Kenya Polls to Make or Break the Nation

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
The post-election violence in early 2008 resulted in more than 1,000 deaths and the displacement of at least half a million Kenyans.

Nairobi — Kenya is headed for a make or break general election in less than two months and the economy is showing all characteristics of taking another blow.

Charged political activity in the country has taken toll on the economy as most uncompleted projects may need to wait until after the March fourth elections as donors withhold funding as anxiety over the nature of the general election takes shape.

Government departments are also slowly shutting as the election mood sweeps across the country. Parliament will be officially dissolved in less than a month to give politicians time off for their campaigns.

This is the biggest and most expensive election in Kenyan history given that it is the first one under the new constitution which heralded a County Government. For the first time, instead of the usual three tier government where Kenyans used to choose the local government representative, Member of Parliament and President, they will be choosing six representatives at the same time following the devolved government. The six include President, County Governor, Senator, Member of Parliament, County Representative and Women Representative.

Preparations for the poll are in top gear with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the body that replace the now defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) assuring the public that every measure was in place to ensure a free and fair election general.

Most analysts have pointed out that the growth of the Kenyan economy how at 4.5 per cent will be heavily pegged on the success of the general with most raising the red flag that any form of electoral malpractice or violence could seriously affect ongoing projects and future investment plans.

The World Bank late last year expressed optimism that the economic growth could hit the 5 per cent mark by June if the elections are free and fair.

The post-election violence that followed the 2007 general elections seriously tainted Kenya's image and took a heavy toll on the economy.

An estimated $100 million was lost in business in addition to over 400 death and hundreds of thousands of internal displacements. The economy that was then growing at 7 per cent took a plunge to an all-time low of 1.7 per cent.

The stakes are high in this election and none other than the main players in the political arena know this best. President Mwai Kibaki is serving is last two months in office with incumbent Prime Minister emerging as a front runner in the presidential race.

His main competitor is former finance Minister and current Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenya who is also a key suspect in the 2007 post-election violence. Uhuru and his running mate William Ruto are both undergoing prosecution at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands.

President Kibaki is hailed as having returned Kenya to the path of economic prosperity and Kenyans are keen on replacing him with a development minded leader.

The overarching tribal card could also surface in the elections with all indications pointing to the fact that the country is as ethnically divided as it was in the run-up to the 2007 general election.

The political frontrunners are mostly expecting majority of their votes from their ethnic backyards and areas perceived as politically friendly.

This election alone will cost the Kenyan taxpayer an estimated $650 million with most of the funds coming from the public coffers and a little coming in from foreign donors.

Sensitive sectors of the economy such as tourism, agriculture and manufacturing will be the most affected by the electioneering period with reports indicating low bookings and bed occupancy in Mombasa which is regards as the bedrock of Kenyan tourism.

The world will be watching closely how Kenya circumvents the electoral process as it will sure make-or-break the Kenyan nation.

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InFocus

Kenya's Economic Prospects Tied to Polls

The post-election violence in early 2008 resulted in more than 1,000 deaths and the displacement of at least half a million Kenyans.

As the nation heads toward the 2013 polls, observers have warned that election violence or malpractice could seriously stunt economic growth and investment. Read more »