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As he leads his second Mashujaa Day celebrations in Kericho town today after marking one year in office last month, President William Ruto is facing a tough balancing act.

The celebrations come at a time when the country is facing major challenges including corruption, a high national debt, rising prices of basic commodities, the increased fuel and electricity prices, and weakening of the local currency.

And the impact of global crises such as rising inflation and decreased food production attributed to climate change, has exacerbated the economic difficulties for Kenyans.

Additionally, new tax measures introduced via the Finance Act, 2023 including the housing development levy that is charged at 1.5 per cent of gross salaries and matched by employers, means employed Kenyans have much lower spending power.

Determined to signal that he is a hands-on leader driven by the desire to serve Kenyans, Dr Ruto was elected on a platform of change and a promise of making lives easier for the common man. His Kenya Kwanza government, however, appears to have to backtracked on some of its pre-election pledges, particularly on the promise to reduce the cost of living.

Another pain point for Kenyans has been the national debt, with the government spending an equivalent of two-thirds of tax revenues to service mounting obligations to domestic and external creditors in the first quarter of this financial year according to data from the National Treasury.

The debts include the Eurobond, Chinese loans and syndicated commercial loans whose aggressive interest rate hikes continue to weigh down on Kenyans already bogged down by increased taxes.

Dr Ruto has been on record reassuring the nation that government borrowing is not going out of hand. These issues are expected to feature prominently in the President’s speech today.

On Universal Health Coverage (UHC), which is the theme of this year’s celebrations, Dr Ruto yesterday assented to four health bills, paving the way for his administration to roll out key projects in the sector.

He signed into law the Social Health Insurance Bill, Primary Health Care Bill, Digital Health Bill and Facility Improvement Financing Bill. On Wednesday, Head of Public Service Felix Koskei said corruption was deeply entrenched in the health sector, with the government seeking to turn the tide under the Afya Nyumbani Programme.

The Council of Governors, Ministry of Health and trade unions in the health sector have signed a raft of agreements especially on issues affecting human resources to curb labour unrest.

The bills pave the way for scrapping of National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) and establishment of National Social Health Insurance Fund (NSHIF).

Mr Koskei presided over the signing of a commitment dubbed “Kapkatet Declaration” by the National Dialogue on Human Resources for Health bringing together the Council of Governors, the Ministry of Health, Kenya Health Human Resource Advisory Council. The aim was to establish resolutions to improve service delivery.

By yesterday, it was not clear whether Opposition leader Raila Odinga would attend the national celebrations. Mr Odinga has consistently criticised Dr Ruto’s administration over the high cost of living and other ills.

Of late, however, there has been a closing of ranks by the two leaders, particularly on the selection of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) commissioners as well as the creation of the offices of the Prime Cabinet Secretary and Leader of the Official Opposition following a deal struck at the National Dialogue Committee.

The celebrations come to Kericho County amid a dramatic falling out between Governor Erick Mutai and his deputy Fred Kirui. Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua had earlier this month helped broker a truce.

“Peace and unity are a prerequisite for any meaningful development to be released nationally and in the counties,” Mr Gachagua said. It, however, remains to be seen whether the unity deal will last past today’s celebrations.

Mr Kirui has accused Governor Mutai of going back on a pre-election pact including on key appointments in the county government, creating a rift between the two leaders.

Angola President Joao Lourenco will be one of the chief guests.

Angolan Ambassador to Kenya Sianga Abilio, who is also his country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Nairobi, toured Kericho ahead of the celebrations.

“President Lourenco will be in Kenya for the Mashujaa Day celebrations on the invitation of President William Ruto in what demonstrates the close relationship between the two countries,” Mr Abilio said.

Speaking after holding consultations with Governor Mutai, the ambassador stressed the need to enhance trade ties between Kenya and Angola.

“In Angola, we consume Kenya tea that has been blended, packaged and branded elsewhere, while it is possible to do all that in Kenya and sell directly to us. It is an area we need to have conversations on,” Mr Abilio said.

He said the same process should apply to the coffee sector with high quality berries that are popular globally being produced in Kenya. Mr Abilio said: “There are a lot of opportunities that Angola can learn from Kenya and which we are willing to partner in.”

Dr Mutai said there was a need to raise the volumes of Kenyan tea that is sold to Angola as part of the trade engagements in the region. He said Kericho County was a major producer of tea and was emerging as one of the key sources of coffee in the country.

Rift valley Regional Commissioner Dr Abdi Hassan said 2.6 million farmers have been enlisted for government subsidies in the agricultural sector.

“The government has allocated Sh4 billion to buy maize from farmers while expanded drying facilities will be available at the National Cereals and Produce Board,” Dr Hassan said.

He said that under the Hustler Fund, 3.9 million small and medium-sized businesses have received Sh8.3 billion in Rift Valley region.

Dr Hassan stated that 28,736 community health promoters have been recruited with 700 actively involved in Mashujaa Day celebrations, while the National Hospital Insurance Fund has registered additional 379, 237 people.

“Over 362,857 women have been registered under Linda Mama Programme maternity services and recorded 248,510 safe deliveries,” Dr Hassan said.

—Courtesy of NMG 

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