakes committed by previous regimes.

And that is my say.