Kenya’s President William Ruto on Thursday defended his tough economic measures in his first State of the Nation address since coming to power last year, saying they were necessary to get the country back on track.
His speech lasted slightly over an hour and was packed with 5,863 words he hoped would calm a restless country by showing that he has been hard at work since he took over the reins of power.
There has been widespread anger among Kenyans over his government’s decision to remove food and fuel subsidies and implement a host of new taxes.
“The time has come, therefore, to retire the false comforts and illusionary benefits of wasteful expenditure and counterproductive subsidies on consumption by which we dug ourselves deeper into the hole of avoidable debt,” he said.
His speech came a day after the finance minister admitted that the country was in a difficult financial position.
Kenya faces a host of challenges, including depleted government coffers, skyrocketing inflation, and a plunging currency that has sent debt repayment costs soaring.
On the issue of Public borrowing, the president said it had long crowded out the productive sector from the financial markets, raising the cost of credit and slowing down trade and commerce.
“As I told Kenyans on my first day in office, times were difficult and many people are struggling and necessary and effective sustainable solutions were urgently needed. We must admit that as a country, we had been living large and way beyond our means,” he said.
Ruto said it was time for hard decisions. “The time has come, therefore, to retire the false comforts and illusory benefits of wasteful expenditure, and counterproductive subsidies on consumption by which we dug ourselves deeper into the hole of avoidable debt. The new direction may not be easy, but it is ethical, responsible, prudent and, most importantly, necessary. We have had to take hard decisions and make painful choices because we owe it to Kenyans to do the right thing and confront facts as they are without flinching or equivocating.”
The president also announced that Kenya will in December this year pay the first instalment of a $2 billion (Ksh.304B) Eurobond, in the sum of USD 300 million instalment (Ksh.45.6 billion).
The Hustler Fund was not going to miss out from this performance largely because it is one of the main things that propelled him into office.
“The public response to the Hustler Fund has exceeded most initial projections and surprised even the most hardened sceptics. By the end of last month, the Fund had disbursed Ksh.36.6 billion, with Ksh.2.3 billion in savings and 7.5 million repeat borrowers whose overall repayment rate is at an impressive 73 per cent. The top borrower of the fund has so far accessed a total Ksh4.5 million in 816 transactions, while the top voluntary saver is at KSh631,491,” he said.
His next song was obvious, affordable housing where President Ruto said he was delivering on his campaign promise of ensuring Kenyans live in dignity.
“Majority of Kenyans live in their own rural homes even though many experience land and settlement challenges, including landlessness, insecure land tenure and perennial squatter problems. Acute housing challenges are principally an urban phenomenon, and they present a serious threat to health and safety as well as dignity of people, particularly low-income earners. The proliferation of slums in our urban areas indicate the extent of this serious problem, and the urgency with which it must be addressed to enable Kenyans have greater choice in leading dignified, safe and healthy lives affordably,” he added.
On Education, Ruto touted the employment of 56,750 new teachers and retraining 8,200 primary school teachers for the Junior School level.
“With changes to the entry requirements for teacher training colleges, admission has increased by 300 per cent to 20,456 trainees,” told Parliament.
“Our education system must develop a formidable reservoir of skill, talent, highly competitive and innovative human capital to support our vision of economically transforming Kenya.”
He also was proud of the passing into law of the Universal Healthcare Bill that constitutes; the Primary Healthcare Act, the new Social Health Insurance Act, the Digital Health Act and the Facility Improvement Financing Act.
“These laws will usher in and guarantee a new era in the provision of healthcare, covering all essential services from preventive, promotive, curative, palliative and rehabilitative services, guaranteeing every Kenyan access to comprehensive and quality care,” said Ruto.
“On 13th September 2022, when I took office, I undertook to ensure the urgent transformation of our economy and to stop and reverse the negative trends of runaway unemployment, yawning inequality and widespread poverty which were denying Kenyans their dignity and extinguishing their dreams,” he said at the start of his speech.
“…despite enormous challenges and tremendous difficulties, we have made encouraging progress in a positive direction.”
The president went ahead to list some of his greatest hits – what he believes are the successes of his administration’s Bottom-up agenda.
His first hit was the issue of judicial and National Police Service reforms.
“I signed important instruments on my first day in office. Among them the delayed appointment of six judges to the Court of Appeal as recommended by the Judicial Service Commission, enhanced allocation to the Judiciary by KSh3 billion, designated the Inspector-General as the accounting officer of the National Police Service to enhance independence and subsequently appointed a taskforce, led by former Chief Justice David Maraga, to review the terms and conditions of service of members of the National Police Service,” the president said.
He also addressed the pressing issue of the high cost of living which he summarised as being caused by the issue of food security.
“The cost of living is not an abstract phenomenon. It is a Ksh.6,500 to Ksh.2,500 by all households, which can be addressed through practical action and effective measures. One of the most salient interventions in addressing the high cost of living is the strategy to support agricultural production throughout the sector’s range of food and cash crops as well as livestock value chains,” said Dr Ruto.
“I am committed to put the shame of hunger behind us once and for all. We rolled out a countrywide farmer registration and fertiliser subsidy programme that has made available 5.5 million bags to farmers across Kenya. We have progressively reduced the cost of fertiliser from KSh6,500 to KSh2,500, increased maize acreage under production by an extra 200,000 acres and enhanced maize production by an additional 18 million bags.”
He finished his hour-long speech by trying to rouse the country into a hopeful mood by saying “the state of our Nation at this moment in time is Prepared and Ready to Go.”
“As a leadership and as a people, we have a historic opportunity to preside over the greatest transformation and progress ever witnessed in the nation. Kenya is a nation of brave, hard-working, enterprising people who are determined to prevail in the struggle for economic freedom and win the race for prosperity. In a nation like ours, great deeds will be accomplished whenever and wherever opportunity exists. This is why the hard work we have done is already showing the promise of abundant fruit. We have laid a firm foundation for rapid development, and Kenya is no longer “on your marks,” he said at the end.