A rocky start for President Kenyatta | Africa | DW | 17.07.2013
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A rocky start for President Kenyatta

Kenya's new head of state Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in 100 days ago. Many Kenyans placed great hopes in the new man. But his tenure has got off to a rocky start and protests are beginning to stir.

With his promises, Uhuru Kenyatta was no slouch. At the beginning of his five-year term, in June, he promised to give laptops to all primary school children. And in general, he doesn't skimp on the visions he has for the future of his country. His goal is to build a strong middle class society as the engine of the Kenyan economy. All Kenyans should be able to maintain a high standard of living.

Kenyatta did actually put one promise into practice immediately - screening for pregnant women is now done for free. Nevertheless, much of the population remains skeptical about such pledges.

Critics say so far there are no signs that the government plans to hire more doctors to meet the increasing demand. In addition, nurses in the country are demanding pay rises and threatening to strike.

Protestors angry at MPs' demanfds for higher pay carrying placards (Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya)

Kenyans are protesting MPs' demands for higher pay

Human rights activist Gacheke Gachihi says Kenyatta's promises of greater justice are mere rhetoric. "Nothing is really visible, everything is still the same." While parliamentarians in the capital Nairobi were demanding a wage increase, the Kenyan people were struggling to make ends meet, he said.

Strikes and mass protests

Although a parliamentary commission had actually suggested a reduction of salaries for parliamentarians, at the beginning of Kenyatta's legislature some MPs called for their monthly salaries to be increased to 7,500 euros ($9,800). This triggered massive protests in Nairobi. Demonstrators used pigs to protest outside the parliament building, symbolizing the MPs' greed.

In the end, the politicians had to lower their expectations and be content with some 4,700 euros plus allowances. They agreed not least because the president was not on their side. However the decision in this case does not lie with him.

Where the government wants to save and where it plans to invest is a controversial issue especially inthe education sector. Since the end of June, teachers' strikes have been the order of the day. They are demanding a salary increase that has been outstanding for years and more staff for the schools.

In their opinion, the half a billion euros with which President Kenyatta plans to buy laptops for primary schools, is not being spent on pupils' real needs.

"The laptop promise will be difficult to implement," said Peter Oesterdiekhoff, head of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Nairobi, in a reference to the government's cash problems.

A cabinet of technocrats

A teacher standing near a blackboard. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

Teachers criticize Kenyatta's promise to provide all primary school children with laptops

Kenyatta deserves some praise for the composition of his cabinet. He introduced a young cabinet, which consists almost exclusively of technocrats and not politicians. According to Clara Momanyi of the Catholic University of East Africa in Nairobi, this strategy has been welcomed by many Kenyans. "These are people who know their jobs," is the general view, she said.

Momanyi urged Kenyans to be more patient in assessing the new president's progress. "We should give him the opportunity to redeem his campaign's promises and not deliver judgments only after one hundred days."

In the international arena, President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto still face charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. They have been accused of orchestrating 2007 post election riots in 2007 and 2008.

The trials have been pushed back to September in The Hague after the ICC rejected a request by defense lawyers, supported by the African Union, to have the hearings moved to East Africa. Kenyatta had argued that the proceedings in The Hague were incompatible with his presidency. However, when he took office, he promised to cooperate fully with the ICC.

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