State of the Nation Address Needs to Move Beyond Mere Rhetoric

Posted by on 11th April 2019

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Kenyans were treated to an underwhelming State of the Nation address after weeks of anticipation, even when the political environment has been rife with opportunity for President Uhuru Kenyatta to seal his legacy. The President kicked off his speech in a full-on self-praise session about his government.

He tooted his own trumpet on his government’s achievements, some of which were as old as 3 years. The irony of that didn’t escape Kenyans who have been told on countless occasions to forget the past and live in the present, whenever the subject of historical injustices comes up. The celebration of past milestones revealed how contradictory his speech was. On one hand, it painted a picture of a proactive government driving infrastructural development with the expansion of roads and house projects and on the other, he exposed the laxity to implement other projects such as the  Kes 10 billion fund meant to heal wounds of those affected by historical grievances even after he gave the directive in 2015.

The fund was just one among the many unmet promises by the Jubilee government which has seen the State of the Nation address become an annual formality. The food crisis isn’t entirely new to Kenyans. In the 2017 address, the President addressed the matter with the promise of making Kenya a food secure nation. Fast-forward to 2019 and we had deaths by drought that were being denied by the same government. President Uhuru’s opening remarks, “There will be no turning back in our quest in transforming the economy, no turning back on government reforms, no turning back on fighting enemies of Kenya…there will be no turning back on the war of corruption as it is a just war” were a resounding start. They signified a speech that was going to turn things upside down and give Kenyans the answers they had been seeking.

As the speech progressed, it became evident that those opening remarks weren’t going to be actioned as the President tiptoed on the issue of corruption. The usual blanket threats to those implicated in graft charges were bland and repetitive, something Kenyans on social media had foreseen happening prior to the address.

Back to the opening remarks again, when the president said there’ll be no turning back on fighting the enemies of Kenya, the interpretation of the statement wasn’t limited to foreign terror sects doing harm in Kenya. That statement spoke to the corrupt in this Kenya who harm Kenyans even worse than weapon-bearing terrorists. The corrupt are solely responsible for the economy not going forward. The corrupt have fostered an environment that inhibits the growth of many middle class Kenyans and enriches a few.

The corrupt are killing the healthcare sector in Kenya that is on its knees right now. The corrupt who have over time evaded the hand of law, continuously cause the failure of health institutions and led to deaths and irreversible harm by to Kenyans over negligence. The education sector hasn’t escaped the ugly effects of corruption. If all these funds that we lose to the corrupt everyday were used to expand the infrastructure and human resource capacity, then schools wouldn’t be strained currently.

The corrupt continue to destroy Kenyans’ lives. Angry public statements by the President are not enough. It is time for action. Those guilty should to be sacked and jailed. Funds lost to the corrupt need to be recovered. Truthfully speaking, the actual state of the nation is not pretty, it is a ticking time-bomb made of frustrated Kenyans who make an honest living only for their taxes to fund crooked people. There can be no government reforms if we condone corruption. There can be no development if funds find their way to a few pockets and leave out starving Kenyans. There can be no development if we don’t uphold the Rule of Law and have gender-balanced representation in Parliament. There can be no national security if corruption is allowed to cause these gaping holes that give terrorists a leeway to harm us.

In conclusion, it is worth noting that the opposition or lack there-of didn’t go unnoticed. What we’re witnessing in Kenya is a line-up of cheerleaders under the guise of opposition who are now singing in the same tune as government. The former Prime Minister Raila Odinga was in full support of the President’s address. Yet this speech is similar to the 2017 address, one that Mr Odinga vocally called out as a PR stunt. Are his sentiments genuine or is this just a matter that is dependent on where one sits on the food chain?