Slightly more than a year into his second and final term in office, President Uhuru Kenyatta seems to be betraying a hint of impatience on the goings-on in his administration as he races against time to secure his legacy.
On Thursday, the President once again publicly ridiculed his Cabinet secretaries (CSs) and those who had started early campaigns for the 2022 elections.
State House insiders, who spoke to the Sunday Nation in confidence, said the President is increasingly frustrated by the slow progress of projects with less than four years to the end of his term — but was determined to take on those he thought were responsible instead and was not ready to be portrayed as a lame-duck.
Apart from the slow pace of the Big Four agenda projects and his warnings on 2022 campaigns, the President is also said to be feeling that the war on corruption is losing steam with fingers pointed at the Judiciary.
Since late last year, the Head of State is increasingly displaying anger in public, often telling off those he feels do not support his agenda well enough and threatening to sack them.
His critics have however often pointed out his harsh words are rarely matched by action.
Nonetheless, such anger was again on display on Thursday when he addressed a crowd in Kitengela town on his way to Arusha, Tanzania, for the East African Community Heads of State Summit.
During his speech, he even uttered some words in his native Gikuyu language to what was largely a cosmopolitan audience as he harshly cautioned the CSs to resign if they are not comfortable with his leadership.
“During today’s Cabinet meeting, I reminded our CSs that there are many young Kenyans who are willing and ready to work if they felt they are not up to the task,” the President, who was accompanied by his deputy William Ruto, said,
He warned those choosing to politick rather than focusing on development.
A State House source explained that it was the President’s “robust stand” that had prompted his deputy to issue a statement disassociating himself with the 2022 campaigns.
Others like Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa are said to have earlier been warned to go slow on politics and concentrate on their dockets.
“You are going to see more of this. The President will not sit back and watch people sabotage his second-term agenda,” the source said.
The President’s attack on his Cabinet on Thursday was not new.
On a number of occasions last year he was forced to publicly rebuke Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri over the scandal in the maize purchase programme at the National Cereals and Produce Board where nearly Sh7 billion was lost through unscrupulous individuals.
But economist and policy analyst David Ndii attributed the Presidents’ recent outbursts to a personality trait, a sluggish economy and the 2022 succession dilemma.
“The President is feeling more of a lame-duck than he thought he would be,” said Dr Ndii, who was in ODM leader Raila Odinga’s think-tank in the 2017 presidential campaigns. “It’s inevitable in politics, but perhaps he wasn’t prepared for it.”
Dr Ndii notes that unlike his predecessor, Mwai Kibaki, who was prepared to retire, President Kenyatta is trying to manage his exit “and the tantrums seem to suggest it is not working that well.”
“He is shouting at his ministers who are not toeing the line and this is linked to the fact that the “lame-duck phase” set in early,” he says.
He adds: “He seems to have an imperial, even monarchical mien in his life complete with palace corps who kowtow to him. This is not concomitant with the rough and tumble of politics.”
After being sworn-in for a second term in November 2017, the President unveiled four key agenda he will concentrate on and which he hopes he will be remembered for long after he leaves the House on the Hill: the provision of affordable housing, provision of universal healthcare, development of the manufacturing sector and, finally, ensuring food security for all.
He called them his Big Four agenda and much of the government resources and energies have been expended to have them delivered in the shortest time possible, and without being coloured by the stain of corruption which plighted many government projects during his first term.
And this perhaps explains why the President seems to be on the edge nowadays at the snails-pace at which the projects seem to be coming up.
This point was driven home vividly by Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria whose tweet on Friday evening about the pace of delivery of the housing project alone was a stark reminder of how far the Big Four agenda was from realisation.
“We have 42 months left in the current term of the Jubilee government,” said Mr Kuria, who caused a storm early in the year when he accused President Kenyatta’s government of neglecting his Central Kenya backyard in development.
“To build 500,000 houses within the 42 months left, we need to build 11,905 houses per month from today going forward.
“That means 397 houses per day (including weekends). This weekend alone we should build 1,000 houses. Every hour we should build 16 houses,” he said.
The government’s strategies for raising Sh57 billion a year for the construction houses in five years has been dealt a major blow after the high court suspended the 1.5 percent levy that targets both employer and employee.
Dr Ndii could not be drawn into discussing pros and cons of the President’s Big Four agenda and its implementation, but said he was not surprised that the project has not picked up.
“The economy is not doing well. He had hoped that the so-called infrastructure-driven growth strategy would deliver some margins. But it hasn’t because the policy capability of his government is very poor,” he said.
With just three years to the end of his presidency, the universal healthcare is still at piloting stage covering just four counties out of the 47.
Meanwhile the push for securing food security by 2022 has been overshadowed by corruption in the maize sector, and the Galana Kulalu irrigation project has failed to deliver.
Mr Kenyatta has invited all Kenyans to help him end corruption, which he said is a national disaster.
Muranga Senator Irungu Kang’ata rejected the insinuation that President Kenyatta is exhibiting anger in his public addresses.
“The President is acting with the realisation that he must cultivate a positive legacy before he exits from power by 2022,” said Mr Kang’ata, adding “Even in private conversations he talks strongly about corruption.”
Political analyst Martin Andati sees the President’s tough talk as a way of asserting his authority.
“The implementation of his agenda is not moving as fast as he would wish and this gives him a reason to be angry,” he said.
Mr Andati said that continued 2022 succession politics has only worsened the situation for him as he increasingly feels he is being written off from national politics too early.
“Even though he was ridiculed, Daniel arap Moi will be remembered for leaving behind a united country. Mwai Kibaki is remembered for the infrastructure projects. What will President Kenyatta be remembered for?” Mr Andati posed.
Nominated MP Maina Kamanda claimed Dr Ruto’s 2022 campaigns have distracted the President and frustrated the implementation of the four agenda.
“The inauguration of ‘fake’ projects gave the government a bad name, forcing the President to intervene by appointing Dr Fred Matiang’i (Interior CS) to coordinate their implementation,” he said.
Mr Barasa Nyukuri, a Nairobi-based governance expert, says the new forceful images the President has cut since winning his second term arises from the fact that he is not bound by the power-sharing agreement with his deputy as it were in his first term.