Problems pile up in Kenya's election year
Despite being east Africa's biggest economy, Kenya is accused of failing to
deliver on promises at home
> Clar Ni
Chonghaile in Nairobi
> guardian.co.uk, Monday 2 January 2012
> Kenya, hakuna matata," -
Welcome to Kenya, there are no problems.
So goes the traditional greeting for visitors to east
> Africa's top tourist destination.
But Kenyan wags have come up with a new version: "Karibu Kenya, hakuna
matata, hakuna maji, hakuna stima, hakuna gas" - Welcome to Kenya, no
problems, no water, no electricity, no gas.
This sarcastic take on the well-known slogan reveals the frustration felt by
many in a country that is flexing its military muscles on the regional
stage, but failing to deliver on promises at home ahead of critical
elections in 2012.
Kenyans will go to the polls, most likely in December, to choose a new
president and parliament. The last election in 2007 brought the country to
the brink of civil war amid accusations of fraud. Around 1,300 people were
killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Few analysts are willing to take a punt on whether the 2012 polls will be
disrupted by the same toxic mix of ethnicity, politics and greed. Kenya is
still struggling with these old demons, but also facing new pressures.
Recent military incursion into Somalia has compounded a sense of uncertainty
Heavy rains have displaced thousands, ruined crops, caused power blackouts
and turned Nairobi into a gridlocked quagmire. There was a shortage of water
in some places and for weeks, in an unrelated scarcity, cooking gas was
The rains and floods, coming as
t-famine-malnourishment-video> drought continued to bite in the north, laid
bare the weaknesses of east Africa's biggest economy, which has long been at
the mercy of endemic corruption and government lassitude.
"The economy has been blinking amber all year," said
> Aly-Khan Satchu, an independent Nairobi-based
analyst. "The current account deficit has crossed 10%, putting us on a par
with Greece and Swaziland."
World Bank has revised down growth estimates, and the Kenyan shilling sank
to a record low against the dollar in October, pushing food and fuel prices
higher. The central bank hiked rates repeatedly as inflation climbed to
nearly 20% in November. The currency has strengthened since, but for many
the damage has already been done.
Satchu says there are two economies in Kenya - the old one that exists to
serves the interests of a ruling elite, and a new economy based on IT and
mobile technology. Overall, Kenya has shown resilience, bouncing back from
the post-election crisis thanks mainly to tourism, a thriving ICT sector and
the mobile money revolution.
Nairobi embodies this dual-track reality. The city where 60% of the
population live in slums is also a regional hub for IT development and
Politically too, the picture is not uniformly bleak. Last year, a new
n> constitution was ratified in a peaceful vote seen as an important first
step towards eradicating the dangers of poll-related violence. But the old
"We must continue to work towards national unity rather than balkanise our
nation along ethnic lines," said the prime minister, Raila Odinga, who is
the frontrunner to win the presidency.
J Peter Pham, director of the Africa Programme at the Atlantic Council in
Washington, says Kenya needs strong political leadership to overcome its
many hurdles this year, but that this has been in "critically low supply".
The first test will come later this month when the international criminal
court rules on whether six political figures, including deputy prime
minister and presidential hopeful Uhuru Kenyatta, should stand trial for
ttacks> alleged roles in the post-election violence.
Former UN chief Kofi Annan, who helped mediate the 2008 peace deal, said in
December that Kenyans had moved on from the past and wanted no more
violence, impunity or corruption. The question is do their leaders want the
"I think some of the politicians are behind the curve," Annan said.
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Received on Mon Jan 02 2012 - 06:57:10 EST