Dr. William Ruto’s government, sworn into office on the 27th of October 2022, has reached the 100-day mark. It is unclear why Kenyan society is so obsessed with this time period, but the leaders played into it as well, with several campaign and post-victory speeches promising various developments and achievements ‘within the first 100 days’ of being in power. As expected, Kenyan society has been abuzz with conversations about the new administration’s record within this time frame. Naturally, given how contentious the election was, the opinion seems divided into two groups: those who think nothing has changed and those who think the government is off to a good start. The reality is somewhere in between.
Currently, there is definitely a large degree of inertia that would be baffling to anyone unfamiliar with state function (or dysfunction) in Kenya. This is mainly due to the fact that the administration we had in place until last year was dysfunctional, and few citizens realized that much of what state officials were doing was cosmetic and lacking in any logical objectives. Their functions were riddled with illegalities and policy incoherence that left the government running on ad-hoc decisions. The fact that Kenyans had accepted this miasma as the norm was brought into sharp relief when the then President, Uhuru Kenyatta, called a cabinet meeting in June 2022, a year and four months after the previous one in February 2021. The Kenya cabinet traditionally meets every week to discuss the government’s agenda and agree upon collective responsibility for the formulated government policy. The weekly cabinet meetings are deemed necessary under normal circumstances, yet Kenya was basically on ‘auto-pilot’ mode during a period of various stressors, not least of which was the Covid19 pandemic. Furthermore, because of former President Kenyatta’s dalliance in the politics of his succession, senior personnel in key government departments simply had no transition plans in place, even on a contingency basis. Over a decade since we promulgated a new constitution, part of the Kenyan psyche still hadn’t internalized the fact that the sitting president couldn’t have the final say on who would succeed him. This blind spot eventually manifested itself in office holders unprepared to hand over, and new officers similarly challenged by their new responsibilities.
Consequently, when the new president-elect and his administration took over, changes in the wider civil service were rather slow, coming in fits and starts. It would appear that the incoming administration sought to ‘smoothen’ their taking over by maintaining some temporary semblance of continuity in functions. Herein lay a crucial misstep- they completely forgot that the government that they took over from had been drifting for over a year without any coherent policy direction by the end of their tenure. This was a surprising oversight, considering the number of ‘carryovers’ from the previous government. The quality and style of transition that Kenya Kwanza was presumably trying to engineer would only have been workable if they were taking over from a functional administration, which wasn’t the case.
Amongst the difficulties the new administration faced were: a stumbling economy, unconstitutionally appointed holders of public offices, improperly or incompletely constituted boards of state corporations, ill-conceived and incomplete projects, etc. One crucial aspect of these difficulties was the mess that is our education system, which is arguably the most accurate snapshot of the stasis we are currently experiencing. Early in President Kenyatta’s second term, his administration, which was riding on a wave of heavy rhetoric and vast political capital, decided to introduce a completely new “competency-based curriculum” with obscure foreign origins, no clear objectives, no implementation plan, and no resources. This new curriculum included a strange chimera known as ‘junior secondary school’ (standards 7, 8, and 9). This particular cohort of children reported to school on the 30th of January as per the ministry of education directive. They arrived in their respective schools to find no timetable, no books, no teachers, and in some cases no designated uniform for them to wear. As a result, one of the first acts of the new administration was to constitute a task force of ‘experts’, ostensibly to review this curriculum and address the numerous (justified) complaints about it. However, when launching the initiative on 12th October 2022, the Deputy President Mr. Rigathi Gachagua pre-empted the discussions by ruling out any suspension or disbandment of the troubled curriculum before the task force even began its assignment. Our basic education system is therefore at a near halt due to policy and practical failures. The relevant authorities are busy trying to conjure a way forward, even as our children while away the hours doing nothing in school. The damage inflicted upon them will be felt for years to come.
This snafu was the first evidence of an administration that hadn’t recognized the full import of last year’s election results and the magnitude of the resultant task before them. It has since been replicated in many other functions, including state appointments and reforms of different areas of government. The apparent stasis that citizens are currently complaining about after the mythical 100-day period isn’t due to a pandemic of sloth sweeping through our civil service, but newcomers unaware that what they perceive as ‘glitches’ in the system are actually deliberate designs which were put in place to serve purposes other than ours.
I have written elsewhere that Kenya has long been a feudal state run by a core group of lieges whose influence permeated the state at all levels. This was by design because the feudal structures and their occupants were installed by the colonial government at the advent of independence. While Kenya has maintained an amazingly convincing ‘republic face’, the feudal system capably handled appointments to government positions, procurement contracts, and even taxation. Kenyans got a glimpse into this when recent discussions revealed a 1969 amendment to the Estate Duty Act that expressly exempted the Kenyatta and Moi families from taxation on inherited property. Last year’s election wasn’t just a victory for those who won various seats, but a fracture of that flawed structure complete with lieges cut adrift from their state anchors. The struggle to fathom this is somewhat understandable because of the significant proportion of personnel ‘carryovers’ from the previous administration, but we are in deep and unfamiliar waters now, so we must swim.
The task before the current administration is a clear (if daunting) one. They cannot repair the dysfunctional structure that has just broken because it is past its ‘sell by’ date and they could never operate it as adeptly as its architects. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be feasible to create a new feudal system because the necessary injustices would be untenable in today’s legal dispensation. What remains to be done is the creation of a new republic, which entails as much dismantling as assembling and as much unlearning as learning across all social strata in a timely fashion. Systemic change requires expenditure of political capital, which is known to diminish with the passage of time following an election. Of all the resources required to undertake this project though, none is more important than courage, right across the spectrum from individual to corporate and, national and international levels. To use an orthopaedic analogy, this is comparable to a congenital skeletal deformity that has been manageable through childhood but is now a hindrance to development into adulthood. It has been broken and now it has to be reset correctly because, in its previous position, it would lead to permanent disability.
The challenge isn’t limited to the government. We also have an opposition that needs to re-learn what its role was before 2018 when it was co-opted into government. We all face this choice and responsibility if we are to shake Kenya out of this inertia in all sectors, from education to security, agriculture, commerce, and environmental conservation. One of the most harmful effects of feudalism across many African countries is the proletariat getting to feel that they are ‘wards’ rather than serfs to their lieges, which results in trepidation amongst the populace at the thought of changing even the most harmful and avaricious systems. In countries like Kenya where ‘the Republic’ has now arrived, it is our duty as citizens to push our society and our servants in government to make tangible progress. We need not wait any longer, because nobody is coming.