Uhuru Kenyatta: High cost of living beyond my control

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President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses a gathering during Labor Day celebrations at Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi on May 01, 2022. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday told off his critics over the high cost of living, noting that he is not to blame for the high prices of goods and services.

Speaking during the Labour Day celebration at Nyayo Stadium, the President said the current surge in food and fuel prices was occasioned by the adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing war in Eastern Europe.

If anything, said the President on a day that he directed employers to revise upwards the minimum wage for workers by 12 per cent, his administration put in place measures aimed at cushioning Kenyans. President Kenyatta said just when the economy was recovering from the negative effects of the pandemic, Russia attacked Ukraine, a conflict that has led to the increase in prices of fuel and food.

“Instead of leaders sitting down and trying to find solutions, others are going out there to incite wananchi. ‘Prices have gone up, ask Uhuru.’”

“I, Uhuru, am I in Ukraine…what would I be doing there?” said Kenyatta in a jibe that was aimed at his Deputy William Ruto who has since turned into a fierce Uhuru critic.

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With three months to the general election, both the Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Coalition, which President Kenyatta supports and Dr Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance, have promised to address the high cost of living if they win the August 9 polls.

Dr Ruto’s camp blames the Handshake team of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Kenyatta for the increase in prices of items such as wheat flour, milk, cooking oil, fuel, maize flour and soap.

Mr Kenyatta said the government has taken sustainable measures, which include cushioning Kenyans from high prices. For example, the government put in place a subsidy programme that has kept the prices of fuel low.

Kenya, the President said, is among the few countries that cushioned its citizens against the rise in prices of petroleum products. As a result, the prices of petrol, diesel and kerosene are the cheapest in the region, he said.

Mr Kenyatta said without the fuel subsidy, everything transported by diesel would have gone up by 25 per cent. The President said his administration has for the last two financial years been implementing stimulus packages. He also mentioned the cushioning of families to cope with the challenges of shrinking opportunities caused by Covid-19 and global issues beyond his control.

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“Although the cost of living has gone because of global reasons, we must also appreciate our local solutions and the strong foundation that we have laid.” One of the stimulus packages include Kazi Mtaani, which the President said had helped give a lot of youth a source of livelihood at a time when businesses were shutting down.

He cited jua kali artisans who formed a cooperative and which is now worth Sh250 million, a reflection of workers moving from being just owners of labour but also the capital.

Mr Kenyatta lauded the quality of skills coming out of Kenya, with Kenyans making up the third largest skilled foreign workers in the US.

However, the President was not a darling of the private sector yesterday. He asked the sector heds to make re-adjustment and balance between profitability and sustaining the wellness of the labour force. “You need them to make your profit in lean times. Let us also sacrifice a portion of our profits to keep our labour force happy.”  

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The increase in the minimum wage by 12 per cent means the least amount of money a worker in major cities of Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa will receive starting May 1 will jump from Sh13,573 to around Sh15,000.

President Kenyatta said the increase was meant to cushion workers against inflation—the increase in prices of consumer products—hovering at between five and six per cent annually.

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