How issues in 2018 are bound to shape Kenya’s future politics and development

Sunday January 14 2018

Supporters of a politician demonstrate during the recent General Election.

Supporters of a politician demonstrate during the recent General Election. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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It is now widely recognised that in Kenya, elections begin immediately the results of one election are announced.

Politicians begin laying ground for another election immediately they know the winners and losers. In doing so, they make the first one year the foundation on which to plan their next contest. Indeed, the first year after election often witnesses the crumbling of political alliances and formation of new ones. Political allies usually fall out over failed promises. Others walk out to form new alliances hoping to win in the next presidential election. The new government also begins to roll out programmes to fulfil its electoral campaign promises. But the government does this also with an eye on the next election.

This is the context that will make 2018 an interesting year. Three different issues will shape the year. The three issues will also be seeking for attention by outcompeting each other.

First is President Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy to be built on what he has called the “Big Four” pillars. Second is his Deputy William Ruto’s quest to succeed him by running and winning in the 2022 elections. Third, is the opposition’s quest to remain united and relevant up-to 2022. Each of these will be affected by developments in how the others will be running.


The legacy pillars on their own are important social and economic development programmes. Affordable housing, affordable access to healthcare, and food security are everyday needs of ordinary people.

Rolling out of manufacturing activities is also an important economic activity particularly because it can lead to creation of jobs in urban and rural areas. Focusing on fish processing; value addition to primary cash crops, among others, are important interventions that creates not only jobs but results in increased incomes at the household level.

The Big Four, therefore, make good sense from a development policy point of view.  There is no debate about their relevance as important needs. The poor need housing; they need better shelter. The ordinary person also needs affordable healthcare and should be free from hunger. These are what defines a healthy society.

Achieving these policy goals within a period of five years is the main problem. It is a problem not because of the resources required to roll out these projects. It is a problem precisely because they are not insulated from politics and also because they are a mixture of medium and long term goals.


Let us take politics first. Health is a devolved function. Agriculture is also devolved. Simply put, these are county specific functions. This implies that a need to align some of the national priorities with the county priorities. While this is not a problem, there is a risk that some county governments will see things differently. Some will fail to give support. They will the initiation of the programmes. Cartels will also align with the projects. They will do so to make maximum gains from contracts and to simply enrich themselves.  Corruption will emerge as an obstacle to implementation if the past programmes are anything to go by. This will arrest the pace at which the projects will be implemented.

On the whole, the Big Four will require cultivating the interests of the county governments, including county assemblies, to buy into them. They are important to ordinary people but politicians see things differently. They see votes in projects. And if the projects appear as if they are not likely to deliver many votes, politicians quickly drop them for something else.

Food security has a unique problem. For many years now, successive governments in Kenya have linking food security to large-scale farming. The government holds large farms as a solution to hunger. These farms are not the solution. They are the problem. The solution lies in small holder farms. The practise of farming and comparison between production by small farms and large farms bears this out.


Small farmers’ improved production has immediate effect on family incomes. Large farms production – low in comparison to small holder farms – rarely leads to improvement of incomes of many. Such farms may contribute to growth but they deepen inequalities in several ways.

The point here is simple.  The food security will only be achieved if the Big Four focused on small holders, ordinary fish farmers and pastoralists. Seeking to intervene through large farms – and leasing of thousands of acres of farm land – will not have impact on hunger.

Finally achievement of the Big Four will depend on the nature of the political environment that obtains in the next five years. That environment will begin shaping in this 2018.  And given that the country is always in a political competitive mood, the achievement of the Big Four will depend on how the President will manages the evolving political conflicts. These conflicts have begun taking shape.

Succession and 2022 race

The race for the 2022 presidential election arguably began immediately after the conclusion of the last election. Deputy President William Ruto is one of the few people who have declared interest in running in 2022.

This observation is important in several senses. He is the only incumbent deputy with clear advantage of being in office. In the past Vice Presidents could not declare interest in the Presidency without losing trust of their boss. The 2010 Constitution provides a departure in this regard because it requires the President to identify a running mate as a deputy at the outset. They run for office as one. Deputy President William Ruto therefore will be running for office with a clear advantage of having served in the presidency. Some even argue that this is a ‘coalition’ government in which they have shared privileges of power.

The successes and failures of the government will certainly be identified also with him during the campaigns. For this reason, William Ruto may find it difficult running on the agenda of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy pillars.

Mr. Ruto will have to identify his key agenda items this early in 2018. He will have to do this simply because politicians in presidential campaigns do not run on basis of others’ successes or failures. They build their own. In this 2018, it is possible that Mr. Ruto will begin by building a network of political elites to create a winning alliance. He may end up building a broad coalition of elites, including those that do not support President Kenyatta. This on its own will begin generate tensions within their party and create new political divisions.

Issues that will shapes the year in this regard will include whom will Mr. Ruto identify as his running mate; and from which region – or tribe – will the running mate come from. It is possible therefore the Mr. Ruto will begin running a separate political course in order to service his 2022 interests ahead of others. How he does this will have impacts even on the opposition.

Will NASA remain unified?

It is quite usual for opposition alliances to begin splitting after losing an election. This is a common trend especially among political parties in Africa. The failure to win an election and form a government means there are no jobs for the boys and that there are no contracts for rents.

This often disillusions some of the key members. As a result, they begin shifting positions and committing very little to their party. In the end they form new alliances. Some of them even seek favours from colleagues in government. This results in weakening the party. The National Super Alliance (NASA) is not exempt from this trend. Indeed towards the end of 2017, a number of junior party leaders in different counties crossed over to Jubilee after losing in the August 8 elections. Although they are of no consequence, their departure is a clear sign that the opposition will continue experiencing internal stress.


Important also is that the three principals are yet to pronounce themselves on the 2022 presidential election. Who will run? Who will not run and why? Going by past trends, these will be key stressing questions for them and will make or break up the alliance.

More important is also whether the three principles are equally committed to remaining in the opposition or working with the government or working as individuals. It is not difficult to see that they are reading different pages of their book. All the same, one should worry about having a weak opposition. All democracies require a strong opposition – or a minority in our case - to check the excess of those in power as well as limit abuse of public resources. Strong and vocal minority will hold the government to account and to deliver development to all.

 Prof. Karuti Kanyinga is based at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), University of Nairobi; [email protected]