Nairobi, Kenya — Kenyans this week vote in a new president.
This election will have a major impact on Kenya especially in regards to the fledgling economy smarting from the bungled 2007 general election.
This is the most contested election in Kenya, with eight candidates with two emerging as favorites. Opinion polls over the last few months have indicated a tight race between incumbent Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his deputy and former Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta. The former has been enjoying a marginal lead in the opinion polls.
It is however proving difficult for any of them to pull off a first round win garnering the constitutionally accepted 50+1 %.
Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement joined hands with Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka's Wiper Movement to form the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD) on whose ticked he will be taking his third stab at the presidency. Uhuru on the other hand partnered with his International Criminal Court post-election violence co-accused and former Raila ally William Ruto to form the Jubilee Coalition.
Pundits agree that this is the most expensive election with an estimated $153 million allocated to the campaigns on the Jubilee side while their CORD rivals have almost a similar budget. Kenya currently has over 14 million registered voters.
Advertising, design and media companies have made brisk business from advertising from various politicians.
"The season between December last year and first two months of this year has been the best in my entire business life. I have banked amounts that I have never made for the entire three years I have been in business.
The good thing with politicians is that we ask them to pay upfront and they do," says Mark Muchiri, who runs a mid-sized printing and design firm in downtown Nairobi.
The business community in Kenya, members of the civil society, the diplomatic corps and the population in general has reiterated the huge impact the elections will have on the economy.
Kenya lost about $1.2 billion following the 2007/8 post-election violence and the business community has in no uncertain terms warned the political class that the impact of another bungled election could collapse the economy whose fortunes have always been looking up.
As expected, business activity in Kenya has nosedived with most investors and operators adopting a wait and see approach before committing more investment into their various sectors of operation.
"We have drastically cut down on new stock until after the elections and after we have ensured that there will be no dropping balls. The experience we had in 2007 was painful and we cannot take any chances," said Vipul Karach, a manager with one of the leading retail chains in Kenya. The violence in Kenya was characterized by massive looting of business, disruption of transport network and general closing down of businesses.
Most affected is the fragile tourism industry with reports of low bed capacity and a number of cancellations until after the elections. Most embassies in Kenya especially key tourist source markets like the United Kingdom, United States of America, China and India have advised their nationals to be on high alert just in case of any flare-ups.
"We are experiencing a low season and the bed occupancy is at its lowest in years. We expect to be over and done with these elections so that business can come back to normal," said Mohammed Dinesh who manages a popular tourist resort in Mombasa.
Advancement in ICT will play a major role in this election with results from polling stations expected to be relayed to the tallying centre in Nairobi and subsequently relayed on live television feeds in real time. This in essence is expected to quell anxiety and tension among the public while at the same time nibbing in the bud any attempts at the rigging that characterized the 2007 polls.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has also partnered with telecommunication companies operating in Kenya in a deal that will see bulk text messages sent to registered voters updating them of the results.
The elections will also mark the transformation of Kenya from central government to the County governments where power and resources will be decentralized to the regions in what is expected to spur development at the grass roots.
The Kenyan economy is currently growing at an estimated 4.5% according to World Bank figures.
This is much lower than the 7% the economy was doing as at the close of 2007 just before the onset of the post-election violence.