Investment, investment, investment: Empty promises of Kenyan presidential race

Last Monday Kenya hosted its first ever presidential debate. Whatever the problem, more investment was the answer

by Jesper Carlsen Cullen on 18 February 2013 10:12

Last Monday Kenya hosted its first ever presidential debate in which eight candidates were questioned on topics ranging from healthcare to ethnicity. Each claimed to have the solution to Kenya’s problems, yet few details of these solutions were given. Instead, after the three hour long debate, viewers were left none the wiser and struggling to differentiate between the policies of the candidates.

A recurring theme in the answers given by the candidates was investment. Whatever the problem, more investment was the answer.

In response to a question on security one candidate, Peter Kenneth, said “I will invest in security”, whilst another, Musalia Mudavadi, explained that “we must invest appropriately in our security agencies”. A third candidate, Martha Karua, went much further stating that she would “invest, not just in security, but in the root causes”. When asked to give more details on their investment policies, the candidates explained that in the past there had not been enough investment. They would change this.

The current Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, told the millions of people following the debate on TVs and radios across Kenya that he would also invest in healthcare, governance and education. He explained that there is a shortage of teachers and this would be solved by simply hiring more.

Briefly it seemed as though this uniform policy of spending more money was being challenged. Peter Kenneth disagreed that there was a shortage of teachers in the country. “There are some areas that have more teachers and there are others that are lacking in teachers” he explained. The solution was, therefore, not to hire more teachers, but to relocate them. But any hopes that he would not come with fanciful promises of vast bundles of money were soon dashed when Kenneth appealed to his fellow candidates to “agree to invest in our education system”.

As the debate progressed, this list of expensive promises got longer. Build infrastructure, implement a comprehensive national health insurance scheme, offer free education all the way to university, provide electronic tagging for all livestock, purchase fleets of new patrol cars for the police. Rarely were the promises of one candidate challenged by another. Instead the candidates kept piling promise on top of promise.

When asked by the moderators how all this investment will be funded, the candidates responded, again in almost perfect unison, that they would simply reduce wasteful spending. “Thirty billion shillings is wasted in government” Odinga claimed. His closest rival, Uhuru Kenyatta, was in complete agreement. “I do believe there is a lot of waste in government today…We will try various measures to curb that excessive spending” promised Kenyatta.

Exactly what these “various measures” are was not made clear. Nor did the candidates tell whether throwing money at problems, rather than forming proper policies, would be considered wasteful spending.

Regardless, even if wasteful government expenditure is reduced, fulfilling these promises will be difficult. With a budgetary deficit of around 7 percent of GDP for the fiscal year 2011/12, Kenya’s government is already struggling to pay its bills.

Despite the strong rhetoric out on the campaign trail, when it comes to policies there is little to distinguish the candidates from one another. Each has grand plans for investment, backed up by the idea that enough money will solve any problem. With little else to go on, voters will once again have to make their decision on the basis of personality or tribe.

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