China is transforming its sources of energy domestically in a bid to reverse decades of environmental pollution. But the switch to renewable energy has brought about a conundrum: what to do with the jobs and industries that have no future in this new system?

Export them. Several African countries are accepting the poisoned chalice of China’s subsidised development through the construction of outdated, dirty coal plants.

Kenya is one. Its coastline is a national asset for fisheries, tourism, a growing population and economic development. But Amu Coal – a consortium of Kenyan and Chinese energy and investment firms – is set to start building a coal plant on the only part that is untouched by industrial development. The plant is planned to be some 20 kilometres from the town of Lamu on the mainland coast, at the mouth of Dodori Creek.

Lamu Town - A Unesco World Heritage Site. Shutterstock

Quite apart from the unfavourable economic and financing aspects for generating energy from coal, the plant may be Kenya’s single largest pollution source.

The problems should be set out in the Environment and Social Impact Assessment study required by Kenya’s Environment Act and vetted through the National Environment Management Authority. But three key issues are omitted or glossed over by the study. Any one of them should be cause for the environment authority, other arms of the Kenyan government and certainly the public to oppose the coal plant.

Thankfully, opposition is growing.

Key issues against plant

The first is a classic Industrial Revolution, Victorian issue. Toxic pollution. Coal releases a range of toxic substances into the environment. These go into the atmosphere, rain, groundwater, and seawater – and then to flora, fauna and people. These substances are barely mentioned in the assessment study. There are also no detailed estimates on the amounts that could be released and how they could be reduced by mitigating actions. The coal intended for use – initially to be imported from South Africa, and classified as “bituminous”, releases large amounts of toxins, particularly if improperly burned.

The impact study also doesn’t clearly state the full size of the mountain of coal residue left behind after burning –- almost 4km long by 1km wide and 25 metres high. No credible plan for disposing of the waste is presented.

Second is Kenya’s contribution to global carbon dioxide emissions. Under the Paris Agreement on climate change the Jubilee government committed to reduce these by 30% by 2030. The impact study dismisses the carbon emissions from the plant as negligible on a global scale, at only 0.024% of global emissions. But what it attempts to hide is that the emissions of the coal plant alone will double Kenya’s energy sector’s entire CO2 emissions. This at the same time that citizens, businesses and the government are investing in efforts to reduce their carbon footprints, through – for example through wind, solar and geothermal power generation.

Cars parked under solar panels at Africa’s largest solar carport in Nairobi’s Garden City shopping mall. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

The third reason is a chimera of the above –- climate change and toxic pollution combined. It is reasonably certain that sea levels will rise due to climate change. Estimates suggest this could be in the order of half to one metre by the end of this century, and very possibly more. The toxic waste mountain left by the plant will be on Kenya’s flattest shoreline, built on sand. Its base will be maybe 2-3 metres above sea level, and tens to 100m from the shoreline. This is the most vulnerable part of Kenya’s coast where sea level rises, and yet the massive toxic dump is to be placed there.

Part of the impact assessment argues that “the area is remote” so few people will be affected by pollution. Quite apart from the flawed logic that it’s okay to pollute natural wilderness areas, if plans for a major urban development under the LAPSSET project – Eastern Africa’s largest and most ambitious infrastructure project bringing together Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan – are concluded, there will be a city of over one million people in the area by 2050.

The report contains nothing about exposure of this number of people to toxic waste. Even the Strategic Environment Assessment for the LAPSSET project, conducted in the last few years, doesn’t include the coal plant in its assessment. The logic is that the plant is “not part of LAPSSET” yet even the simplest understanding of the purpose of both impact assessments and strategic environment assessments is to consider all interacting threats, and particularly the biggest ones, to the environment and people.

Improved standards are undoubtedly needed in Kenya’s Environment Impact Assessment sector. The country will develop, by hook or by crook, with or without a vision for 2030. Strengthening environment and social impact assessment as a tool to facilitate the right sort of development – where currently it’s viewed by business and most government authorities as a pesky bureaucratic step at best – will be one of the single most significant steps the government can take to protect and grow the natural and social assets that secure, healthy and equitable development is founded on.


David Obura, Adjunct Fellow, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Kenyan government is waging a war against online hate mongers with what would appear to be a zero-tolerance policy. In an unprecedented move two chat group administrators have been arrested. They were charged with sharing hate messages on WhatsApp that threatened national security and face an additional charge of spreading alarming propaganda on social media.

Like many other countries, Kenya has charged people with hate speech before. Recently in the UK, a Facebook user was charged with spreading hate messages against Muslims. Rwanda has also successfully charged various people with hate speech.

The difference in this particular case is that WhatsApp administrators have been charged. However, this is not the first time a chat group administrator has been prosecuted for hate speech. In a similar case in India, the government arrested WhatsApp administrators for offensive posts about the prime minister.

As Kenya geared up for its general election in August it was already grappling with hate speech. This reached a crescendo in the post-election period as supporters of the two opposing political groupings – the ruling Jubilee party and The National Super Alliance – engaged in digital warfare.

Fearful of a rerun of previous post election violence, police were well prepared this time.

Under Kenyan law hate speech is a criminal offence that carries a five-year jail term and a million shilling fine. One of the suspects allegedly shared a hate message that threatened to slaughter members of a certain community.

The arrests have proved controversial on two grounds.

The first is that the government has been criticised for violating the constitutional freedoms of expression and the media. The second is that the WhatsApp users felt safe because of the anonymity provided by the platform. Moreover, the Kenyan authorities have shown reluctance to prosecute hate speech cases. Earlier in the year, politicians accused of hate speech were released due to lack of evidence and the absence of asupporting legal framework.

But I believe there are grounds for a successful prosecution under Kenyan law.

What the law says

On the issue of freedom of expression, Kenya’s constitution enshrines the right to freedom of speech. But this doesn’t include allowing propaganda for war, incitement to violence, hate speech, advocacy of hatred, discrimination, ethnic incitement, vilification of others, and incitement to cause harm. This is in line with international law which protects freedom of expression, but has limitations.

During the election period thousands of Kenyans used social media to express their opinions. Many of the conversations pitted members of different ethnic communities against each other. This type of hostile communication was a spillover from the 2013 general election period when online hate speech first reared its ugly head.

This year many Kenyans retreated to the privacy of their WhatsApp groups to speak freely about their political affiliations. Again, a good number of these conversations were inflammatory. It’s understandable that Kenyan authorities felt they needed to act. But what happens next is unclear given that the law hasn’t caught up with the implications of people using various social media platforms to ventilate.

There have been a number of cases in which individuals have been charged with hate speech. And on their part, newspapers, radio stations and media enterprises can also be held criminally liable for publicising threatening, abusive or insulting material intended to stir up ethnic hatred.

The law applies to audio, visual and written hate messages, all of which are common on social media platforms. Therefore, it can be argued that Section 62 of the National Cohesion and Integration Act includes online hate speech. This would make it a crime for digital perpetrators - including those in WhatsApp groups - to spread hate through private messages.

The government has also published guidelines specifically aimed at preventing the dissemination of undesirable political text messages and social media content. According to the guidelines, WhatsApp group administrators are responsible for the content disseminated through their groups and therefore they are criminally liable for any harm that results.

I believe that these guidelines, when read together with Section 62, empower the police to arrest WhatsApp group administrators. This is because the guidelines create legal responsibilities and liabilities in the social media environment that can be applied to content service providers, including WhatsApp group administrators.

And the activities governed by the guidelines include social media use and networking, online publishing and discussion, media sharing, blogging, micro blogging, and document and data sharing. As such, even WhatsApp group members can be accused of spreading hate speech.

The impact of these rules has been that online group administrators and content creators such as bloggers must now actively monitor their members so that they are well aware of the information that is being shared on their platforms.

Therefore one will have to watch and see whether the charges will be successful or whether the Constitutional Court will be faced with a question of interpretation. The salient point of contention will be whether the WhatsApp guidelines violate the right to freedom of media and speech or if they are a necessary limitation, taking into account Kenyan’s online environment and the people’s propensity to post inflammatory or dangerous speech.


Mercy Muendo, Lecturer, Information Technology and the Law, Mount Kenya University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Kenya faces an extended period of political and economic uncertainty after the Supreme Court tossed out the results of last month’s presidential election in a stunning decision that’s unprecedented in Africa.

The judges ordered a new vote to be held within 60 days, opening an intense campaign at risk of being marred by violence. The news sparked celebrations in the capital, Nairobi, and in Kisumu, stronghold of opposition Kenya Mappresidential candidate Raila Odinga, who said the ruling marked “a historic day” for the people of Kenya. President Uhuru Kenyatta, winner of the annulled vote, said he disagreed with the decision but would respect it.

With its decision that the electoral commission failed to conduct a fair vote, the six-judge court demonstrated its enduring independence from the government of the day. It came at a time when demands for political change are spreading across Africa. Opposition parties won power in the past five years in Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, Ghana, Gambia and Senegal. The ruling also clouds the outlook for the country’s slowing economy.

“The historic Supreme Court ruling pours uncertainty on the Kenyan economy,” said Emma Gordon, an analyst at Bath, England-based Verisk Maplecroft. “Investors will be concerned about the financial implications and the high risk of violence. With the possibility of the new election going to a second round and the result being contested again, political uncertainty could easily last the rest of the year.”

Damning Rebuke

The ruling Chief Justice David Maraga read out Friday to a packed Nairobi courtroom was a damning rebuke to the electoral commission, which repeatedly denied opposition claims that hackers rigged the vote results on its computer systems. The decision helps entrench the rule of law in Kenya, one of the key pillars of the country’s long-term development plan, said Jibran Qureishi, East Africa economist at Stanbic Holdings Ltd.

“This is an extraordinary ruling,” Qureishi said in a research note. “It affirms our narrative regarding institutional strength and maturity.”

The outcome of the new vote is too close to call, with the same officials who ran the last one probably remaining in charge of the rerun, said Phillip O. Nying’uro, chairman of the department of political science at the University of Nairobi.

“It is going to be very tricky; we may end up with the same outcomes,” he said.

Criminal Prosecution

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati said the commission is awaiting the court’s written judgment before making any decisions about what action it will take. Odinga called for six electoral commission officials to face criminal prosecution.

“Clear evidence shows that the commission was taken over by criminals who ran the general elections using the technology system and inserted a computer-generated leadership,” he told reporters on Friday.

Kenya, the world’s largest shipper of black tea and a regional hub for companies including Google Inc. and Coca Cola Co., faces an increased chance of violence, said John Ashbourne, Africa economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London.

“The ruling leaves the authorities with little time to improve or reform the scandal-plagued election commission, which may throw doubt on the result,” he said. “Opposition supporters –- whose distrust in the voting system appears to have been validated –- may see another win for president Kenyatta as proof that the authorities are conspiring against them.”

Kenyatta rejected the opposition’s demands that electoral officials vacate office and asked the body to announce a date for fresh elections, his office said in an emailed statement Saturday. The current commission will supervise the new vote, Kenyatta said.

Security Forces

Clashes between security forces and Odinga supporters claimed 24 lives after the result was declared on Aug. 11, according to the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights. The opposition put the death toll at more than 100 people, while police confirmed 10 deaths in Nairobi and didn’t release tolls from other areas. The deaths evoked memories of two months of ethnic conflict after a disputed 2007 vote that left more than 1,100 people dead.

Kenyan shares tumbled and the currency dropped after the court ruling, reflecting perceptions that prolonged elections mean more uncertainty, said Razia Khan, chief Africa economist at Standard Chartered Plc in London. The benchmark stock index closed down 3.7 percent, while the shilling weakened 0.1 percent against the dollar. Safaricom Ltd., the country’s largest company, dropped as much as 10 percent, the biggest decline in a year.

East Africa’s largest economy is in the throes of its worst drought in three decades that’s curbed output of corn, a staple, and driven up consumer prices. Gross domestic product expanded at the slowest pace since 2014 in the first quarter as farming output shrank. The government expects growth to slow to 5.5 percent this year, from 5.8 percent in 2016.

“A re-run of the election will contribute to more uncertainty and prolong any return to business-as-usual,” Khan said. “The continuation of sub-par economic performance, and its implications for fiscal revenue, is of course a negative for bonds.”

Odinga, a former prime minister, waged unsuccessful presidential campaigns in 1997, 2007 and 2013. The Supreme Court threw out his allegations of rigging in the 2013 vote that propelled Kenyatta to power, a ruling Odinga has previously described as a “travesty of justice.”


Credit: Bloomberg 

The recent Kenyan elections firmly demonstrated the incursion and perhaps even gradual institutionalisation of fake news as an actor in modern politics, particularly during elections. Although the term fake news is now so liberally used to the extent it eludes precise definition, many agree it’s the deliberate dissemination of false information expressly intended to misinform.

The presidential election, which pitted the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta against his political nemesis, opposition leader Raila Odinga, was fiercely fought on many fronts. One of these fronts, arguably the most significant, was the unprecedented investment in political messaging.

Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party and Odinga’s National Super Alliance (NASA) invested heavily in media and public relations consultants, communication experts and political advertising. The Jubilee Party even enlisted the services of Cambridge Analytica, the data mining and analysis company credited with playing an influential role in the election of US President Donald Trump. The company also had a hand in the UK’s Brexit campaign.

Added to this heady mix was clandestine messaging through fake news on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Numerous fake news stories were widely circulated on social media as unsubstantiated allegations were posted against both parties, some even through paid adverts on Google.

This was a step up from previous elections where politicians would pay backstreet newspaper publishers to tarnish the names of their opponents. Kenya has always had publishers for hire, a particularly thriving industry at election time. These publishers quite often have no known addresses, are defined by their impermanence and therefore impossible to sue even when one is legitimately aggrieved by their publications.

In 2017 the mudslinging migrated online and become much more nuanced and sophisticated. Stories that featured fake opinion polls and others that directly attacked the characters of both Kenyatta and Odinga were widely circulated online and in print. Some of these were slickly produced videos that were passed off as originating from CNN and the BBC.

In one fake CNN video Kenyatta’s popularity rating was shown to be well ahead of Odinga’s. Another fake video, this time purportedly an outtake from the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme, also featured an opinion poll showing Kenyatta beating Odinga.

And fake newspapers bearing the plagiarised mastheads of widely circulating dailies including the Daily Nation and The Star were sold to unsuspecting readers.

This proliferation of fake news in Kenya can be explained on two grounds. The first relates to the history of the country’s media, and the second to the increasing importance of online platforms in shaping the African news agenda.

The Kenyan media

The Kenyan media has become a prisoner of its history. It remains shackled to the consequences of its role in the country’s 2007 disputed presidential elections. A section of the press were accused of actively promoting the violence that engulfed the country in the aftermath of the polls. At least 1,000 people died and more than 500,000 thousand were displaced.

This legacy has turned the media into a bystander in the political process, especially at election time. In 2013 it hardly raised any objections to electoral malpractices that led to the disputed presidential election. Instead, media houses promoted “peace” to preempt a repeat of the 2007-2008 post-election violence.

It was a decision that was supported financially by a number of local and international agencies who spent months training the local press in “peace journalism”. This peace narrative has now became normalised in election coverage in the country. The consequence has been the creation of an information vacuum which has now been filled by fake news.

Rise of social media

The circulation of fake news also seems to have benefited from the changing profile of the Kenyan voter. Nearly half of about 20 million registered voters in Kenya are aged between 18 and 35. A significant number source their news from social media where fake news circulates the most.

According to a recent consumer survey only 28% of young Kenyans read newspapers regularly. Social media is slowly but surely becoming their platform of choice for news.

And the audience for fake news is growing given that two out of three young Kenyans now either own a mobile device or have access to one, and Internet connectivity costs go down annually.

This election revealed the fact that fake news has not only become commonplace, it’s become mainstream and is evolving into a distinct news genre.

Fake news thrives on the modern news consumer’s insatiable appetite for speedy information. We are living in a news ecosystem where urgency trumps the core values of journalism such as accuracy, fact checking and objectivity.

Traditional news media, with brands built on the back of their ability to fact check or investigate stories before publication, are struggling to do so when they are simultaneously expected to publish with speed. While gate keeping is key to ensure that news outlets remain trustworthy, the speed at which audiences now expect information has seen media houses haemorrhage audiences.

That lag in providing speedy information has created a vacuum which fake news producers are exploiting. They don’t have brands or reputations to protect. Fake news is positively sustained by an online economy which prioritises sensationalism over quality. Sensational ‘news’ very quickly goes viral and this is its most effective weapon.

Fake news is slowly intruding on virtually every aspect of life. We must first understand its appeal and then make every effort to counter it. This is especially the case because it is now a genre sustained by a much larger social, economic and political infrastructure that the news media alone is incapable of dealing with.


George Ogola, Senior Lecturer in Journalism, University of Central Lancashire

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A total of 13 hotels are set to open their doors in Kenya over the next five years, growing the bed space by more than 2,400 rooms, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Pegged on a growing economy and demand for bed space, the study by the advisory firm indicates the hotels are expected to open their doors in the country by 2021 including additional units by Radisson, Marriot and Best Western brands.

“These developments, along with a stable local economy, are attracting international hotels to Kenya. Sheraton, Ramada, Hilton, Best Western, Radisson, Marriott, and Mövenpick are among the international brands scheduled to open hotels in Kenya during the next five years,” PwC says in Hotel Outlook report.

The growth has been accelerated by the increasing number of domestic and international tourists.

“Kenya benefited from the lifting of travel advisories ... and growth in domestic tourism in a strong economic environment, as well as a series of incentives introduced by the government,” reads part of the report.

The incentives include elimination of VAT on park fees, removal of visa fees for children as well as the reduction in park fees by Kenya Wildlife Service. Others are the waiver of landing fee for charter flights in Mombasa and Malindi. 

PwC says guest nights, which declined a cumulative 15 per cent between 2011 and 2015, also rebounded with a 2.9 per cent increase in 2016. The average room rate edged up 2.2 per cent in 2016 and room revenue grew 4.9 per cent. The advisory firm expects a decline in the occupancy rate over the next two years before a rebound from 2019.

International hotel management chain Best Western has taken over city hotel Meridian and branded it Best Western Plus. Lazizi Premier opened its doors in May, becoming the first airport hotel to begin operation. This is expected to be followed by the completion of Four Points by Sheraton Nairobi Airport and Hilton Garden Inn, which are in the final stages of completion.

This will be the second property by Sheraton which took over management of the Four Point Hurlingham, previously Best Western Premier.


Source: Daily Nation Kenya

Financial services provider, Alexander Forbes East Africa, has changed its corporate identity to Zamara following ownership changes that have seen Alexander Forbes Group of South Africa lose the majority stake it held in the Kenyan firm.

Reduction of Alexander Forbes South Africa’s stake is to enable Alexander Forbes East Africa comply with recent amendments to Kenya’s Retirement Benefits Act that restrict foreign ownership in a pension fund administrator to a maximum of 40 per cent.

The changes will see Alexander Forbes (South Africa’s) stake in the Kenyan firm drop from the majority 60 per cent to 31.3 per cent and the company’s trade name change to Zamara.
“We have valued our partnership with Alexander Forbes but the change in legislation has given us a unique opportunity to chart our own destiny,” said Alexander Forbes East Africa Group chief executive Sundeep Raichura.Mr Raichura assured Zamara’s clients that no interruption of operations or changes in management is expected as a result of the rebranding exercise.

“Our customers, employees and other stakeholders should rest assured that our operations will continue uninhibited as we enter a new and exciting phase of our business,” he said adding that Zamara remains committed to providing the highest quality of actuarial, pensions, medical and insurance solutions.

Zamara is now majority owned by Kenyan investors and the Employee Share Ownership Plan (ESOP). The company’s leadership ladder remains unchanged with Mr Raichura as Group Chief Executive and James Olubayi as Executive Director. Michael Waweru also continues to chair the firm’s board of directors.


Credit: Daily Nation

The media has been a critical part of the Kenyan election process. But did they do a good job?

I spoke to a variety of sources including journalists, commentators and experts and a number of issues came out. Overall, the insights they gave me suggest that the mainstream media’s coverage of the 2017 general election can best be described as a mixed bag. While it played a very important role, it still has a way to go in terms of the factual, unbiased and objective coverage of elections.

During the election process the media remained at the forefront of presenting different opinions – leading newspapers, television and radio stations all presented different views, and carried opinions from political figures across the spectrum.

But one criticism that came through was that sections of radio, especially local language stations, were very often parochial. Some played extremely partisan politics that was more aligned to local audiences than to national interests.

Another criticism expressed by many of the people I spoke to was that they felt the mainstream media had been lazy in its coverage of competing candidates. The largest media outlets constantly amplified the political binary represented by the two main coalitions, the National Super Alliance (NASA) and the Jubilee Party (JP). There was limited coverage outside the two coalitions with other parties and candidates receiving little airtime.

Preaching the peace

The Kenyan media has struggled with the burden of being accused of fuelling post-election violence in 2007 and 2008. For example it was accused of failing to moderate hate messages and of passing on messages that incited violence. TV stations were accused of showing violent messages that led to retaliation between members of different communities.

Given these experiences, this time round the media was at pains to emphasise messages of peace throughout the electioneering period. It also showed restraint and self-censorship in terms of the information and images it presented.

This was evident if you compared coverage provided by the international media with the Kenyan media. While international media has alluded to imminent violence and showed images of isolated instances – before and after the polls closed – the Kenyan media has been more careful.

Assessing coverage

Journalists played a critical role in negotiating political and electoral discourse. But the people I spoke to called into question the professionalism of some of the members of the press.

Some people felt that adherence to the principles of truth and accuracy, independence, fairness and impartiality was wanting. There are examples of journalists perceived to be partisan for example Kameme FM broadcasters, some KTN and Citizen anchors and reporters. And that some journalists, including well known television anchors, revealed their political biases by seeming to favour specific candidates and parties.

Another issue that was raised was that some journalists blurred the lines between the personal and the professional. This was especially problematic on social media platforms. The impartiality expected of journalists was viewed as compromised when they openly expressed their political preferences.

The elections also come with a range of issues which demanded various levels of inquiry and analysis. The knowledge of many journalists didn’t always match these demands. At times coverage was shallow and not critically engaging.

In addition, while media houses called on dozens of “experts” and “analysts”, many couldn’t make contributions that justified their titles. Television stations paraded what they called “eminent” and “super” panels to little effect. Beyond being large in size, the panels were often thin when it came to substance.

One big gap was that mainstream media didn’t feature many women. ‘Manels’ (men-only panels) dominated television broadcasts and fewer women were used as news sources and on-air analysts. Women politicians also received significantly less coverage – and far more critical coverage – than their male counterparts.

The highs and lows

Compared with previous elections there was been an improvement in live coverage, immediacy, and updates on the campaigns, as well as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s preparations. Media houses also followed the various legal challenges relating to the 2017 elections very closely.

There were also genuine attempts to encourage issue-based debating platforms and to give different contestants opportunities to argue their positions and engage with the electorate. Media houses also deployed more resources than ever before to cover campaigns in various parts of the country. The rise of fact-checking was also a notable development.

Some of the low moments included the presidential debates that didn’t go as planned. This denied voters the opportunity to fully engage with the candidates. Nevertheless, the media must be commended for organising them. There were also times when the mainstream media was seen to compete with bloggers to break news. The rush to publish meant that allegations and challenges weren’t verified and that assertions by politicians weren’t checked first.

There were also examples of journalists being sluggish in setting the agenda. For example, there was a general lack of inquiry into campaign financing, the use of state resources for campaigns and the conduct of party primaries.

Evolving role of social media

The role of traditional media in election coverage has come under pressure for two reasons.

The first is the emergence of digital platforms that allow political and election discourse, combined with the rise of citizen journalism. This means that the mainstream media is now just one of many news sources.

The second is that traditional media houses are under increasing financial pressure. Many have cut costs by letting experienced journalists go, in turn affecting the quality of media coverage.

But when all is said and done, the mainstream media continues to play a critical role in educating and informing the populace. The increased number of media outlets, especially local language radio and television stations, has ensured broader access to election information.

The mainstream media continues to provide a platform where the people can exchange ideas and engage with their leaders. The integration of multiple platforms including print, broadcast and digital has allowed broader interaction with audiences such that the media both speaks and listens.


George Gathigi, Lecturer, University of Nairobi

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

There are eight candidates for the presidency in Kenya’s 2017 election. Of these, two are the main contenders; Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and Raila Amolo Odinga. This is a replica of the 2013 polls where the two presidential candidates were the dominant opponents.

The running mate configuration has not changed either, with both retaining their previous partners. William Ruto for Kenyatta and Kalonzo Musyoka for Odinga. The only thing that has changed is their party identities.

Kenyatta’s 2013 Jubilee coalition is now the Jubilee Party, comprising most of the constituent parties that had been part of the coalition. The 2013 Jubilee formation was an alliance between parties loyal to the president, and his deputy William Ruto.

For its part Odinga’s camp underwent a coalition overhaul, morphing from the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy to the National Super Alliance. The coalition brings together several parties, both old and new, led by the Orange Democratic Movement, Odinga’s longtime party.

Latest polls have indicated that the two candidates are neck-and-neck. Both have factors working for and against them.

Uhuru Kenyatta

A few things are in Kenyatta’s favour. At 55 years of age, he is a young president who represents generational change. Kenyatta also comes from one of the wealthiest families in Kenya. Forbes Magazine ranks him as the 26th richest person in Africa, with an estimated fortune of $500m. This means that he’s been able to contribute financially to a vibrant campaign.

As the incumbent some would also argue that he has had access to state resources and agencies to facilitate his re-election. Incumbency has also allowed him to drive his campaign on the steam of his development record and flagship projects in infrastructure, the energy sector and public service delivery.

In terms of voting blocs, Kenyatta has the support of Kenya’s two most populous ethnic groupings: the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru (GEMA) and the Kalenjin. The registered voters in the GEMA grouping are approximately 5,588,389, in the Kalenjin are 2,324,559.

Combined, that’s 7,912,948 votes, which is equivalent to 40% of the electorate. That’s a formidable start when you consider that presidential strongholds have historically recorded a higher voter turnout during elections.

On the other hand, Kenyatta’s four-year tenure has been riddled with corruption allegations, including the Eurobond and National Youth Service scandals.

His admitted inability to rein in corruption in his government has worked against him. Additionally, his government is also accused of ethnic exclusion.

The Jubilee presidency is seen as a two-man show. This has contributed to the perception that Jubilee is not ethnically representative.

Raila Odinga

Odinga has many things going for him. High up on the list are his charisma and strong political mobilisation skills. Historically, Odinga has always been a formidable opposition politician; not being an incumbent has enabled him to galvanise effectively.

Odinga enjoys wider ethnic support compared to President Kenyatta, comprising among others the Kamba, Luhya, Luo and Maasai tribes. These communities comprise over a third of the voting population. But the disadvantage is their historically lower record of voter turnout.

At 72 years of age, Odinga represents the older generation of Kenyan leaders who joined politics in the 1970s and 80s. And this being his fourth attempt at the presidency, there’s lethargy among some of his supporters.

He’s viewed by some as power hungry and untrustworthy, especially because of his alleged association with Kenya’s 1982 coup. His calls for mass action after the contentious 2007 election, during a period that saw the displacement and death of thousands of Kenyans, also contributed to this perception.

Also to his disadvantage is an association with past corruption scandals during his term as prime minister, including the maize and Kazi Kwa Vijana youth programme scandals.

The main political formations

There are two main formations in the 2017 election - the Jubilee Party and the National Super Alliance.

The Jubilee Party, formed in September 2016, followed a merger between The National Alliance and the United Republican Party representing two ethnic communities - the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin. The Jubilee Party also has the support of other political parties including the Kenya African National Union, NARC Kenya, the Labour Party and the Democratic Party amongst others.

The National Super Alliance is a coalition of political parties formed in April 2017. Its leading lights are Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, the Wiper Democratic Movement led by Kalonzo Musyoka, the Amani National Congress led by Musalia Mudavadi, Ford Kenya led by Moses Wetangula and Isaac Ruto’s Chama Cha Mashinani. The coalition brings together the Luo, Kamba and Luhya ethnic groups, and a section of the Kalenjin community.

In this election cycle party manifestos have become increasingly important. This explains the Jubilee administration’s scramble to complete promises outlined in its 2013 document.

The Jubilee Party has made even more promises in its recently launched manifesto. Three that have caught the public attention include the creation of 1.3 million jobs a year, free public secondary education and the expansion of Kenya’s food production capacity.

The National Super Alliance’s promises are more political. They include a constitutional amendment to provide for a hybrid executive system to foster national cohesion. Two other notable promises are to lower the cost of rent by enforcing the Rent Restriction Act and to implement free secondary education.

Strengths and weaknesses

The strengths of the Jubilee Party lie mainly in its incumbency and its development track record over the last four-and-a-half years. But the party has been weakened by divisions within its ranks. These were amplified during the campaign as disagreements broke out over the leadership of campaign teams. The ruling party is also handicapped to the extent that it’s not as ethnically diverse as its competitor.

The National Super Alliance’s main strength lies in its ethnic diversity. Its five principals represent different ethnic communities.

The super alliance also creatively captures the zeitgeist of a section of the electorate, with some of its campaign slogans such as vindu vichenjanga (‘things are a-changing’ in the Luhya dialect) making their way into popular use. It is riding on the euphoric wave that usually accompanies the hope of regime change.

One of its weaknesses, however, includes a perceived predilection to violence because the opposition has previously resorted to mass action. In 2016 for example, it organised a series of protests to mobilise for the removal of key members of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries commission, the body responsible for organising the general election.

Another weakness is its close association with allegedly corrupt financiers.

Key concerns

There is a perception that historically, the presidency has been the preserve of two ethnic groups – the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin. This feeling of disenfranchisement has become a key campaign issue.

There are however, some non-tribal issues that have taken the foreground. These include corruption, economic and social stability, lower cost of living and improved security.


Daisy Maritim Maina, PhD Candidate in Political Economy, SMC University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Kenya’s general election will be contested by a large number of hopefuls, but in reality it’s a two-horse race between Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance and Uhuru Kenyatta of the Jubilee Party.

Unsurprisingly in a country in which the executive continues to wield a dominant influence, coverage of the campaign has focused on the personalities and records of Odinga and Kenyatta.

What does their candidacy tell us about Kenyan politics in 2017?

The first and most obvious lesson from the 2017 election campaign is that dynastic politics is alive and well in Kenya. Despite all of the contestation, efforts and plotting of rival leaders hoping to push their own ambitions, 2017 will be fought between a Kenyatta and an Odinga, just like the elections of 2013 and the Little General Election of 1966.

The second is that ethnicity only gets you so far. In 2013, Odinga outperformed rival presidential candidate Musalia Mudavadi within his own Luhya community. This was possible because while Odinga was seen to be a credible opposition leader, Mudavadi’s dalliance with Kenyatta – with whom he formed an extremely short-lived alliance – raised concerns that he was a State House puppet. Kenyatta’s recent rehabilitation as the dominant leader among the Kikuyu community following his electoral humiliation in 2002 also demonstrates this point well.

So who are the two leading contenders?

Odinga, the opposition stalwart

Raila Odinga is the son of Oginga Odinga, a prominent independence leader and Kenya’s first vice president who never realised his dream of occupying State House. Like his father, Raila has campaigned tirelessly against considerable odds, and has so far been unsuccessful. He narrowly lost elections in 2007 – when many believe he was rigged out – and in 2013.

Odinga’s great ability is to be able to mobilise well beyond his own Luo community, and to sustain his political party – the Orange Democratic Movement for a decade. Given that most Kenyan parties collapse within a few years, this is some achievement.

The breadth of Odinga’s support base is also impressive. In 2013 he performed well among Luhya voters in Western Kenya, Kamba voters in Eastern Kenya and also at the Coast.

Odinga’s capacity to mobilise support across ethnic lines has two sources. On the one hand, he receives some votes “second hand” as a result of the efforts of his allies from other regions and ethnic groups to direct rally their communities to his cause.

On the other hand, he’s built a strong reputation for representing historically economically and politically marginalised communities. Indeed, while he has never secured the presidency, he has contributed to political reform. Most notably, Odinga played an important role in bringing about constitutional reform in 2010 that introduced devolution and hence a degree of self-government for the groups in his coalition.

Kenyatta, born to power

In contrast to Odinga, Uhuru was born into power as the son of the country’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, and secured the presidency in the 2013 general election having previously failed to do so in 2002.

Kenyatta’s supporters like to say that he was born in State House, and hence born to power, although this is not actually true. But it is true that he has spent his life close to the machinery of government, and his family’s political influence and wealth give him a clear advantage in the elections. His gift is to be able to look and sound presidential when he has an important speech to make, despite his playboy lifestyle.

Although it’s tempting to see Kenyatta’s rise to power as inevitable, this is not the case. In 2002, he failed to mobilise support among his own community because he had been selected by the outgoing Kalenjin President Daniel arap Moi to be his successor. He was then widely seen to be a proxy for Moi’s interests. At that point, his political career appeared to be over.

It was not until Kenyatta developed a reputation for defending Kikuyu interests by allegedly funding and organising militias in the violence that engulfed the 2007 elections that he emerged as the dominant figure within the Central Province. It is for this alleged role that he faced charges (that were subsequently dropped) of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. This, and his electoral alliance with his co-accused – the influential Kalenjin leader William Ruto – were critical factors in his victory in 2013.

The 2017 race

During the campaign Kenyatta and Odinga have been a study in contrasts.

While Odinga stresses his intention to shake things up, Kenyatta presents himself as a safe pair of hands who will protect the status quo.

While Odinga plays up his image as the representative of the excluded, promising to deepen devolution and invest in poorer areas, Kenyatta emphasises building a national infrastructure and maintaining economic growth, arguing that the gains of the rich will trickle down to benefit all Kenyans in time.

These images are further entrenched by the criticisms that each leader makes of the other. Jubilee caricatures Odinga as an unprincipled thug who cannot be trusted with the fine art of government. For its part, the National Super Alliance charges that Kenyatta is out of touch and only interested in serving the interests of the wealthy within his own community.

Some complain that these differences are more rhetorical than real, one thing is clear. In fact Kenyans have a real choice to make at the ballot box.

Election outlook

The greater resources available to Kenyatta, along with the more professional team around him, mean that the opposition faces an uphill battle. Moreover, government interference with the media – which is regularly intimidated – means that while election reportage is vibrant some of the stories that would most hurt the government don’t make it on to the front pages.

It’s therefore not surprising that, at the time of writing, Kenyatta enjoys a small but significant lead in the polls. A series of surveys conducted by different companies using different samples have put him on around 48% of the vote, with Odinga on around 43%. These polls suggest that about 8% of Kenyans remain undecided. This suggests that Raila can still win, but to do so he will have to capture the vast majority of “floating voters” in the last month of campaigning.

However, if undecided voters divide equally between the two main candidates, Kenyatta looks set to end up on something like 52% – surpassing the 50%+1 threshold for a first round win – with Odinga on 47%.

Given this, the record of no sitting Kenyan president ever having lost an election may survive for a while yet, despite the momentum behind the opposition. Although the country has made real democratic strides with its new constitution, the advantages of incumbency remain formidable.

Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy, University of Birmingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Kenya recently announced a ban on one of the most common materials used in the country’s packaging sector - plastic bags. This includes the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging.

This isn’t the first time the East African nation has tried to do this and the directive comes about 10 years after the first attempt. That one failed, primarily because of a lack of consistent follow up on the agreed implementation plan.

My research on the management of plastic waste in urban Kenya shows that this new ban is not realistic. The policy direction is not based on the local context or any extensive research regarding implications of the ban. It doesn’t consider the impact that it will have economically or give due consideration to other environmental alternatives.

Kenya’s plastic bag industry

Plastic materials offer a number of advantages over other conventional packaging materials. They are malleable, light, low cost and can be produced in a variety of shapes and sizes. Because of this, every year over 260 million tons of plastics are produced globally. Of this, nearly one trillion plastic bags are made and used. This makes them an important feature of the packaging sector.

Plastic bag manufacturing forms a sizeable portion of the plastic manufacturing sector. It has a long history dating back to the 1930s. Today there are over 30 plastic bag manufacturers with a combined capital investment worth over USD$77.3million (Ksh5.8 billion). They employ up to 9,000 people, both directly and indirectly. Some 100 million plastic shopping bags are given out every month by supermarkets. This is a massive contribution to the plastics sector and to the country’s economy.

Plastic bags also have an extremely important role in the average person’s daily life as they stand out for their excellent fitness for use, resource efficiency and low price. For Kenya, where 56% of the population live on less than a dollar per day, plastic bags support the “kidogo” economy - synonymous with the majority. This economy is based on the small amounts people buy - for example one cup of cooking oil, or a handful of washing powder or squeeze of toothpaste. To take these home they need the small plastic bags.


But because plastic bags are resistant to biodegradation, they cause long-term pollution to various natural environments from oceans to soil. Of the 4,000 tons of single use plastic bags produced each month, about 2,000 tons end up in Kenya’s municipal waste streams. Half of these are lightweight bags with a thickness of less than 15 microns.

Because of these issues, a variety of policy measures can be introduced to manage plastic waste. These include a ban on the production of certain plastics, levying taxes, mandatory recycling targets and adoption of anti-plastic bag campaigns.

Kenya has chosen the path of a ban on use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging. But my research shows that plastic waste recovery and recycling is a better strategy for sustainable plastic waste management. This is particularly true for developing economies because employment opportunities can be created within the recycling chain.

One option that won’t work is substituting plastic bags with biodegradable ones. First, the tear strength of biodegradable packaging bags is low compared to their petrochemical counter parts. They also have a high rate of water absorption. Most developing countries are also not equipped with the technological capacity to produce biodegradable material. Lastly, they are still not cost effective. The cost of most bio plastic polymers fall in the range of USD$2-5 per kg, compared to approximately USD$1.3 per kg for the usual petrochemical polymers. These factors make biodegradables a poor substitution.

Which is why the solution lies with plastic recovery and recycling.

Recovery and recycling

The reuse and recycling of plastic waste makes much more sense – particularly since Kenya doesn’t have a petrochemical industry needed to make plastic. Raw materials for the plastics and polythene industries are imported from overseas.

Plastic waste recycling is not a recent phenomenon in Kenya - it dates back to the 1960s. A 2001 survey showed that over 90% of Kenya’s plastic manufacturing industries have internal reprocessing capacity for their own waste and rejects.

Trading in plastic waste has been practised in Kenya since the 1980s. Waste pickers and small-scale traders started to sell unprocessed plastic waste directly to plastic producers for use as a raw material in the manufacture of new plastic products.

This plastic waste collection, by informal actors, presents a more realistic and sustainable solution to plastic waste management in Kenya. The waste becomes a source of raw material for the production of plastic materials, creating an interdependent relationship between solid waste management systems and plastic production.

Kenya needs to create an integrated plastic waste management system. It already has three well established categories of plastic waste recycling industries. These need to be properly linked to plastic waste collection and separation chains.

It would need the support and coordination from government, industry and civil society at all levels. Including:

  • Separating plastic waste from other waste streams and the further separation of various plastic materials for effective use of different polymer wastes in production.

  • The protection of waste pickers and those who add value including washing and sorting to plastic waste

  • The allocation of space for waste separation centres

  • Technological and financial support for waste processing

  • Education outreach programs

  • Plastic product marketing to popularise the diverse products

  • Introducing deposit and return systems in supermarkets

  • Improved transport logistics or plastic products and plastic waste so that such can reach their destinations in time.

The ConversationKenya would be better off pursuing waste management strategies. These include waste separation and the development of rules that require plastic industries to take back certain quantities of plastic waste from the solid waste management system to enhance recycling.

Leah Oyake-Ombis, Part-time lecturer and Director of ALISE Consulting Group, University of Nairobi

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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