Kenya's Controversial Currency Change

The Central Bank of Kenya officially gazetted the country's new currency as legal tender. The new currency features images of Kenya's wildlife, replacing the portraits of former presidents. However, it seems that a significant portion of the public feels that this is a move in the wrong direction.

Following the terms of the country's 2010 Constitution, Kenya is set to issue currency that does not bear the image of individuals. The Central Bank of Kenya officially gazetted the new Sh1, Sh5, Sh10 and Sh20 coins that will bear the images of giraffe, rhino, lion and elephant, respectively.

"The motifs and design elements on currencies present a unique way of recording history, celebrating our country's diverse culture and our natural environment," President Uhuru Kenyatta said when he unveiled the new coins. "The new-generation coins continue the tradition of depicting an aspect that best describes our country."

He termed it "a major milestone in the country's history": "I am extremely pleased that today we can achieve yet another milestone, launching the family of new-generation coins. They honour the wishes of the people of Kenya in regard to their national currency, as expressed in the constitution," he said.

The new currency has also been designed for easy use by the visually impaired.

Challenge of tender

British security printing firm De La Rue International won the tender to print the new-look currency in a £85 million (Sh11.02 billion) deal with the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), according to the newspaper Business Daily.

This agreement was challenged by activist Okiya Omtatah in November 2017 on the grounds that the procurement process was skewed in favour of the British firm, which has a currency printing relationship with Kenya of more than 25 years.

Read: Barack Obama and limited-edition currency to mark the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's birth

"This legal challenge was the final hurdle stopping CBK from issuing the new-generation bank notes," CBK governor Patrick Njoroge said in a statement in October, adding that the bank would reassess the timeline for the issuance of the new bank notes and proceed with all due haste.

Mr Omtatah has, however, filed a notice to fight the Court of Appeal's finding at the Supreme Court, insisting that De La Rue's bid did not meet the requirements of the law.

New notes instead of new coins

The Kenyan public has come out strongly to question the government's priorities. Although the new coins are more representative of the country's culture, new notes would be of greater use, especially in tackling corruption.

Many argue that the introduction of new high-denomination notes will make the old notes obsolete, thereby exposing and bankrupting beneficiaries of corruption who are stashing large amounts of money in physical spaces in an attempt to avoid detection.

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