Political Sentiment: One year into power: President Ruto is making friends abroad, but ‘hustlers’ at home groan under the cost of living burden

  • 25 Sep 2023
  • 5 Mins Read
  • 〜 by James Ngunjiri

Last year, Kenyans demonstrated a commitment to moving past the history of electoral violence. This resolve was reinforced by the postures of then-presidential candidates William Ruto and Raila Odinga, both pushing for a General Election free from violence. 

Their campaigns were steered in a way that made people shun violence, defying the widely held expectations that violent conflict and turmoil would erupt. The elections were a success, presenting Kenya as a model for other African countries to emulate, as peaceful elections served as a force multiplier toward national cohesion. 

Dr Ruto’s campaign comprised a mass movement of jobless youth, and peasants (hustlers), and mostly distanced itself from the ‘dynasties’ that had run the country’s politics for many years. 

A year after he came to power, President Ruto is being seen by Western countries as a dependable ally, while at home, his administration has been receiving harsh feedback from some citizens.

A dependable ally

In July, Russia withdrew a deal that allowed Ukraine to safely export grain through the Black Sea. The Russian government accused the Western countries of not keeping their part of the bargain. Also, an earlier blockage of Ukrainian ports by Russia in 2022, had threatened to cause food shortages in parts of Africa. This led to soaring grain prices, but a deal was brokered in July 2022 by Turkey and the United Nations (UN), which allowed vital Ukrainian produce back on the world market. 

As this unfolded, Kenya was the only African country that was openly critical of Russia’s move with Kenya’s foreign affairs ministry terming it “a stab in the back.” A tweet by Dr Abraham Korir Sing’Oei, Principal Secretary of Foreign Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs stated: “The decision by Russia to exit the Black Sea Grain Initiative is a stab on the back at global food security prices and disproportionately impacts countries in the Horn of Africa already impacted by drought.”

Additionally, 17 African Heads of State attended the Russia – Africa Summit where Russian President Vladimir Putin courted them, hailing the continent’s growing role in global affairs and offering to expand political and business ties. Conspicuously absent was Kenya’s President – William Ruto.  

Last week, the Economist – a British weekly newspaper that focuses on current affairs, international business, politics, technology, and culture, stated that President Ruto also sounds reassuringly solid to Western ears on China. 

“Unlike his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, who cosied up to it, Mr Ruto looks more comfortable in Western capitals. In a frenetic year, he has visited European countries eight times, America twice, South Korea once and China not at all. He did not attend a recent summit convened by the BRICS grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa in Johannesburg,” the Economist stated. 

On Tuesday, September 19, US President Joe Biden while making his remarks before the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York said when America appealed for help to restore order in Haiti, President Ruto promptly offered to send 1,000 police officers.

“The United Nations must continue to preserve peace, prevent conflict, and alleviate human suffering. And we embrace nations stepping up to lead in new ways and to seek breakthroughs on hard issues. For example, in Haiti, the Caribbean Community is facilitating a dialogue among Haitian society. (I think President Ruto of Kenya) – I thank him for his willingness to serve as the lead nation of a UN-backed security support mission. I call on the Security Council to authorise this mission now. The people of Haiti cannot wait much longer,” President Biden said. 

President Ruto has also emerged as a mediator in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, the Sudan request was rejected by Sudan’s military government. The Economist further said that Dr Ruto has played a growing role in climate diplomacy. “Mr Ruto is proving indispensable in pretty much every area”, gushes a Western diplomat. 

On Tuesday, President Ruto met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the sidelines of the 78th session of the UNGA. Dr Ruto pledged to support Ukraine during the war crisis following its invasion by Russia. 

“You have demonstrated a lot of resilience and we know it’s been difficult for the people of Ukraine, they’re strong and you have our support. As I told you, my brother, we believe in a world order based on rules,” he said. 

President Zelenskyy on his part thanked Kenya for supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and extended an invitation to Dr Ruto to visit Ukraine. 

President Ruto also met Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC) CEO Alice Albright at the Kenya Mission in New York where he witnessed the signing of the US$65 million Second Threshold Program funds for the acquisition of electric buses to operate on the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line 2 to ease traffic congestion within the Nairobi Metropolitan Area.

Dr Ruto also held talks with Heads of State and Governments on the sidelines of UNGA to enhance Kenya’s bilateral relations. The leaders agreed to deepen and explore new areas of cooperation with Kenya. They were Luis Abinader (Dominican Republic), Alain Berset (Switzerland), Miguel Diaz-Canel (Cuba), Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (Kazakhstan), Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (Portugal), Joao Lourenco (Angola), and Italy Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. 

Early this month, President Ruto set the bar high at the Inaugural Africa Climate Summit (ACS23) held in Nairobi as the continent gears up for the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) to be held from November 30 to December 12, 2023, at Expo City Dubai, UAE. The conversations from the ACS23 will undoubtedly inform the continent’s stance and contributions to the global climate dialogue. 

Ruto at home 

In the run-up to last year’s elections, President Ruto campaigned on a goodie bag of promises that raised the hopes and expectations of many Kenyans.

Dr Ruto promised to cure the ailing economy, scale down the high cost of living, pay off the country’s debts, create jobs for the unemployed “hustlers”, improve infrastructure, and provide universal health coverage. 

The majority of Kenyans are disappointed with how President Ruto has addressed issues such as the high cost of living and unemployment. His administration is facing criticism for failing to fulfil the promise of reducing the high cost of living. Instead, the government imposed new taxes through the Finance Act, which have resulted in skyrocketing prices of essential commodities such as food, fuel and electricity.

The latest poll by Trends & Insights For Africa (TIFA) indicated that Kenyans are losing faith in the government. According to the poll, 53 percent of Kenyans polled said their living standards have worsened. “The living standards of Kenyans are worse than they were a year ago. They are poorer.”  

Turning things around

In the agricultural sector, the government is doing well with the distribution of subsidised fertiliser. As a result, Kenyans expect increased food production soon. Farmers have been accessing subsidised fertiliser through the e-voucher system launched in March to ensure traceability and full accountability of the distribution process. So far over 1,104,774 50kg bags have been distributed. 

In the MSMEs financing, over Ksh31.5 billion has gone towards providing reliable credit through the Hustler Fund. Out of the disbursed funds, repayments stand at over Ksh21.2 billion. The savings account stood at over Ksh1.5 billion.

Affordable housing had been a controversial issue for many including government leaders, with a contentious levy being introduced to achieve the plan.

On ICT, the government has made significant strides in strengthening the sector by first digitising 5,084 government services with over 2,550 being partially affected. 

Despite the majority of Kenyans remaining unsatisfied with the government’s performance, political analysts say President Ruto’s administration has an enormous burden to ensure political stability and deliver on its promises.