The wheelbarrow debate: Ruto’s donation of wheelbarrows is highly commendable

Yesterday at his Karen home the Deputy President William Ruto organised a function in which he dished out goodies to youth and women. Part of those goods were wheelbarrows that an MC termed ‘cars’. To prove tht they were cars, the MC asked the Deputy President to ride in one of the wheelbarrows. “Hii ni magari ya ma hustlers, sindiyo?” the MC reterirated.

The handing over the wheelbarrows to some of the youths has elicited mixed reactions among Kenyans, with some championing the move as a number of others call it celebration of poverty. But lost in these debates is the fact that we tend to forget that we are still a third world country where majority of citizens must do manual jobs for the economy to function. It’s not like we’ll wake up tomorrow and find robots doing all the manual jobs across the country.

Secondly the blue and white collar jobs everyone wants the youth to be given are scarce, and usually filled up. In this country they are about 3 million such positions, positions that serve not only the youth, but people past the age of 35 too. The youth alone are said to be around 10 million people as of 2019, majority of whom need the 3 million white and blue collar positions. We all know 10 million people cannot be fitted in less than 3 million slots. The only way to ensure that the youths do not do manual labor is to transfer all manual labor to machines (e.g. robots), but you wouldn’t want that either.

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There are those that might find such an argument lacking, as they would reason that we can’t be a third world country forever. To them, Ruto handing over wheelbarrows is establishing a wheelbarrow economy as the norm, instead of pushing for policies that would expand our economy to become a developed one.

The foundation for the above objection to Ruto’s huslters’ philosophy is that there are always news of shortage of teachers, health workers and others everyday and yet we have a lot of unemployed undergraduates, jobless youths that should be given reasonable blue or white collar opportunities instead of them being handed wheelbarrows and mikokoteni.

Another angle of object is that even if handing the wheelbarrows to some of the youths who need the wheelbarrows is a good thing, Ruto himself doing the handing over is uncalled for. “Wheelbarrows are very much needed for manual jobs but coming from a whole Deputy President who has been in power for the past 8 years is not acceptable”, a friend complained.

These contentions to Ruto’s hustlers’ initiative reveal a number of things that include:

  1. Manual laborers. These people still need to be supported, and maybe they are the easiest to support. Today there is a young person waiting at the bus stage to carry someone’s luggage on his back. If this person is given a mkokoteni, he’ll highly appreciate.
  2. Jobless youths. These are the ones people are concerned about. They are the people politicians usually promise one million jobs per year. They are ones a properly functioning economy should benefit. We know we don’t have such an ideal economy.
  3. Shortage of revenue. This is closely related to second group. We have the vacancies that new nurses could fill, or any other shortage elsewhere. But as of today we know the Pumwani nurses had a go slow leading to the woman to give birth in the streets, and of yesterday the KNH nurses downed their tools due to delay in salary review. This implies that our revenues are not sufficient to sustain the few already in the job market, and adding more jobs to the job market will just work to dilute the available funds even further.
  4. And lastly on the issue whether or not the DP ought to have given out the wheelbarrows, given that there are youths who actually need those wheelbarrows, it is easy to see that that’s just political scheming.
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Looking at the above points it is easy to see that in as much as we want an economy where everybody meets their basic economic needs, there are those who if they are not helped in the smallest way possible today may end up in utter desperation, or even commit suicide. There are those if helped in that smallest way can remain hopeful even as other policies that may expand the overall economy get put in place. Helping that doesn’t mean economic policies for macroeconomic expansion cannot be put in place.

On whether it is Ruto who is supposed to be providing the much needed small help, we must remember that the Deputy President has to do politics for his 2022 presidential ambitions, and politics is an emotional game, not a rational one. Of course one can argue that politics ought to be a rational game where voters are presented competing policies and their respective implementation frameworks for implementation, but rational arguments are not suitable for large gatherings the kinds witnessed in political rallies. In politics, slogans and whipping of emotions are more effective than presenting rationally articulated blueprints for economic growth. So when it comes to politics, the Deputy President as a presidential candidate is exactly the right person to handover the wheelbarrows to a constituency that gets excited by such moves.

It is thus very easy to see that if doing what is right at the moment but in a wrong way will give William Ruto a head start politically, then that’s the way to go politically. I’d recommend for him to continue doing the same, if I were his schemer that is. The fact that majority of Kenyans find the actions of DP appealing should speak volumes as to the fundamental problems we have as a country, and anyone capitalising on those fundamental problems ought not be crucified. The question now is, is the DP responsible for creating or continuation of the said problems? On creating I’d so no. On their continuation I’d say he is partly to be blamed, especially if it can be proven that he was the one who was actually calling the shots in Jubilee’s first term.

Odipo Riaga
Managing Editor at KachTech Media
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