Ruto’s Kenya will see little change in the new year.
Nairobi, like many other cities across the globe, greeted 2023 with spectacular fireworks displays. The greatest of them was held in the UAP-Old Mutual Tower in the city’s Upper Hill commercial sector. Since 2017, the stunning spectacle has been a highlight for families celebrating the New Year.
The lack of government was one of the most apparent aspects of the event. Thousands of people gathered to watch, clogging roads in the region that is home to Kenya’s biggest referral hospital.
Nairobians were mostly left to their own devices, with the exception of a limited police presence, which did nothing to assist control the turmoil.
That is not always a negative thing. When it comes to encouraging leisure among Kenyans, the Kenyan state’s track record does not exactly inspire confidence. Indeed, the state seems to be averse to the entire concept of people having fun and enjoying their city, harkening back to the colonial past when Africans were only permitted in the city as laborers for the whites.
Colonial-era laws still ban “creating any type of noise on the streets… and lingering aimlessly at night” under county rules and regulations.
The government’s disinterest in making Kenyans’ lives easier goes beyond festivities. President William Ruto, who had been in office for four months, justified his regime’s suspension of gasoline, energy, and food subsidies in his New Year’s speech, stating that insulating Kenyans from the high cost of living was unsustainable and “will cost our economy big time… We did away with the subsidies in August and I am delighted that we have saved our economy a great amount of money”.
The government’s effort to collect more taxes, even while much of the nation struggles to purchase food, demonstrates that it is more concerned with how much money it produces and saves than with whether Kenyans can afford to eat. “Within five years,” Ruto claimed, “we will have quadrupled our revenues so that we may grow our economy on the strong basis of our own resources generated locally rather than being imprisoned in debt”.
Given that the state has not been a very dependable custodian of public finances, it is patently absurd for Ruto to portray tax rises as essential to economic growth.
Despite receiving one out of every six shillings earned by Kenyans, the previous government, in which Ruto served as vice president, frittered it away on vanity white elephant projects such as constructing a railway beside an existing one, plunging the nation into a large financial hole.
Worse, as Ruto revealed as vice president in 2019, the government does not measure how much of the money it gets from Kenyans is lost to corruption. The truth is that it might be substantially more than the generally held estimate of one-third of all government income.
Furthermore, the Ruto government has provided no cause to expect an all-out fight against public resource theft.
Since his victory, the ostensibly impartial Office of Public Prosecutions has inexplicably abandoned court proceedings involving his close cronies in corruption, murder, and tax evasion. It is reminiscent of the failure of Ruto’s and his predecessor (and former colleague) Uhuru Kenyatta’s cases before the International Criminal Court after their election as deputy president and president, respectively, in 2013.
At the time, there was a deliberate campaign of witness tampering and intimidation, which resulted in many people retracting their evidence, going missing, or dying.
In reality, despite Ruto’s assurances that he would steer a different ship than his predecessor, one focused on the interests of “hustlers,” as he has dubbed the suffering masses, indicators are that his leadership will be no different, and may even entrench some of the worst tendencies of previous governments.
For example, despite his campaign rhetoric emphasizing the need to increase the independence of institutions, particularly the police, public prosecutors, and the judiciary, his actions in the first few months of his presidency have contradicted his words.
For example, he has maintained Kenyatta’s contempt for the constitutionally mandated operational independence of the police by giving legally problematic directives to the inspector general on the organization of the force.
Many are concerned about the regime’s strong relationship with the judiciary, which may jeopardize the latter’s independence, as well as the regime’s lack of interest in tackling governance-related issues.
Even as Ruto and his supporters continue to claim that only divine intervention saved his campaign, alleging that the Kenyatta administration planned to bribe or assassinate election officials in order to prevent him from being declared the winner, there have been no calls for reform or accountability, and no moves to prosecute those involved.
Promised public investigations into the 2022 elections and elite state takeover seem to have been discreetly abandoned.
All of this indicates to another difficult year ahead for Kenyans as the state returns to its traditional position as a parasite and defender of elite extraction.