The rival Jubilee and Nasa policy documents released in quick succession early this week may appear different in tone and presentation but both follow largely familiar paths in the issues they outline, and their prescriptions are focused largely on throwing money at the problem with no reference to the funding.
The Jubilee analysis is grouped under three main pillars and the Nasa version under seven but both contain little in the way of surprises or fresh ideas.
They tread well-worn paths on the economy with a focus on agriculture, infrastructure, development, industrialisation, technology, spurring investment, job creation and poverty alleviation.
On the social side, they offer largely similar prescriptions on access to free or subsidised education, housing and health as well as provision of welfare funding for the needy and support for women and youth.
On governance, both focus on devolution and healing the rifts and overlaps between national and county governments, modernising the public service and making it more responsive to the needs of citizens.
On security, both give the pro-forma pledges to reform the police service and equip it to more effectively handle emerging threats, including terrorism, banditry and violent crime.
Both manifestos, in that regard, could be simply updated versions of past blueprints offered by various parties, where the focus has always been on a wide array of campaign promises rather than any real attempt at national transformation.
The priorities outlined in both documents actually are all captured in the Nation 10-point Agenda put out earlier this year as a way of trying to shape the election discourse to focus on serious national issues rather than the usual rhetoric.
Despite the similarities, however, the two documents reveal the gulf in policy and thinking between Jubilee and Nasa or, more accurately, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his main challenger, Mr Raila Odinga.
One can see in the Jubilee document proposals built around accelerated economic growth, the ‘bake a bigger cake’ approach, while Nasa leans more towards a fairer sharing of the cake.
One can also see in the Jubilee manifesto an emphasis on self-congratulatory self-assessment after four years in power while Nasa devotes itself to dismissing their rival’s achievements and prescriptions.
While Jubilee is strong on investment towards economic growth, Nasa takes a deliberate ideological approach.
HIGH POTENTIAL AREAS
It thus prefers to analyse and offer prescriptions based around deconstructing the social and economic status quo enshrined by the Jomo Kenyatta regime under the famous Sessional Paper Number 10 of 1965, titled African Socialism and its Application to Planning Kenya.
The brainchild of then-Economic Planning Minister Tom Mboya laid down a development blueprint that directed resources to high-potential areas on the ground that there would be more returns on investment in regions endowed with agriculture, minerals and natural resources.
Roads, electricity, telephone connections and water supply were concentrated in central Kenya, the ‘White Highlands’ of the Rift Valley and other regions already settled and developed under the colonial state.
The areas deemed of low potential, including the largest swathes of Kenya, were denied direct development resources on the assumption that they would benefit from the economic growth reaped from investment in high-potential zones.
Unfortunately, says Nasa, the trickle-down economics did not work, hence the continued widespread neglect, marginalisation and underdevelopment.
Nasa thus lays much emphasis on redressing the development imbalances through policies geared towards equitable distribution of resources.
It also gives emphasis to resolving historical injustices, particularly in land policies and ethnic conflicts, and implementation of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report, issues that are anathema to the Jubilee leadership.
The Jubilee manifesto also makes reference to development for neglected regions, as well as equity and inclusion, but more in economic growth terms.
Meanwhile, it is notable that while Nasa flaunts its transformation credentials it is not averse to proposals that hark back to realpolitik.
One controversial item almost buried in the welter of proposals is the pledge to push constitutional amendments to introduce a hybrid executive as had been proposed under the discarded Bomas Draft constitution.
This would obviously aim at a radical change in the structure of government by relegating popularly-elected president to ceremonial leadership and introducing a Prime Minister, elected by Parliament, to assume executive power.
This one proposal is likely to provoke a maelstrom, for it is likely to be read as a device to accommodate Nasa’s power-sharing agreement between the five coalition principals.
Another oddity is that, while Mr Odinga launched a manifesto strong on a policy framework instead of the usual doling out of campaign projects, there was circulating a separate document on implementation of the Nasa manifesto.
It was saturated with a raft of campaign promises no different from the Jubilee emphasis on flagship projects that would bust the budget and provide prime opportunity for the usual tenderpreneurs that hover around every administration.