One would be forgiven for assuming that President Uhuru Kenyatta is campaigning for office.
Within just a few days, he has officially opened the ‘rail line to nowhere’, the Nairobi-Naivasha phase of the standard gauge railway; launched the elevated expressway in Nairobi between Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Westlands before a single brick has been laid, and the Dongo Kundu Special Economic Zone in Mombasa.
He also found time to detour on a surprise visit to the Kisumu port construction on Lake Victoria and is expected to soon open the first berth of the Lamu port, which will, apparently, start operations as a ‘port to nowhere’ as long as road and rail links to the hinterland remain on paper.
So, why the sudden obsession with opening things? President Kenyatta is on his second and final term in office and has made it clear that he’s not thinking of extending his tenure — not even through the constitutional changes expected through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) that he has championed in concert with ‘former’ opposition leader Raila Odinga.
One must then wonder if he’s simply campaigning against Deputy President William Ruto, who has been traipsing the country on early 2022 presidential campaign jaunts under the guise of inspecting and launching development projects.
I’m not sure whether his deputy taking credit for government development projects should throw the President into fits of jealousy, so that he has to respond and reclaim the credit.
It’s more likely, therefore, that the President is still looking for ways and means to craft a legacy.
Completion of the most significant development projects in Kenya since the colonials built the Kenya-Uganda railway, the Kilindini harbour and the Mombasa-Nairobi-Kisumu highway would, indeed, leave the President a rich record.
However, it also smacks of desperation when, on the last leg of his presidency, he goes out to deliberately craft a legacy instead of letting a track record of achievements speak for themselves.
The trouble with legacy projects is that they come with temptation to ignore viability, cost, rationale and logic.
President Kenyatta’s ‘Big Four Agenda’ and the BBI might well be noble objectives.
One calls for accelerated development of specific economic and social development cornerstones, but gave little thought to financing, timelines, scale and how they would fit into the existing development programmes.
The other is an ambitious and visionary attempt at dealing with deep-seated political, ethnic, economic and social fault lines that have, since independence, caused friction and conflict.
The problem is that little thought was given to ‘selling’ BBI as a national prerogative towards sustainable peace, unity and a reborn Kenya.
It came to be seen as a Kenyatta-Odinga political deal ahead of the 2022 elections, which naturally drew the Deputy President’s hostility. It created new fault lines even as it papered over existing ones.
The Mashujaa Day celebrations in Mombasa in the midst of a looming economic meltdown provided an ideal opportunity for the President to lay out a clear road map for his remaining term and a sober appraisal of where he might eventually rank in Kenya’s list of heroes, mashujaa.
A boring long-winded speech, just like the other usual copy-and-paste enumeration of largely ghost achievements, showed that he has no realistic plans towards cementing his place in history.
The long-expected presentation of the BBI report did not happen — amid a furious propaganda barrage of false versions pushed by foes out to discredit the process in advance and talk of serious divisions within the task force.
President Kenyatta talked about everything other than the issues that most concern Kenyans.
He could have done well to indicate attempts at sanity in national financial planning rather than continuation of grandiose vanity projects.
The ballooning national debt and threat of economic depression is the legacy he would not wish for.
He could also have bitten the bullet and publicly conceded that the Nairobi-Naivasha phase of the new railway makes absolutely no sense.
With that admission can then follow a serious examination of how the project can be extended to the Uganda border.
The cost could, probably, be slashed substantially if it reverted to the existing railway wayleave, doing away with the corrupt and very expensive land acquisition.
It is time the President thought of simple fixes to the Jubilee government’s litany of missteps. With that, he might one day come to be remembered for moderate success rather than abject failure.
[email protected] @MachariaGaitho