Ruto's development tours: Early campaign or political makeover?

President's diary shows that in the last three months he has visited more than 20 counties.

In Summary
  • Critics say it’s a blatant case of premature campaigning, focusing more on opposition areas.

  • State House and allies say the President is doing his job, engaging with people, getting feedback and inspecting promised projects.

President William Ruto during a past event.
President William Ruto during a past event.
Image: PCS

In a calculated move that has sparked intense speculation, President William Ruto has embarked on a series of extensive development tours across the country.

Coming only one and a half years since he took power, many are now questioning whether this is a sincere effort to deliver on his pledges and reshape his political image, or a strategic manoeuvre in preparation for the 2027 general election, or both.

Ruto's tours are seen as a vital component of his strategy to rebuild public trust and reassure Kenyans facing challenges such as the soaring cost of living and the weighty taxation burden imposed by his administration.

A look at the President's diary shows that in the last three months, he has visited more than 20 counties.

They include Bungoma, Trans Nzoia, Busia, Uasin Gishu, Baringo, Nandi, Meru, Kakamega, Homa Bay, Kirinyaga, Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Lamu, Tana River, Nyandarua and Nakuru.

His latest tour was in Trans Nzoia and Bungoma in Western for a series of development activities.

The tour to constituencies in Bungoma came only five months since his last visit to the county.

Critics argue these endeavours, while ostensibly focused on development initiatives, also serve as tactical early campaigning to consolidate support across the country. Two birds with one stone.

Ruto's administration has faced considerable backlash for its economic policies including the imposition of heavy taxes, which has contributed to financial strain for many Kenyans.

Opposition leaders have repeatedly accused Ruto of frustrating poor Kenyans with taxes and that taxation is not a solution to the development needs of Kenyans.

Azimio leader Raila Odinga said Kenyans are already overwhelmed by the high cost of living, yet the Kenya Kwanza administration keeps imposing taxes on them.

He said many families can no longer meet their daily needs due to increased taxation of basic commodities.

"The government officials are worsening the cost of living because they have no idea how to make it better," he said.

Raila said, “They are hoping that increasing taxes will solve the problem of liquidity . . . but you are taxing the same pool! You are taxing yourself who is already poor. Imposing too many taxes on the people will lead to tax evasion, thus less collection."

The development tours are, in part, also seen as an attempt to address the public dissatisfaction resulting from these policies and position Ruto as a leader actively engaged in remedying the nation’s economic woes.

As the head of state criss-crosses the country, engaging with communities and commissioning development projects, the timing of these efforts raises eyebrows.

Political analysts are divided on the true nature of Ruto's intentions.

The President's team and close allies emphasise the development aspects of the tours, job creation and infrastructure improvement.

Statehouse spokesman Hussein Mohamed told the Star the President's approach revolves around direct engagement with citizens.

He says if anything the presidency has been decentralised, with visits to various regions, meetings with local leaders, and even holding Cabinet meetings outside the capital, an historical first for Kenya.

"This approach reflects a bottom-up strategy, reinforcing the commitment to engage the people as he did before he was elected. Those with a skewed view of leadership should become accustomed to this new style, as it is not about to stop," Hussein said.

"In fact, brace yourselves for more engagement with the people. As he normally says, ‘Hao ndio wadosi wake,’ he means that," he stated.

Hussein said it is disheartening that a few people would perceive this as mere campaigning.

The president, he pointed out, launches and inspects programmes and projects under the Bottom Up Economic Transformation Agenda. These include agriculture, MSME development and access to affordable credit through the Hustler Fund, affordable housing, UHC, and digital transformation. All these, he said, demonstrate President Ruto’s commitment to development.

"He remains dedicated to connecting with the people, gathering feedback on commitments made and their implementation from the same people," the spokesman said.

With the 2027 general election on the horizon, observers question whether these tours are planned at a time the Kenya Kwanza administration’s plans are mired in economic challenges and court cases].

The high cost of living, coupled with the financial burden of government's taxation policies, has fueled this public discontent.

Ruto's strategic move to immerse himself in grassroots development projects is perceived by some as an attempt to directly address these concerns, while others claim otherwise.

Mark Bichache said Ruto’s intensified tours leave no doubt that he is campaigning.

This, he argues, is evident from the regions he is focusing on and the promises he is making.

"Ruto is campaigning. The only difference in his campaigns is that he is not giving a clue to the public about his intentions. Whereas he is talking about his projects and taxes, it is not engaging with Kenyans simply because they have many problems they want solved," he said.

Nyeri Senator Wahome Wamatinga has defended President Ruto, saying there is no way he can deliver without going to development areas, observing that most of those projects are in the counties.

He said what Ruto is doing is within his mandate and what he is constitutionally supposed to do to deliver on The Plan.

"There is nothing wrong with the president going to inspect and most importantly to monitor their progress of projects and explain to the people what he is doing," Wahome told the Star in an interview.

The tours are also in line with the public participation envisaged in the Constitution, he said.

"To some people, the president is even overworking but it is the only way to fulfill his mandate. If you look at what he has covered in the last one and half years he has been able to cover more areas than his predecessors combined," Wahome said.

Responding to claims the President is focusing much more on some regions, such as opposition grounds with a view to 2027. Wahome was quick to dismiss the observation as baseless.

"We must not look at this in terms of local tours alone, the President has even made the most international tours and this cannot be viewed as a political campaign. He is not eyeing a political seat internationally. He is basically trying to resuscitate our economy and bring investors to our country," he said.

The Kenyan populace, grappling with the repercussions of economic policies enacted by Ruto's administration, are keenly watching the President's every move to see if their lives improve.

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star