As President Kenyatta lands in China with opposition chief Raila Odinga, begging bowl in hand for final phase of the new railway line, he will be acutely aware of the ‘damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t’ axiom.
If he fails to secure the money, he will be mercilessly pilloried for yet another example of his lengthy string of failed projects and unfulfilled promises.
But if the Chinese look kindly on his request, naysayers will have more zeroes to add to the tale of reckless borrowing, profligate spending and the debt burden.
Whatever the outcome, the narrative largely will not be about failures and missteps of the Kenya Government or the Jubilee Party administration, but about Uhuru Kenyatta.
A scan of both mainstream media headlines and social media chatter on the issues that have infuriated Kenyans in recent days — roll-out of the Huduma Namba registration and contributions for the new affordable housing scheme — reveals that the discussion is not about contested government projects, but about ‘Uhuru’s Huduma Namba’ or ‘Uhuru’s Housing Tax’.
Being associated with success is one thing, but the President is now in the unenviable position of being too closely and personally linked with projects generating too many negatives.
Without looking into the merits or demerits of the initiatives that now hang like the albatross over his shoulders, President Kenyatta is suffering from colossal failures of an inept and confused government communications system.
The fact is that promoters of the two aforesaid projects have completely failed to ‘sell’ them to the people that matter.
Huduma Namba and the affordable housing scheme may be well-intentioned, but they both came with a host of questions that have not been adequately answered, neither by State House, the line ministries or the implementing agencies. There are queries about costs, intentions, rationale, feasibility, processes and other basic issues for which no clear and concise answers have been given.
As long as the questions remain, lingering doubts will give rise to indifference, hostility and resistance.
This could lead to political consequences for those who sought to make political capital in the first place.
Hence the importance of the ‘Uhuru Projects’ narrative that has gained widespread currency in all public discourse.
In newspaper and television news reports, as well as debate on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram and the general blogosphere, the focus is specific to Uhuru’s unpopular projects.
Ditto conversations at market stalls, beauty salons, bars, street corners, nightclubs, churches, barber shops, park benches, chama groups, health clubs, miraa dens, massage parlours and wherever else Kenyans gather for weighty intellectual intercourse on topical issues of the day.
It’s all about President Kenyatta. But, conversely, not about his presumed partner-in-crime, Deputy President William Ruto.
Somehow, debate on the controversial projects, and anything else where the government is seen to have failed has taken a decidedly political turn that reflects the deep and increasingly bitter internal schisms.
The famous UhuRuto public displays of affection have faded from the scene as the rift widens, and the President shifts attention to a new bromance with Mr Odinga.
The Jubilee logo of the Uhuru-Ruto handshake seems to be giving way to the Uhuru-Raila handshake as the President seems to slowly sideline his deputy and embrace the opposition chief.
Yet far from being a negative, that development seems to be playing to Mr Ruto’s advantage. The more he’s shunted aside, the more effectively he can distance himself from the perceived failures of a party and government where he once claimed almost equal billing with the President.
Mr Ruto might be smiling broadly as President Kenyatta takes all the flak for the housing tax and every other failure or unpopular measure. He will break into a jig and shed tears of joy if blame for Jubilee failings extends to Mr Odinga, his bitter and expected chief rival for the 2022 presidential elections.
That will explain why on social media and on political platforms, the Ruto acolytes are gleefully joining the Uhuru-bashing hordes, almost as if their patron was not part of government.
It is also evident that while the Deputy President and his supporters keep their distance, Raila has transformed himself into the chief booster for the Uhuru projects, leaving the country without an effective watchdog on government excesses and failures.
We might as well go the whole hog. The DP should resign and take his place as leader of the opposition, leaving Raila to be elevated to President Kenyatta’s deputy and sharing responsibility for the Jubilee administration’s successes and failures.
[email protected]; @MachariaGaitho