Kenya: How Ruto is reversing policies from Kenyatta’s tenure

By Son Gatitu

Posted on Friday, 27 January 2023 15:31, updated on Tuesday, 31 January 2023 09:05
Kenyan President William Ruto at the Palace of the Nation in Kinshasa on November 21, 2022. - (Photo by Arsene Mpiana / AFP)

Kenyan President William Ruto has accused his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, of conniving to subdivide thousands of acres in the coast region that was designated for large-scale government-driven food production.

A furious Ruto has subsequently scrapped the plan, one of his many decisions that aimed to reverse Kenyatta policies, which the incumbent president describes as “politically instigated”.

“I direct [that] the planned subdivision into settlement parcels is revoked/cancelled,” Ruto said on Twitter on 3 January after touring the Galana/Kulalu project at the border of Kilifi and Tana River counties.

Broken promises

During their campaigns for the 2013 elections, Kenyatta and Ruto (who were in the same camp at the time), promised to put at least 1 million acres of land under irrigation in the Galana-Kulalu project.

However, when they got to power, they ruled for 10 years without ever succeeding to roll out the project. “Galana[-Kulalu] did not fail, it was made to fail,” Ruto said during a media roundtable on 4 January at State House, Nairobi.

“Just to show that Galana/Kulalu was sabotaged, go to [the] ministry of lands, the fellows who sabotaged [it] had actually subdivided it into small parcels.”

This was a day after his visit to the said subdivision of nearly 300,000 acres. “I have cancelled the parcelling of that land, I have stopped it and it will not happen,” he said.

Do you know who was running the government of Kenya? […] Why are you asking the obvious?

“Because subdividing Galana into two [to] three acres is actually going to send people there who are going to require food relief to even live there.”

Pushed to reveal who sabotaged the project, Ruto said: “Do you know who was running the government of Kenya? […] Why are you asking the obvious?”

For years, the Kenyatta administration conducted trials on the project, setting aside 10,000 acres as a model farm. This was just part of the 1 million acre project.

It was meant to allocate 500,000 acres for maize production, 200,000 acres for sugarcane, and 150,000 acres for raising beef cattle. Horticulture, orchard, and dairy farming had been allotted 50,000 acres each.

Missed targets

The Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KiPPRA) reports that as of 2019, up to KSh15.3bn ($124m) had been invested by the Kenyan government in infrastructure projects.

KiPPRA reports that as of 2019, “the project only managed 119,000 bags of maize (90 kg) worth about KSh274m ($2.2m)”, against projected earnings of KSh1.2bn ($9.7m).

“Galana can feed 3 million to 4 million Kenyans, why do you want to settle 10,000 people? Even if you do [the] math[s] upside down, how do 4 million people compare with 10,000?” Ruto said on 4 January.

Had the subdivisions succeeded, over 245,000 acres of land would have been allocated to different small-scale holders and services.

A proposed land allocation plan seen by The Africa Report shows that 10,201 families would have been allocated 110,039 acres for crop production.

Over 4,000 acres would have been a residential/settlement zone accommodating 11,522 families. The remainder of the land would have comprised an urban area, wildlife conservation, horticultural farming, roads, and an airstrip.

“We are going to plant maize in the first 10,000 acres [by the beginning of February 2023], and we have the mechanisms to do it,” Ruto said.

Some of us wish William Ruto well, but his utterances and actions [are wanting]

“In another eight months we are going to do the next 10,000 acres. In the next two to three months, I will be in Galana to launch the construction of the dam that will make it possible for us to [irrigate] the next 300,000 acres.”

Ruto hopes to produce up to 10 million bags of maize from Galana to seal a gap in national maize supply that has forced the government to open a duty-free importation window between February and August this year.

Scrapping expensive subsidies

When Ruto scrapped consumption subsidies on fuel, maize flour, and electricity in September 2022, he argued that the price reductions had been informed by political expediency more than an economic intervention to address the deeper problems.

“It looks nice to talk about subsidies, but you have to interrogate, is it correct? It could be popular, but it’s not right,” Ruto said.

After he took over as president, the price of a litre of petrol shot up from KSh159 to KSh179. It later slowed down to KSh177.30 ($1.43).

Just before the August 2022 election, Kenyatta’s administration had subsidised a 2kg-packet of maize flour [popularly referred by its Swahili name, unga] to retail at KSh100 [$0.81] down from KSh230 [$1.86], the highest ever in Kenya.

The decision to subsidise these things was not an economic decision, it was a political decision

“They [Kenyans] looked for this unga of KSh100, they did not find it,” Ruto said. “They waited for prices of things to come down, they did not because it was a political decision.” The subsidy was however removed in August with the price now at an average of KSh195 [$1.57].

“It was costing us KSh16bn every month to subsidise fuel, […] KSh3bn to subsidise electricity, KSh8bn to subsidise unga a total of KSh27bn every month,” said Ruto. “The decision to subsidise these things was not an economic decision, it was a political decision.”

According to the president, subsidies would have increased the country’s debt burden, which is currently approaching a parliamentary ceiling of KSh10trn.

“It was projected we would borrow up to KSh1trn [but] with austerity measures, we only borrowed KSh250bn,” Belgut MP Nelson Koech tells The Africa Report.

However, Richard Onyonka, a senator from Kisii County, says the president’s sentiments have been rather been off-putting.

“Some of us wish William Ruto well, but his utterances and actions [are wanting],” he says. “Look at [Rigathi] Gachagua [the deputy president], there are certain things he says that are not significant, but there are other [comments] he [makes], which are significant […], that threaten the nationhood of Kenya.”

Politicised justice sector?

Since assuming office, more than half a dozen high-profile corruption and criminal cases against Ruto’s allies have been dropped.

DP Gachagua, who had for 15 months been accosted with allegations of embezzling public funds of up to Kh7.5bn, became the major highlight of newfound freedom in November 2022.

This has been followed by successive withdrawal of cases by the country’s director of public prosecutions, Noordin Haji.

Mary Wambui, a businesswoman based in Nairobi, is one of the recent beneficiaries of case withdrawals.

The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) had charged her with tax evasion of up to KSh2.2bn ($17.8m). The taxman applied to have the matter withdrawn on account of agreement to pay fines imposed.

Two months later, Wambui, who has since been appointed to the chairmanship of the Communications Authority of Kenya, was cleared of the KRA charges.

[What] if I told you that […] the DPP [Noordin Haji] had been asked to hand in his resignation if he [didn’t] prosecute this case and that case?

In November 2022, Ruto appointed businessman Anthony Mwaura to the influential position of KRA chairman. Mwaura had served Ruto’s party UDA, as its elections board chairman in the 2022 poll.

Ruto distances himself from allegations of influencing the fortunes of his allies, but claims that the Kenyatta administration pursued political vendetta against his allies in the run-up to the 2022 elections.

“There are things I cannot speak [of] on national television, but [what] if I told you that […] the DPP [Noordin Haji] had been asked to hand in his resignation if he [didn’t] prosecute this case and that case?” Ruto said. “It was just an ugly situation.”

Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna is not convinced. “It is the responsibility of that office [DPP] to evaluate the evidence to satisfy itself if it can sustain a conviction before taking it to the court,” he tells The Africa Report. “The office of DPP is not a conveyor belt, you cannot be pressured by anyone.”

We got here because you get the opposition, which is supposed to hold [the] government to account, [got] into some illegal cohabitation …

Ruto blames his predecessor for impunity, backed by opposition leader Raila Odinga. “We got here because you get the opposition, which is supposed to hold [the] government to account, [got] into some illegal cohabitation or whatever it was called, in the name of unity. What unity?”

For Senator Onyonka, though, the contest is more political. “We need a country that is softer, that is able to accommodate everybody, [a] country that will make Kenyans feel that there is no vindictiveness against people who have lost elections […],” he says.

Silent treatment

Since leaving office, Kenyatta has never responded to his successor, nor has he publicly commented on the government’s performance.

He has, instead, been busy with regional peace initiatives, including peace talks for the Tigray region conflict in Ethiopia.

Kenyatta has also been buried in mediation talks between warring factions in the Democratic Republic of Congo conflict involving M23 rebels in the eastern part of the country.

Kenyatta is, by law, required to quit active politics by 13 February for him to continue enjoying a retirement package as a former president.

By the time he left office, Kenyatta was chairperson of the council of Azimio la Umoja, the coalition on whose ticket Raila Odinga sought the presidency. He was also the leader of the Jubilee Party, which lost several seats in its Mt. Kenya strongholds to Ruto’s UDA.

Gachagua has been on a campaign to consolidate Mt. Kenya, in a move seen as intended to wipe out Kenyatta’s influence going forward.

“I am only looking for unity in the Mt. Kenya community and the people of Kenya,” Gachagua said on 8 January. “My work is to support the president.”

Kenya’s economy

For now, Ruto has spelt out his priorities:

  • to bring down the cost of living,
  • reduce reliance on public borrowing to finance government programmes in favour of local tax revenues and
  • enhance internal security while playing a crucial role in regional peace and security.

Ruto has already visited the majority of the countries in the region: Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, DR Congo, South Sudan and Eritrea.

He has also held talks with regional heads of state, most of which have been talks on mutual security and economic interests.

“If this region is unstable, the biggest hit will be on our economy. We need to pacify this region so that the East African Community can become a real market for our products,” said Ruto.

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