I NEVER thought I’d say this, but Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta is growing on me.
I’ve always been Team Raila (opposition leader Raila Odinga) and I was very disappointed when he lost to Uhuru, of all people, in the March 2013 elections. I had the same feeling when Zimbabwe’s Morgan Tsvangirai failed to get past Robert Mugabe, not once but twice!
Raila and Tsvangirai - brilliant men in my opinion - who came so close to overseeing their visions for their respective nations. I felt let down by a system that lets certain people get away with certain things, a system riddled with vote rigging, voter intimidation, vote buying and whatever else people do to get to or stay in power.
Fast forward to 2014, I’m starting to see what 50.07% of the Kenyan electorate saw in Uhuru and it all started earlier this year when he and Deputy President William Ruto decided to take a 20% pay cut. Media reports said Uhuru’s basic salary was initially KSh 1.2 million, about $14,000 a month and after the 20% cut, he would have some $11,000. Many have argued that this is no sacrifice, considering that he’s among Kenya’s wealthiest with numerous properties and stakes in hotels and various other businesses, and that he should in fact give back more.
They have a point, but so do I in commending his efforts to rein in huge public spending. With $4.6 billion a year going to civil servants’ salaries alone, twice as much as the $2.3 billion (though some economists argue that this is actually a justified investment in Kenya’s human resource development) set apart for the country’s other pressing needs, I’m glad he did something to balance things out, even if just a little bit.
Anyone who would risk the wrath of his own cabinet by asking them to not just do as he said but actually did, and at the same time get Members of Parliament who had voted to raise their annual pay to $120,000 only months before, to agree to a 40% reduction, albeit reluctantly, deserves some credit.
Equally, the First Couple get brownie points for fulfilling their pledge to sponsor their country’s national football team, the Harambee Stars to watch the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil. Having heard and read about athletes who’ve been forced to pull out of tournaments and championships due to lack of funding to cover travel and accommodation, while others even failed to secure the right kits, Margaret and Uhuru Kenyatta did good there.
East African credentials
I also like how he’s pushing the East African integration agenda. Whether that’s down to him being the current EAC chairman is not the point. There have been a few snags, mostly bureaucratic, and we have a long way to go before achieving anything close to what the United States or European Union have, but East African who cherish a common market should celebrate the progress thus far: There’s the ease of travel, now that National IDs can be used as travel documents within the East African Community (EAC). Too bad Ugandans can’t take advantage of this as yet since over 40 million of them just completed the registration process, with the first batch of IDs expected by 2015, but I’m told Rwandans and Kenyans have been using theirs for months now.
The East African Railway project is also, finally, on track and will see the rejuvenation of existing railways in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, with plans to eventually extend the network to Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.
The Standard gauge Mombasa-Bujumbura line was launched last November. May 2014 saw the sign-off on the funding by the governments of Kenya and China for the Mombasa-Nairobi section. And last month, Uganda awarded the Malaba-Kampala line construction contract to China Harbour Engineering Company.
This is good news for everyone who’s had to endure long and costly bus journeys across borders because, in three years’ time, we’ll have passenger and freight trains travelling at top speeds of 120km/h and 80km/h respectively. Fares are also expected to drop drastically, so I’m really excited.
The other impressive Uhuru move has to be the Kenyan president’s effort to rid government agencies of ghost workers by adopting a Biometric Registry, which will require civil servants to physically present themselves at identification centres. Let’s see how many ghosts can turn up with original ID cards, academic and professional certificates and a unique set of prints.