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Honeymoon is over: Why Ruto is getting hostile reception in his ‘strongholds’

In the wake of President William Ruto’s tour of Meru County in the Mount Kenya region last week, the area senator has lamented a scary incident in which the Kenyan leader’s car had a tyre burst after hitting a big pothole on a major highway, leaving people on his entourage concerned about his safety.

They would also have been worried about the reception the President got at a number of the public rallies he addressed during the three days in the county he considers part of his Mount Kenya political stronghold.

Ruto garnered about 80 percent of the votes in the county in the 2022 election on the back of an energetic campaign in which he cleverly deployed populist rhetoric to woo mostly young people to his United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party.


But last week, he struggled to get the crowds fired up about his government’s economic agenda in uncharacteristically laboured speeches often interrupted by booing youth.

Video footage circulated on social media showed the President, visibly worked up, giving the youth a tongue-lashing for heckling at his meeting.

While the booing mostly targeted local politicians, it gave a glimpse of the souring sentiment about the President and his administration in many of his political support bases.

The number of unemployed Kenyans has kept rising, with young people aged below 29 the hardest hit.

In one of his first major policy moves, the President, who campaigned on the platform of lifting millions of underprivileged people out of poverty, introduced a financial inclusion fund to provide micro loans to youth and other groups wishing to start businesses.

But the impact of the scheme, popular as the Hustler Fund, on employment remains exaggerated, with the central bank in the past reporting a higher default rate than that for commercial banks.

Ahead of his State of Nation Address in Parliament in November last year, a number of MPs attending a parliamentary group meeting for the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition were reported to have warned him about the negative perceptions of the government on the ground arising from the high cost of living.

The MPs reportedly cited cases where their constituents had openly displayed hostility towards them due to their association with unpopular government policies, including punitive taxes and withdrawal of fuel subsidies.

Cost of energy

Ruto is said to have rejected the legislators’ proposal for a review of taxes, telling them, “You cannot be popular all the time; there is a time to be unpopular.”

He pledged to stabilise the fuel prices, even as he sought to explain that the influence of global factors put the matter out his hands.

While there have been marginal decreases in the prices in the past two monthly reviews by the energy regulator, the cost of petrol and diesel remain quite high, having crossed the Ksh200 ($1.25) mark for the first time in history in September last year.

A similar decision by the Ruto administration to withdraw an electricity subsidy has saddled middle class households with huge bills, which have risen by about 70 percent in the past one year.

Salaried workers have meanwhile continued to bear the brunt of the President’s aggressive taxation policies, with the enforcement of a 2.75 percent social healthcare insurance tax on the gross monthly salary next set to push payslip deductions to more than 20 percent for people earning Ksh50,000 ($311.53) and above.

Source: The East African