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Emerging Markets

Alarm sounded over Kenya strife threat

Kenya faces the renewed prospect of social unrest unless its coalition government stops wrangling and implements much-needed reforms to help poor Kenyans struggling with rising food prices, drought and a wilting economy, analysts have warned

Kenya faces the renewed prospect of social unrest unless its coalition government stops wrangling and implements much-needed reforms to help poor Kenyans struggling with rising food prices, drought and a wilting economy, analysts have warned.

“I don’t think it is being alarmist to say we are courting major social disruption,” said Robert Shaw, a Nairobi-based businessman and analyst.

“The politicians are treating Kenya like a rubber band. How far do you pull it before it breaks?” he added. “I find it very difficult to find things to [the coalition’s] credit, but can find many things to its discredit.”

His comments comes as Kenya’s fragile coalition remains locked in a bitter fight over power sharing, which has threatened to collapse the government while delaying urgent measures to redress the country’s growing economic ills.

Flaring unrest in east Africa’s biggest economy could have dire repercussions on neighbouring countries that rely on Kenya as trade gateway. “It would set the economic progress of Kenya, and the region, back many years,” Shaw said.

The formation of the coalition in April 2008 ended election-related violence that claimed over 1,500 lives and displaced over 300,000. But the coalition government has since been characterized by infighting between prime minister Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and the president Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU).

The coalition had agreed to address economic disparity and land issues; overhaul the police, judiciary and discredited electoral system; create a local tribunal for the election violence and deliver a new constitution.

But the squabbling has delayed reforms former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and Justice Philip Waki – the heads of two independent commissions that probed the violence – say are crucial. “I don’t expect this government to implement any major reforms,” said Richard Segal, Africa specialist and head of macroeconomic research at UBA Capital in London.

The dispute centres on the ODM’s claim it is being denied a fair share of power, while the PNU says the ODM is trying to stage a coup. Odinga has threatened to call for new elections.

But the ODM says it is committed to the coalition. “Why should we leave [the coalition]? We feel we won the election, but didn’t get the presidency because of underhand tactics,” said Ahmed Hashi, communications director for the ODM.

Hashi nonetheless acknowledged the fighting must end to allow reform to take place. “Everybody knows that without a proper government, the economy won’t work and there will be no investment,” he said. “We are committed to making sure government works so we can have an economy that grows.”

Concern is growing that the combination of an ineffective government and widespread poverty, aggravated by the global economic crisis, will lead to more violence. Today’s global crisis – which has led to reduced exports, foreign inflows and remittances – means that growth will languish around 2–3% in 2009, according to the World Bank. Unemployment is on the rise while food prices rose by 34.6% year-on-year in April, and a drought has brought millions to the brink of starvation.


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