Ruto Agonistes by Femi Olugbile


“The streets are still troubled, but the flames are petering out—perhaps.”

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For William Kipchirchir Samoei Arap Ruto, the past few weeks have been pure agony.

By his own description, he is a hustler. He does not belong to Kenya’s political royalty.

The traditional perception of Kenya as an agricultural and safari-driven economy has been substantially modified by the energy and accomplishments of its youth, who are making it a hub for innovation in the digital economy. Its flagship digital innovation, the M-Pesa, was invented and patented by a young Kenyan student named Nyagaka Anyona Ouko.

But the streets have not been smiling in Nairobi lately. As in many other African countries, there is a huge gap between the uber-rich, who live in exclusive enclaves and drive about the streets in posh, latest-model cars, and most of the population, who often have their work cut out eking out a living. 70 percent of Kenyans experience food insecurity, resulting in poor nutrition and a high prevalence of preventable diseases.

By the standards of Africa, William Ruto, at 58, could be regarded as a young man. He is urbane, personable, and passionate. Some people have regarded him as a harbinger of a new future for his country. He has cultivated a youthful constituency as he made his way up the political ladder through an assortment of party affiliations, from the Kenya African National Union (KANU) to the Orange Democratic Movement, the Republican Party, the Jubilee Party, and finally to his present United Democratic Alliance. This youthful demographic is now calling for his head. Something has gone terribly wrong.

There is a huge national debt crisis, with public debt at 68 percent of GDP. The country owes billions of dollars to Western countries and the IMF, as well as China.

What brought matters to a head was the issue of Kenya Finance Bill 2024, which was put forward in May 2024 and which the government clearly intended to pass into law. The bill proposes to raise 346 billion Kenyan shillings to pay off debt and fund development projects. It was going to place a 1.5 percent tax on local digital platforms and a new VAT on electric bikes, buses, and solar and lithium-ion batteries. 16 percent VAT on bread and sugar cane, and 15–40 percent VAT on financial services and foreign exchange transactions. 16 percent VAT on imported eggs, onions, and potatoes. An increase from 15 percent to 20 percent in excise tax on mobile money transfers.

A 25 percent excise duty on vegetable oil could spike the cost of soap by 80 percent. An annual tax of 2.5 percent on motor vehicle owners and an ‘Eco levy’ supposedly aimed at stopping pollution would affect the cost of diapers, batteries, smartphones, plastics, and other products.

It is a lot for the citizens of Kenya to chew in one bite, and from the moment it was mooted, there have been howls of outrage. William Ruto and his government were convinced that the nation’s dire economic state could only be tackled by such a remedy.

, a series of decentralised youth-led mass protests erupted in Nairobi and across the nation.

The supposedly peaceful protests quickly got out of hand, with the storming and burning of part of the Parliament and other buildings. The Kenyan police, famous both for efficiency and heavy-handedness, upped the ante by resorting to live firearms. The figures of casualties are contended, but the dead could number as many as twenty, perhaps more.

After initial tough talk, President Ruto did a reality check and realised the voices on the street were not of fifth columnists and agents provocateurs but of the people of Kenya. He would not be signing the Finance Bill 2024, he announced.

The streets are still troubled, but the flames are petering out—perhaps.

Virtually all the commentary written about the Kenyan crisis in mainstream and social media has focused on how corrupt African leaders take their people for granted and how the youths of Kenya are setting an example for other nations such as Nigeria.

There have also been familiar condemnations of African leaders succumbing to ‘Bretton Woods institutions.’ Very little has been said about the implications of this popular ‘victory’ for Kenya.

Ruto is miffed as he explains the implications of his capitulation in a recent recorded conversation.

‘…We have gone back almost two years…This year we are going to borrow a trillion shillings to run our government…I have been working hard to pull Kenya out of a debt trap…It is easy to say let us reject the bill…We will not confirm 46,000 JSS Teachers…We cannot support our farmers with 2 billion shillings…to get fair returns on their products…We cannot support the coffee debt …It means we will continue to import potatoes from Europe when we have potatoes in our villages…’

There is a serious leadership and credibility challenge in all of Africa. There is also a failure of empathy on the part of a ruling class, including public servants, with wealth of dubious provenance, that fails to tone down its own high-flying, in-your-face lifestyle. This is playing out in Nairobi now, as political ‘Honourables’ are ducking for cover and abandoning their flashy cars and noisy escorts for fear of being accosted on the streets.

The empathy failure has made it hard for people, whether in Kenya or Nigeria, to accept tough medicine, even when realistically there may be little by way of an alternative. Debts need to be repaid, and budgets need to be balanced. Kenya cannot live indefinitely beyond its means. The state must empower its potato farmers so they can compete with imports. It must pay its teachers. It must develop. And corruption and ostentation must be fought to death.

Can Ruto eat humble pie and show that he knows how much pain is too much pain? Can he convince Kenyans they are in the same boat and there is no way to go but forward? It is a testing time for William Ruto and for Kenya.

By Naija247news
By Naija247news
Naija247news is an investigative news platform that tracks news on Nigerian Economy, Business, Politics, Financial and Africa and Global Economy.

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