by Vincent Kimosop
In four months, Kenyans go for elections to elect a new president and other leaders. As the political space heightens, two coalitions have emerged as vehicles for the leading presidential candidates – Azimio la Umoja, led by Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga and the Kenya Kwanza by Deputy President H.E. William Ruto.
The country is in campaign mode with aspiring candidates for various elective posts aligning to either camp, as per the ‘mood on the ground‘. However, a constant theme shaping up as the top priority concern for Kenyans irrespective of their leaning is the economy, forcing each coalition to focus their narratives around it. Kenya Kwanza has proposed a bottoms-up economic model, while Azimio a social safety net approach.
Indeed, it is a fact that the cost of living has been rising, further aggravated by COVID-19, which led to job losses and slowed down the economy. Most Kenyans, especially the poor, are affected. Therefore, whoever makes a compelling narrative on how to respond to these economic needs of Kenyans, has a higher chance of carrying the day.
However, whichever side emerges victorious has real economic challenges to address, beginning with the ballooning public debt, which has constrained the resources available for development. As of September 2021, the debt stock was Ksh 7.99 trillion and is estimated to rise between Kshs. 8.6 trillion to 8.8 trillion by June 2022.
Despite its gravity and impact on the country’s governance, this area has not been given the level of scrutiny it deserves. This is why it is critical to go beyond the slogans and look at the concrete plans being presented by both sides to grow the resource purse.
Proposed economic models
While each side has been sharing bits of their proposals, there is no comprehensive information on them as yet. The bottoms-up economic model may sound great by allowing the vulnerable to participate in advancing the economy; nevertheless, without clear plans on how to organise them to access credit and ensure that their ventures are sustainable, this may be a short-lived approach to economic planning.
And while it is essential to cushion the vulnerable by providing a Kshs 6000 monthly stipend as outlined by Azimio, this initiative might fail if not mainstreamed within a well thought social protection programme like past programmes that did not empower the populace to stand on their own.
Therefore, the proposals must be scrutinised and judged for their merits and demerits. This information should be shared with the electorates to help them make informed choices when they go to the polls. There are other factors for consideration by each camp, as outlined below.
Worrying growth prospects
Kenya’s GDP reveals a worrying trend in the medium-term growth rates. For eight consecutive months, the growth forecast has been reducing, and this is traced back to April 2017, when the World Bank downgraded the projected 6.0% GDP growth rate by 0.5%, and as of September 2017, the rate stood at 4.8%.
The COVID-19 pandemic further slowed the growth momentum in 2020 and 2021 due to the government’s mitigation measures, such as the lockdowns. The country is still feeling the effects, and the economy is yet to recover fully. Any side of the divide that emerges victorious in the August 2022 polls needs an elaborate economic recovery and resilience programme. Their proposed plans would only succeed when we have a well-performing economy.
Negative economic impact during past elections
As Kenya navigates this necessary democratic imperative of holding elections every five years, there is a need for introspection on its negative effect on the socio-economic fabric of our society.
Therefore, the focus should not only be on the prospects of building cohesion, peace, and stability but also on how to cushion the economy from the disruptive effects of elections in Kenya. Experience from the past shows that the economy dips every time the country approaches an election. The worst period was 2007/2008, which extended into post-election violence, where lives and property were lost.
The political deal that ushered in the grand coalition government provided a political solution that made it possible for a new governance framework to be instituted in 2010. Subsequently, the 2013 and 2017 periods were better, which could be attributed to the strengthening of institutions of governance.
Beyond the political compromise, the country was to address the other agenda four items that included undertaking constitutional, legal and institutional reforms; tackling poverty and inequality, combating regional development imbalances; unemployment, especially among the youth; consolidating national cohesion and unity. However, it is correct to state that they have not been given due attention.
There is a need to continue investing in our institutions of governance and enhance systems and processes of elections management to ensure that the conduct of future presidential contests meets the minimum thresholds of legitimacy and legality.
To realise this, legislative reform efforts should be conducted in a bipartisan manner and within a time that does not coincide with electioneering periods to eliminate conflict of interest and elevate objectivity in the design of the legal and regulatory frameworks governing elections.
Experience from the cabinet’s performance indicates that communities in Kenya want to be represented in government mainly by politicians and not professionals. Therefore, there might be a need to address the Constitution 2010 structure of the Executive.
The current presidential system is a winner-takes- and the loser –loses- everything; thus, competition to clinch the presidency is very intense. The BOMAS Draft is a good reference point for Kenyans’ options during the development of the constitution.
Also, the structure and role of the opposition ought to be redefined. In the current framework, the Leader of the Minority has not been effective in facilitating the opposition to engage in the policy processes. There is a need to provide a dignified national opposition which is well facilitated and funded. This will enable it to play its role of checking government in Parliament and outside and promoting national integration and development. The County level can replicate this model.
Sustainable financing of the devolved units also needs to be discussed well because Kenyans have embraced devolution. Despite all the challenges that the devolved units face, they remain to be bastions of hope, particularly looking at the country’s history of marginalisation.
Since the 2022 elections will be centred on economics, players in the economy must examine these proposals. Some are populists developed with the view of winning elections. Still, the political costs associated with public expectations where the masses approve of particular agendas will mean that they will be expecting results.
Mr Vincent Kimosop is a policy & governance expert and CEO of Sovereign Insight