What the 5th regime must do to deliver ‘real freedom’ to all

As expected, President William Ruto’s inauguration was powerfully coordinated, attended by thousands and watched by millions.

Not losing an hour of his presidency, his inaugural speech got down to business in one of the most executive first speeches a Kenyan president has ever made. What are the immediate platforms and pitfalls facing this young fifth administration? 

That the fifth administration faces major expectations was evident in who attended and stayed away. Sixty thousand people including 20 heads of states, leaders of parliament, judiciary, Jubilee administration, county governments and assemblies, independent offices and constitutional commissions watched both President and Deputy President swear allegiance to the Constitution.

Ending days of speculation, outgoing President Kenyatta’s presence elevated the ceremony. It also solidly retained Kenya’s status as a democracy that may stumble but whose democratic foundations are firm.  

The inauguration effectively closes the file on the 2022 elections. We will have to wait to see whether the Supreme Court signals desperately needed electoral reforms to protect voters and the electoral commission from party intimidation, bribery and interference in future.

It is worth remembering that the 2 per cent vote difference between Ruto and Raila Odinga was also what separated Kibaki and Odinga in 2007. Over 1,300 men, women and children were killed and 500,000 displaced in the post-election violence of 2008.

Less than 15 people died in directly related electoral violence this time. It is clear the tireless work by the security agencies, human rights, fact-checking and peace civic organisations and the hashtag #TusiBleedNdioWaLead worked this time.

The absence of Raila, Martha Karua and other Azimio la Umoja leaders signals President Ruto’s first hurdle. His strategists must devise ways to win their trust, Azimio’s 6 million supporters and the 12 million who did not vote.

If the Deputy President continues the attacks on the previous administration and the National Police Service, this will be considerably harder.  

The same goes for Kenya Kwanza loyalists calling for ousting of four electoral commissioners and disciplinary action against the Deputy CEO and other staff who acted with them. There is a difference between holding state officers accountable and an incumbent administration purging and then appointing loyalist officers. The latter is a clear abuse of chapter 15 of the Constitution. 

May the administration always remember Bishop Mark Kariuki’s wise advice to avoid vengeance and rule like Moses. Senator Okiya Omtata made a perceptive observation that Ruto publicly held up the sword instead of the Constitution at the ceremony. Can we also remind the administration that it is the Constitution and not the sword that characterises leaderful Statecraft. Matthew 26 quotes Jesus Christ on this, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

For once, I appreciated the boldness and clarity of the President’s first speech. We can welcome the appointment of the six Court of Appeal judges, an independent Police budget, increased funding for 100 small claims courts and a declaration that national government administration officers will never be weaponised against political opponents.

We will have to wait and see if the administration’s implementation of IMF advice to scrap subsidies and investment in production will bring prosperity or further ruin to the nation’s hustlers. The cost of living for us all is the first of several landmines the fifth administration must deactivate and disarm. We must support them in this.

Ruto’s administration must also guard against the most nuclear of landmines. Corruption and impunity exploded the best of Jubilee’s ambitions. Sh58 billion was stolen in 120 scandals according to Wizileaks, three times the third administration of Mwai Kibaki.

We must hold the President accountable to his own pledge not to interfere with the investigation and prosecution of thieves and only appoint Kenyans who are a match for chapter six to his cabinet.

Only eternal vigilance by his administration and citizens will ensure the freedom he promised Kenyans, comes.

First published in The Standard on 17th September 2022. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard.

Irũngũ Houghton is Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director and writes in his personal capacity. Email: [email protected]