18 February 2013

Kenya: All Eyes On Kenya Ahead of Polls

Kampala — East Africa's biggest economy, Kenya, is under the global spotlight ahead of a major political event that will break or make them.

Kenya will on 4 March 2013 hold general elections to choose a new President, Senators, County Governors, Members of Parliament, Civic Wards and Women County Representatives.

Those in the race are Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Mohammed Abduba Dida, son of Kenya's first president and One of the two Deputy Prime Ministers Uhuru Kenyatta.

Others are Musalia Mudavadi also one of the two Deputy Prime Ministers, Peter Kenneth, James Ole Kiyiapi, Paul Muite and the only woman in the race Martha Karua.

The candidates faced off during a televised debate on 11 February 2013 at the Brookhouse International School with each one elaborating on how they plan to run the country. A similar debate was scheduled for this week on Monday at the same venue.

This will be the first elections held under the new constitution, which was passed during the 2010 referendum. They will also be the first general elections run by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

The manner under Kenyans will react to the outcome of this election is what the people world over are waiting to witness following bloodshed that characterized the 2007 post election era. Close to 800-1,500 are estimated to have been killed and 180,000-250,000 displaced and wounded.

United States President Barack Obama two weeks a go through a YouTube video directed to Kenyan people asked them to reject intimidation and violence, to allow a free and fair vote, and to resolve any disputes "in the courts, not in the streets.

"This is a moment for the people of Kenya to come together, instead of tearing apart. If you do, you can show the world that you are not just a member of a tribe or ethnic group, but citizens of a great and proud nation," said the American president whose father is a luo from Kenya.

After the December 27, 2007 elections a tribal backed upheaval soared through major towns of Kenya leaving scores dead and other displaced. This was after Kibaki was declared re-elected as President angering opposition supporters who accused Kibaki manipulating the electoral process.

The unrest involved ethnic violence particularly between the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin before a power-sharing agreement between Kibaki and Odinga was reached in February 2008 with the former retaining the presidency and the later becoming Prime Minister.

Near to what lays ahead for the Kenyans, in mid-August 2012, a series of ethnic clashes between the Orma and Pokomo tribes of Kenya's Tana River District resulted into the loss of 52 people fighting for access to land and water resources.

This was the highest death toll through deliberate killings since the last election. Though the Tana River case was not politically connected, it should be noted that the politics of Kenyan is deep rooted on tribal alignment.

Bleeding economy

The violence in Kenya has had serious economic ramifications throughout East Africa, particularly for the landlocked countries of the Great Lakes region nations of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

These countries depend upon Kenyan infrastructure links particularly the port at Mombasa for important imports as well as export. In 2007 while Kenya was battling political unrest Rwanda and Uganda were undergoing significant shortages of fuel and other supplies causing prices to skyrocket.

Since 2008, Kenya's average growth rate has been 4%, lower than Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda's average of 6.8%. In 2008, Kenya recorded growth of only 1.5% compared with 7.1% a year before the post election crisis.

The World Bank projects that Kenya's growth will slow down in 2013 amid growing concerns on whether the elections will be peaceful.

The bank estimates Kenya's economy will grow at 5% in 2013, however if it has a peaceful General Election, Kenya will be in position to attain the predicted growth rate for the East African Community of 6.1 per cent. Should there be violence, the Bank warns, the country's growth would drop to between three and four per cent.

The media has been awash with news that investors are staying their plans of opening up business waiting to see the outcome of the election. It is also being reported that a number of business are closing leaving many people unemployed.

A similar scenario is happening to not only Kenya but also to its inland neighbors who import & export through the Mombasa port. They fear to lose their goods while in transit as case was in 2007.

The March 4 election is expected to cost significantly more than the previous election with estimates of Ksh24Billion compared to the Ksh8Billion spent on the 2007 election by the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK).

Already traders are running scared of how the situation will be after the voting exercise with many anticipating violence which could lead to loss of business and property.

This has resulted into many of the traders postponing their operations or channeling them to Dar es Salaam port. AS business is halted Kenya all regional governments are losing taxes and the citizens are losing supplies.

Concern that violence may flare up during the elections threatens to derail investor confidence. Some businesses, local and international, have delayed investment decisions, according to the Kenya Private Sector Alliance. There is reported fall in numbers of tourists that are making bookings to travel to Kenya with a significant number cancelling their planned visit to Kenya.

Tourism is the second-biggest source of foreign- exchange income after tea with the most popular tourist destinations being the coastal towns.

Preaching Peace

It is encouraging to see the big shots in Kenya's politics preaching love instead of war an indication that a lesson was learnt from the last time the country went to vote. Citizens of the region have also taken to social media platforms like Facebook and twitter to ask the country to remain calm as they go about their politics.

Uraia Trust, a civic agency in Kenya, took to twitter using their twitter handle @uchaguzibora to start a campaign asking Kenyans to tweet their peace message using the hashtag #uchaguzibora a move directed at curbing violence during and after elections.

Such efforts are pointing to position that bare hope for peace and unity considering that there has not been notable political fighting during the campaigns.

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