The bottom-up economic model which is Deputy President William Ruto’s campaign mantra in the quest for Presidency is not alien to Kenyans. The wording may not be the same, but the concept has been there in the past.
All Presidential candidates world over are gauged by voters on how they intend to bolster their country’s challenges especially on issues related to economic growth. This is the surest way to hold a leader accountable when they take office.
Despite eliciting a lot of criticisms and praise from Ruto’s opponents and admirers, the bottom-up economic concept, if looked at keenly, is not bad for Kenya.
During the reign of the late President Daniel Arap Moi, we had the District Focus for Rural Development (DFRD), and the informal micro enterprise popularly known as the Jua kali subsector. The two Nyayo era economic initiatives focused on the creation of income generating opportunities and training mostly for young Kenyans on the low ebb of the socioeconomic ladder.
Through training on trade fields like carpentry, masonry, dress making, and mechanics, the reign of the late President Moi catalysed the proliferation of Village polytechnics in the country in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The trend created a positive impact in rural areas by equipping youths who failed to pursue higher education with technical skills to participate in economic development.
Critics of DP Ruto should tell Kenyans whether they hate the name “bottom-up” or are merely critical of the concept since its attracting so many admirers, especially young people who are yearning for opportunity, direction and a clear economic avenue for growth and development.
Nevertheless, the bottom-up economic model has been misinterpreted merely because of politics. Supporters of Ruto see this concept as a viable tool to empower the lowly in society, and the sum total of all, is a boon to Kenya’s economy.
It's perfectly normal for a presidential candidate running for office in a developing country like Kenya to identify a radical economic approach which, if implemented will resuscitate the economy and spur the people’s standard of life. This is exactly what Ruto is doing.
As we stride towards the 2022 election, DP Ruto should press for the operationalization of the national youth council bill which came into force 12 years ago as a harbinger of youth participation in national development. This was a signature item to empower young Kenyans during the Kibaki Presidency. After all, it’s useless to have good laws which are never utilized for the greater good of society.
Another area DP Ruto should focus on, is how to empower Kenyans in the trajectory of climbing the academic ladder. University and College students should not just spend years in lecture halls, but rather keep applying their skills to build the country even as they also continue with their studies.
It must be remembered that the “Kazi kwa Vijana” was a great program. The program should be strengthened to ensure that unemployed Kenyans are engaged for casual jobs in government and in the private sector.
Our students in higher institutions of learning should be drafted to work directly with contractors especially on infrastructure development. There is no reason why third year civil engineering students in colleges cannot be fused with contractors to build our roads and bridges for pay.
The same should also apply to students studying Agriculture. They can serve as extension officers during college breaks to train our farmers on better farming methods also for pay.
Ruto’s economic agenda should not forget farmers who toil and moil to produce our food and other agricultural products for local consumption and for export. Food crop farmers should be provided with subsidized inputs like fertilizers, seeds, and herbicides. This will not only improve production but motivate farmers to venture more into farming.
While the economy of Kenya is in a sorry state to support a full-fledged welfare system, to strengthen the “hustler movement” philosophy, if DP Ruto wins the election, he should initiate a service to offer nutritional food rations to poor families especially those with infants.
It's noteworthy that the Older Persons Cash Transfer Program under the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection has tremendously improved the living standards of older folks in our society. This pilot project should be expanded to cover Kenya’s entire elderly population.
Since the bottom-up economic model is majorly intended to boost those in the low economic Substratum, DP Ruto should also approach his economic agenda for Kenya “holistically” by incorporating other macroeconomic indicators for a viable development model in the country.
The way the Asian tigers rose economically in the early 1960s is a lesson to many Sub-Saharan African countries like Kenya. The success stories of South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong economies are lessons to be harnessed for growth.
These countries laid a strong foundation on industrialization, information technology, research, manufacturing and developing the automotive industry which created jobs, balanced its foreign trade through imports and exports.
Kenya can borrow a leaf from these Asian giants to propel herself to a middle-income economy through an aggressive government mechanism focusing on research, industrialization, manufacturing, and technology. Encouragingly, Kenya has done well on infrastructure despite the risks of over-borrowing from China.
One of the Jubilee government’s biggest undoings is overborrowing. Ruto should strive to lay a strategic plan to cushion China’s aggressive economic influence in Kenya. If not, it will have far-reaching economic ramifications for the country. It has been discovered that China is primarily for self-economic enhancement which does not benefit Kenyans and Africa.
There are growing concerns from economists that over-borrowing has bloated the country’s public debt to a whopping Kshs. 4.884 trillion (USD$49 billion), which is an increase of 42.8% in over a decade. If nothing is done to scale down this, the bottom-up economic model by Ruto, which has resonated positively to low-income Kenyans will be a clobber. It will also sink the country into a “debt trap” which will affect even the unborn on repayments.
As the adage goes, the borrower is a slave to the lender! Due to the failure by Sri Lanka to service Chinese loans, the country was forced to give up its two ports to China. What will remain of Kenya if China claims the Port of Mombasa, Lamu or Jomo Kenyatta International airport, if overborrowing from the Asian giant is not curtailed?
The 2010 constitution may be progressive, but the crafters failed to adhere to this fundamental aspect: Ramifications of a bloated Legislature and its toll on the Exchequer. The huge wage bill isn’t something that can be wished away when national economic indicators reflect a downward trend. The controller of the budget has raised concerns a couple of times on how the country is being drained… Much is spent to pay salaries than on development.
Since DP Ruto opposed the current constitution, the best gift he should offer Kenyans if he takes office in 2022 is to pursue an aggressive step for a referendum in the country to restructure the size of our legislature. The Punguza Mizigo initiative of Dr. Ekuru Aukoti which floundered is a positive avenue to borrow from.
There is no reason why Kenya; a nation of less than 50 million people should have 358 Members of Parliament and 67 Senators. We either scrap the Senate or reduce the current constituencies by merging them.
It may sound aggressive but, the goodwill from the country’s top leadership will make it a doable venture to save the country from excessive public expenditure.
By Joseph Lister Nyaringo
Nyaringo is the President of Kenya Patriotic Movement, a diaspora lobby based in US