In Kenya, a well-functioning economy is the pride of many, thanks to our inherited capitalism from the British colonialists. This is why money and wealth are the pursuits of almost every Kenyan.
President Kenyatta is not new to the economy of things. As the son of the first President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, he experienced money, wealth and power first hand. His university degree, at Amherst College in Massachusetts, United States, from 1981 to 1985, was economics and political science.
He served as the finance minister for Kenya from 2009 to 2011 and his family is amongst the richest in Kenya, in both physical and financial assets.
Now as the president, what have we learnt so far about his economic policies.
He believes in mega, visible projects
The Chinese often say that if a country wants to get rich, it should build roads first. President Kenyatta seems to have borrowed this heavily from the Chinese as seen in his love for mega transport projects. Among them is the ongoing massive roads construction across the country, the Standard Gauge Railway and the Lamu Port to mention a few.
Truth is that these mega projects will one day have an astounding impact on Kenya’s economy, in terms of easing the cost of transport and attracting export-focused industries into the interior of the country because of the easiness of getting the goods to port of departure. For now, however, the controversy over their cost has clouded appreciation of their future benefit.
He is yet to connect to the common citizen
One of the first distinctive achievements of the early years of the retired President Mwai Kibaki’s presidency was the drop in the cost of living and thriving of micro-businesses. People had money in their pockets. The interest rates on loans at one point went to around 5 percent making it easier for Kenyans to borrow loans. Kenya Revenue Authority met its revenue targets and this helped finance development and recurrent expenditure without heavy borrowing. Some of these gains were however washed away by the 2018-post election violence.
On the contrary, President Uhuru’s presidency has been marked by a high cost of living and initially high interest rates. The rate capping was done under his watch. Although he now wants to correct, it has taken a record three years, a time that many small-scale businesses have suffered as banks shied away from lending to the low risk small business and individuals, not in the formal employment.
What could have gone wrong as a result of capped interest rates has already gone wrong. Even if there is a change, many will start from zero.
Many businesses have closed or scaled down as a result. It is a fact that majority of Kenyans have less disposable income and this has reduced demand for goods and services. Business has slowed. The common man is suffering.
His strong anti-corruption drive is punctured by the judiciary
President Kenyatta gets credit for rolling out one of the best anti-corruption wars ever by a Kenyan president. However, most of the cases have stalled at the judiciary level. As a result, the anti-corruption drive has slowed too. Key lessons for Kenya here are the need to reform the judiciary to enable proper handling of economic crimes and the need to recruit a Chief Justice who is fearless and who will induce efficiency in the judicial process.
His influence over the family business
There have been three key developments in the businesses associated with President Kenyatta’s family. All positive. The question is whether these developments have benefitted directly from his political influence or are market-driven.
In 2014, French Dairy group Danone bought 40% of Brookside Dairy. Later, in 2017, the same company bought 100% stake in Brookside Dairy’s operations in Tanzania. The value of the deal was not disclosed but is estimated to be worth billions of shillings, considering that Brookside controls 40% of Kenya’s processed milk market or about Sh24 billion of its total value.
In 2018, the CBA Bank, controlled by the Kenyatta family and NIC Bank that is controlled by Moi-era central banker Phillip Ndwegwa. The deal has now been completed thrusting the new bank, NCBA Bank to be among the top ten biggest banks in Kenya.
The Kenyatta family has also started developing a mega residential city known as Northlands, located near Kenyatta University and the sprawling Kamikis Estate in Ruiru. The estimated Sh500 billion city on 11,800 acres of land is expected to benefit from an expanded bypass road that links Thika Road to Mombasa Road and clean water from the Northern Water Collector Tunnel in Murang’a.
He succeeded in repairing Kenya’s global image
The 2008 post-election violence was one of the lowest points for Kenya’s global reputation since the post-independence period. The charges on crimes against humanity that zeroed in on President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto further dented the image of the country, seen as a geopolitical leader in Eastern Africa and the Great Lakes region.
Since winning the case, the duo has undertaken massive international re-imaging of Kenya, helping to reposition it as a significant African partner in the league of South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt.
Significantly, there have been visits by top world leaders to Kenya and vice versa, growth of trade diplomacy which if harnessed, can benefit Kenyans a lot, the return of the Safari Rally and currently the campaign for a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.