Kenya's newly sworn-in president has announced that all Africans will be able to obtain a visa on arrival at a port of entry as he seeks to improve continental ties.
President Uhuru Kenyatta spoke to a cheering crowd of tens of thousands at his inauguration, which ends months of political turmoil that included a nullified election and a repeat vote. A growing number of African nations are making moves toward easing travel restrictions for people across the continent.
Rwanda also recently joined the ranks of African countries that are easier to visit. From 01 January 2018, nationals of all countries will be able to get visas upon arrival without prior application. South Africans will have to pay $30 (R423.61 @R14.12/$) for a visa on arrival in Rwanda.
Most recently Angola and South Africa exempted each other’s ordinary passports from visa requirements.
From 1 December 2017, citizens from both countries travelling to each other's countries will be able to enter for a period of 90 days per year, provided that each visit does not exceed 30 days in total.
African countries that area visa-free for South Africans:
Benin, Botswana, Gabon, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Saint Helena, Senegal, Seychelles, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Imports from South Africa grew by $107 million (Sh11 billion) in the first eight months of the year that saw Africa’s most industrialised economy overtake the United States in sales to Kenya.
South Africa sold goods worth $414 million (Sh42.7 billion) to Nairobi in the eight-month period, a 34 per cent growth from $307 million (Sh31.7 billion) in a similar period a year earlier. The faster growth in sales saw Pretoria displace the US to emerge sixth biggest seller of commodities to Kenya.
South Africa is the most industrialised and diverse economy in the continent and is the top seller to Kenya among African countries. It sells to Nairobi goods such as wines and other alcoholic drinks, cars as well as spare parts, oil lubricants and machinery.
Imports from the US grew to Sh40.2 billion in the eight-month window, from $331 million (Sh34.2 billion), slipping one position behind South Africa on Nairobi’s import table, data from Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows.
But Kenya’s exports to South Africa remain paltry, at less than $48 million (Sh5 billion) in the period with the country not featuring among the top 11 buyers of goods from Nairobi, the KNBS data shows. South African companies with operations in Kenya include MultiChoice, SABMiller, and Massmart (Game brand) while thousands of Kenyans are frequent travellers to South Africa for business and leisure.
Kenya has long expressed discomfort with the many hurdles its citizens travelling to South Africa continue to face with little response from Pretoria.
Ideally, Kenya and South Africa are supposed to be dealing with each other under the principle of reciprocity — meaning that benefits extended by one country are mirrored by the other. The KNBS data shows China remains the biggest seller of goods to Nairobi, having shipped in Sh273 billion worth of goods in the year to August, ahead of second-placed India (Sh117 billion).
The Kenyan government recently made three policy announcements that are of great importance to maize farmers and consumers. The first was that a subsidy introduced in May 2017 to reduce consumer prices would be discontinued. Before the subsidy, prices had soared to an all-time high on the back of dwindling supplies.
The second announcement was a significant increase in the government’s budget allocation to buy maize from farmers. The third was an increase in the subsidy for fertiliser.
Earlier this year, poor domestic supply caused prices to shoot up. The government decided to allow imported maize to come in. But instead of allowing market prices to prevail, it subsidised the imports to make consumer prices cheaper, essentially subsidising consumers as well as farmers. The food subsidy reduced the price of a 2kg packet of maize flour from 140 Kenya shillings to 90, a subsidy of approximately 35%.
In ending the subsidy of imported maize, the government aims to ensure that grain millers purchase locally produced maize harvested since August 2017. The government has also signalled that it aims to purchase the entire harvest offered for sale by farmers for the strategic food reserve by allocating USD$60 million.
Increasing the subsidy for fertiliser will reduce the input costs for farmers and increase maize yields. But the overall success of these policies is likely to be mixed, especially in the short term.
The three interventions
By the time the maize subsidy was introduced in May 2017, the price for a 90kg bag of locally produced maize was about 4,500 Kenyan shillings, compared to world market prices of 1,400 Kenyan Shillings. This huge price difference is attributed to high input costs, resulting in low productivity and therefore high per unit costs.
The subsidy stabilised local consumer maize prices. But it came at a huge cost to the government, which paid out USD$67 million (6.7 billion Kenyan shillings) between May and October 2017.
Once the subsidy ends, consumer prices are expected to increase by approximately 15% based on simulations done by Tegemeo Institute, the policy research institute of Egerton University.
Adding to the upward pressure on prices is the increase in the money the government is making available to buy maize stocks. It usually buys maize at a price higher than the market price. This has the effect of raising the market price – and undermining the objective of reducing consumer prices.
Ideally, government should intervene on either the supply side or the demand side, but not both. For example, it could intervene to keep the costs of production as low as possible so that consumers would buy food at market prices. Alternatively, it could allow producers to sell at market prices and subsidise consumers who cannot afford these prices. The consumer subsidy model has been used by India and Egypt, where households are given a cash transfer to purchase food.
It has been argued that in the Kenyan model farmers enjoy a double subsidy. They get subsidised inputs and above-market prices from government. This forces millers to offer even more attractive prices to compete with government for farmers’ maize stocks. This puts inflationary pressure on consumer prices.
The USD$60 million allocated to replenish the grain reserve is significant given that for the current year the government had allocated USD$18 million (increasing the allocation by more than 400%). But it won’t mop up the current harvest. Government will buy a quantity determined by the price it offers farmers. Maize farmers have a strong lobby which has influenced the price. A high price means less is purchased. Purchasing less quantities effectively leaves the government unable to affect the price of grain by increasing supply when it falls short, a key objective of the strategic food reserve.
The government has announced that it will buy maize from farmers at Ksh.3,200 per 90kg bag. At this price, the government will buy 1.8 million bags, or only 6% of the current harvest. Monthly consumption is 3.3 million bags. The recommended quantity is three months cover. A three months cover allows the government to increase supply during when it falls short and thereby stabilise prices, while allowing time to source for more grain.
And the country will still have to import maize because it isn’t producing enough. Tegemeo Institute, assessing the food situation for maize and rice production in 2017, estimates that the maize harvest will be about 20% lower than this year. Erratic rain and an army worm infestation are the main reasons.
Usually, millers are forced to offer a price higher than the government price to purchase enough quantities for milling. For example, when the government buys maize at 3,200 shillings per bag, millers will buy at 3,400 shillings, which is 6% higher. Without the subsidy that guaranteed consumers a lower price, for which millers were guaranteed a subsidised price of 2,300 shillings, it is expected that millers will pass on much of the increase in maize prices to consumers. This will amount to 40% if they buy at Sh3,200 or 48% if they buy at Sh3,400. Therefore, to keep the consumer price unchanged, government may be forced to subsidise consumer prices or offer a rebate to millers.
The third move by the government was to lower the cost of fertiliser, offered through government subsidy.
Farmers will welcome the move. Research by Tegemeo Institute found that fertiliser accounted for about 15% of the cost of production in 2017. But, as has been shown before, there is a need to investigate how the subsidy increase will affect private-sector fertiliser markets.
To maintain stable production and prices, the government should focus on long-term interventions that will improve productivity and lower the production costs per unit. It needs to plan better. For example, it must plan now for imports to meet the expected shortfall.
When short-term intervention in the markets is required, it should be strategic and with a clear exit strategy. Such a response should be limited to managing shocks such as pest infestation and disease outbreaks. Currently, short term interventions seem to the only response, leading to the same challenges being repeated.
Before Kenya’s August 8 general election, opposition candidate Raila Odinga promised to be a transitional, one-term president. Uhuru Kenyatta, meanwhile, was gunning for a second and final term. Both candidates’ political legacies were at stake.
But the nullification of the presidential election has thrown Kenya into uncharted territory. It’s been made even more unpredictable by Odinga’s withdrawal from the repeat election slated for October 26.
Odinga withdrew because, he claimed, the election commission refused to meet nine demands he made as preconditions for a credible fresh election after the August 8 poll was invalidated by the Supreme Court.
The political uncertainty is having a negative impact on the country’s economy, as well as its political stability.
The hard-line positions adopted by both sides have created a deep rift between the supporters of Kenyatta’s Jubilee party and Odinga’s National Super Alliance. To make matters worse, the police have repeatedly used excessive force to contain National Super Alliance protesters who have clashed with Jubilee supporters during demonstrations.
These protests could very easily escalate into tribal violence given the ethnically divisive nature of Kenyan politics.
Election commission to blame
Kenya’s current political crisis can be attributed to the ineptness of the electoral commission. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission mishandled the August 8 election. After the Supreme Court invalidated the poll, infighting among commissioners dented the commission’s image even further. The court found the commission committed grave irregularities and illegalities during the August election.
The commission has also aligned itself with the Jubilee Party. For its part, the party has often shielded the electoral body from criticism. For example it blamed the Supreme Court for invalidating the election. All this entrenches the notion that the commission is not exercising an independent mandate.
The commission has focused too much on short term political stability. It hasn’t considered the impact of another bungled election on Kenya’s long term democratic gains. It was given 60 days by the Supreme Court and the country’s Constitution to hold a second poll, and rushed into this process without any introspection.
And divisions between the commissioners are widening. One of them, Roselyn Akombe, has resigned and says the commission’s partisan nature makes it impossible for the body to hold a credible poll. Wafula Chebukati, the commission’s chairman, responded to Akombe’s resignation by saying he can’t guarantee that his team can hold a credible election.
All this suggests that the commission could make the same mistakes it did leading up to August 8 and that the second poll will also be a sham. This would drag Kenya further into political turmoil and lead to more economic strain on the country.
Unlike its opposition, the ruling Jubilee party is keen to participate in the October 26 election. It even used its majority in both houses of Parliament to push through amendments to the election laws.
These amendments dilute the electoral commission chairman’s power and also give priority to manual voting over electronic processes. Confusion over manual processes played a large role in pushing Kenya into post-election violence during the contested 2007 polls.
Jubilee has not consulted widely on these amendments, and has been widely condemned for pushing through changes to election law so close to the second poll. The changes all appear to be knee-jerk reactions to the Supreme Court’s ruling, and a push to ensure Kenyatta bags a second term.
Meanwhile, Odinga and his party have maintained that elections will not be conducted on October 26. To add fuel to the political fire, the coalition he leads has escalated its weekly demonstrations to daily countrywide protests.
The next stage of this battle is likely to play out in the Supreme Court. The National Super Alliance still has the option to return to court to either stop the October 26 poll or challenge its outcome.
But the solution to Kenya’s ongoing constitutional crisis is not legal. It is political. The country is deeply divided along ethnic and political lines. If the electoral commission goes ahead with an election that doesn’t include Odinga, the process is likely to be deemed illegitimate.
It’s obvious that the electoral commission has been captured by partisan politics. It is operating in a hostile political environment and there is enormous division in its ranks.
In the worst case scenario, Kenya could degenerate into the kind of ethnicised election violence last seen in 2007. The feeling of disenfranchisement among some ethnic communities, who have felt marginalised by successive regimes since independence, has once again emerged in public discourse.
Assessing statements made by the electoral commission in recent days it’s clear that it’s unable to hold a credible election. On the other hand another legal battle would only drag the country into further political uncertainty.
What’s clear therefore is that a political settlement is needed to reconstitute the electoral body before holding a fresh election. This might involve forming a caretaker government to give the electoral commission time to effect the necessary reforms.
Kenya plans to attract low-cost airlines in order to increase the number of international tourists visiting the country, a senior government official said.
Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism Najib Balala told a media briefing in Nairobi that an increasing number of tourists are using low-cost airlines. "We are therefore developing an aviation strategy for the tourism sector that will offer incentives for low-cost airlines to begin flying into Kenya," Balala said during the Seventh Edition of the Annual Magical Kenya Travel Expo.
The three-day event will showcase Kenya's tourism destinations to overseas travel agencies. Tourism promotion agencies from Tanzania, Rwanda, and Seychelles were also represented in the conference. The east African nation had previously set aside 12 million U.S. dollars to promote chartered air travel.
"However, charter tourism is facing a lot of challenges due to the changing patterns of international holiday makers who are seeking to spend less on vacations," Balala said.
Kenya already has a number of budget airlines operating in the country, which has helped expand the domestic tourism sector. Domestic low-cost airlines have contributed to pushing earnings of the local tourism sector to account for over 52 percent of the industry, Balala said.
He said Kenya needs to replicate the successful model of low-cost airlines to attract more foreign tourists. The country is planning to invest more in domestic tourism because it's more resilient as compared to international travelers, he said.
According to the ministry of tourism, Kenya recorded 1.3 million international arrivals in 2016. Balala noted that despite a 10 percent increase in tourist arrivals in the first eight months of 2017, overall tourist arrivals the whole year will likely fall as compared to last year due to the prevailing political uncertainty caused by a re-run of the presidential polls, now scheduled for Oct. 26.
Kenya has registered an explosive growth in the number of TV and radio stations in about two years since the East African nation switched from analogue to digital broadcasting.
The growth has been unprecedented, with the number of TV stations rising to 66 while radio stations have doubled to 178 since 2015. The swell indicated that Kenyans now have more variety in terms of TV content and can choose from a myriad of radio stations to listen.
Besides, the growth means more jobs created in the sector, which include radio and TV announcers, technicians and journalists. "At the end of the financial year 2016/2017, the number of free-to-air TV channels on the digital terrestrial platform stood at 66 up from 60 recorded in the previous quarter," latest data from the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) shows Wednesday.
The TV stations are mainly free-to-air as tight competition among pay TV players in the East African nation has locked out new entrants. The regulator attributed the increase to the opened space in the broadcasting sector as a result of digital TV, which has made it easy to join as all investors need to do is register their stations and come up with content, which will be carried by companies that distribute the Digital Terrestrial Television network.
The mode of operation has, therefore, reduced investment capital for investors who initially had to install transmission infrastructure across the country.
"The increase in TV stations is mainly as a result of licensing of new entrants in the broadcasting market," said the CA in the report for the quarter ending June.
Kenya switched to digital TV in January 2015 and since then, the signal has been expanding to cover 78 percent of the population as at the end of June, enabling millions of people who were locked out of TV viewing initially to enjoy the service. During the quarter, there was extension of network coverage by some of the self-provisioning digital signal distributors to various areas, including far-flung border towns like Kapenguria, Wajir and Lamu.
The expansion of the digital signal coupled with rise in the number of TV stations from five in 2015 has made more Kenyans acquire set-top-boxes. Close to 5 million Kenyans now own the set-top boxes which they use to access the digital signal, up from less than 1 million in 2015.
"The cumulative number of digital set-top boxes purchased as at the end of June stood at 729,477 for Free-to-Air set top boxes and 3,788,417 for pay TV," the CA noted.
Similarly, the total number of active FM stations in the country has risen to 178 stations as at the end of June from nearly 70 in 2015. Like TV, the FM stations are being carried on the digital platform making it easier for investors to join the industry.
"When compared to the 139 stations recorded in last financial year, there has been a remarkable increase of 28 percent, which was as a result of licensing of new operators in market," said CA. Bernard Mwaso, a consultant with Edell IT Solution, noted that digital migration was a huge blessing for the Kenyan citizens and the sector in general.
"Though the migration was initially resisted by media owners, time has come to disapprove them as the sector has expanded exponentially. Now the industry is no longer controlled by the big corporates but even small players have a stake in it," he said. Mwaso observed that the entrance of the new TV and radio stations has led to more audience segmentation and fragmentation giving people a variety of stations and programmes to choose from.
"It is a good thing because you can now find a TV or radio station catering for farmers or news only, for instance. This is something that could not have been possible in the past," he noted, adding that a good number of stations are regional and broadcast in vernacular languages therefore addressing listeners immediate needs.
Kenya is set to get an additional 4,000 hotel beds in the next five years as per an estimate of international and upcoming brands that have announced plans of setting up in the country.
Director of Tourism, Ms Keziah Odemba, said the coming of the international brands portends good tidings for the industry and for the country’s economy as the established brands will directly source for tourists from their niche markets thereby adding to the total visitor numbers.
Speaking during the World Tourism Day fete in Nairobi, Ms Odemba said the expected multi-billion shilling investments among them by Swiss Lenana Motel, Radisson Blu, Villa Rosa Kempinski, Golden Tulip, Amber, Ibis Styles and an array of upcoming brands such as the 64-storeyed Hilton Upper Hill among others across the country show Kenya’s tourism projections are positive.
Last year Kenya received 1.1 million tourists mainly entering Kenya for business and leisure, with 2017’s projects currently set at 1.4 million.
About 937,000 tourists were hosted on holiday, 78,000 were business travellers and a further 136,000 tourists visiting for other reasons.
Online travel marketer Jumia Country Manager Cyrus Onyiego urged passenger airlines and tourist hotels to introduce special rates to cater for local travellers.
Mr Onyiego said Kenyans were keen to travel locally but were discouraged by exorbitant fees charged by the hotels.
“It is cheaper to fly from Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam to Kigali in Rwanda than it is to fly from Nairobi to Mombasa. Hotels also need to come up with an innovative pricing model that embraces cheaper pricing for advance family bookings for locals,” he said.
Ms Odemba said Kenya continues to record high tourism arrivals due to the relative peace that has continued to prevail even after the Supreme Court annulled the August 8 presidential election results.
Tourism expert Carmen Nibigira reiterated her call to African governments to open up borders for intra-Africa travel, saying affordable air fares could be realised if governments eased all charges levied on incoming airlines as well as zero-rating of visa charges like Europe and America had done.
Credit: Nation Media Group
It’s been nearly four years since Kenya won the right to host the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN). Yet it is now clear to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) that the country is not, and will not, be ready to host the event in January 2018.
This failure to get ready in time is bad for the tournament’s reputation, the Confederation of African Football and Kenya. It also undermines the domestic leagues that it’s intended to boost – particularly those in the host nation.
The Confederation of African Football’s decision to strip Kenya of the right to host the tournament is a terrible indictment of the country. Given the political turmoil over the presidential election impasse, Kenya needed an image makeover that a successful international sports event would have brought. The loss of hosting rights hurts Kenya’s national economy, the football development agenda, the country’s hospitality industry and even national morale at a time when confidence is badly needed.
Strengthening African football
The African Nations Championship is a tournament for players who play in Africa. It’s different from the Africa Cup of Nations, which is dominated by those who play in overseas leagues. The two tournaments are played in alternate years.
The idea is to strengthen national competitions, which were weakened by the exodus of top class players to more lucrative leagues abroad. The African Nations Championship is an opportunity for home based players to show their talent.
Next year’s event is the fifth edition of the championships. Sixteen countries are scheduled to compete between January 4 and February 8 next year. This will have to change, given that a new host – probably Morocco or South Africa – must prepare at such short notice.
Kenya’s lack of preparedness and the loss of hosting rights are worrying because the championship is still growing in reputation. The country stood to gain a great deal by successfully hosting the event. It’s going to take a major public relations push for Kenya to repair this damage.
The whole spectacle is reminiscent of 1996 when Kenya lost the right to host the Africa Cup of Nations because it wasn’t ready. Playing facilities were found to be below standard. This failure hurt the country and its football activities. Allowing this to happen twice is a disaster.
So much undone
Football Kenya Federation President Nick Mwendwa had insisted the country was ready. He was obviously wrong.
Work has been ongoing at four of the event’s five stadiums. There are three venues in and around the capital, Nairobi, and one each to the east and west of the capital. Apart from the Moi International Sports centre, which was upgraded to host the World Athletics Under-18 Championship this year, the stadiums are far from ready.
Each must meet Confederation of African Football requirements: specialised lighting systems for live TV coverage, at least four changing rooms, media facilities, a referees’ room and a room for anti-doping tests.
The preparedness of Kenya’s own national team is another concern. If the facilities are not in place, how was the team getting ready to play in the tournament? How could promotion and marketing of the event begin when the country was even not sure the Confederation was going to give them the final nod?
This debacle has been a study in poor planning and execution.
Distracted by elections
Kenya’s last minute rush could not have come at a worse time. The country has been in election mode for most of the past year. It has been caught up in political uncertainty after the Supreme Court annulled the outcome of the August poll and set a date for new presidential elections. County governors and management responsible for upgrading stadiums have been more focused on re-election.
It was no surprise, then, when the Confederation of African Football postponed a scheduled inspection tour of Kenya. This was a signal that all was not well.
Building a brand
Kenya has built a strong brand in sport on the field and track. The country hosted the 4th All Africa Games in 1987. More recently, Nairobi was praised for hosting the World Under-18 Athletics Championships.
Successful hosts gain useful advantages: increased investment in facilities, increased media visibility, more tourists and improved transportation networks. Public enthusiasm for the sport can also get a boost. And if the host team succeeds, there can be a feeling of enhanced national excitement, patriotism and identity.
The championship was a perfect opportunity to elevate the brand of the national football team, the Harambee Stars. Prior to 1996, Kenya qualified for AFCON three times in a row (1988, 1990 and 1992). Since the 1996 suspension, it has qualified only once. This was in 2004 in Tunisia. Hosting would have given Kenya a shot at an African Football Championship without having to qualify on the field of play. It would also have laid the foundation for qualifying for AFCON and even the now expanded World Cup in the foreseeable future.
This second cancellation is a huge disappointment to the sporting fraternity across the the East African region and the whole world that has always looked at Kenya as Africa’s trailblazing superpower in sporting matters.
After a Supreme Court ruling that invalidated Kenya’s August 8 presidential election, the country now finds itself in a moral predicament between political stability and electoral credibility.
On one hand, the ruling that ordered a fresh presidential election was a win for the democratic process the world over. The court found that Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission was in violation of constitutional procedure. It also found that the commission had violated election law and in so doing impugned the credibility of the election.
On the other hand, the court’s decision has ushered the country into a period of political instability. Where it would have closed the chapter on the 2017 election cycle, it is now gearing up for a repeat poll slated for October 26.
Kenyans now find themselves in a tight spot made even more uncomfortable by demands being made by Raila Odinga and his National Super Alliance. The opposition is insisting that certain conditions, including reconstituting the election commission and reprinting key election documents, must be met before the October 26 election can be held.
The opposition’s hard stance could result in a delayed election. This could also happen if OT-Morpho, the French biometrics firm which supplied the electoral commission with its electronic voting system fails to have a new system ready in time. It’s indicated that it won’t. If indeed the key issue with the last election was that the voting system was not “simple and verifiable” as demanded by law, then any delays could be interpreted as being in the interests of a free, fair, credible and transparent election.
But for those who argue that no electoral process can be perfect, and that the August 8th poll was merely dogged by minor and inadvertent errors, then it begs the question: what is more important, electoral credibility or political stability?
The Supreme Court prioritised electoral credibility by invalidating the presidential election result on grounds that the election commission had committed illegalities and irregularities.
In doing so, it broke ranks with foreign election observer missions which had concluded that the presidential election was credible. By and large the Supreme Court ruling was a win for Kenyans and the rule of law. The court took the opportunity to audit the electoral process for transparency and to define the parameters of a credible election.
But its ruling raised questions of its own. For instance, the court ruled that the electoral commission didn’t strictly adhere to election procedure as set out in law. It also held that there had been tampering with the commission’s electronic voter management system. But it mandated the same commission to carry out a fresh election within 60 days.
Because the court gave no direction on the reconstitution of the commission, the petitioner Odinga and the respondent President Uhuru Kenyatta are now at an impasse over who should remain at the commission.
Those who disagree with the Supreme Court ruling see the court’s decision as a subversion of the will of the Kenyan people. For them, the ruling was a destabilising force which didnt’ reflect the people’s decision.
Giving credence to this argument is the fact that Kenya is viewed as the economic hub of East Africa. If the country does not return to normalcy as quickly as possible there will be a ripple effects, including economic, across the region.
On top of this, Kenya finds itself in a precarious situation because the executive is at odds with the judiciary. Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party has the majority in both houses of Parliament. It is therefore within its capacity to limit the independence of the judiciary should it continue to feel aggrieved by the Supreme Court decision. This could happen through a parliamentary referendum as per Article 256 of the Constitution and would involve members of parliament deciding to amend the constitution without a popular vote.
But by far the most pressing threat to Kenya’s continued political stability is the possibility that the Supreme Court may have created a situation in which Kenya could remain in election mode ad infinitum. Nothing stops a new petition from being filed should one of the candidates contest the next poll results.
If we look at Kenya’s neighbour Rwanda we see an example of a head of state that’s arguably prioritised a semblance of political stability over election credibility. Paul Kagame was recently reelected for the third time. Some argue that his rule has benefited Rwandans because the country has shown better socio-economic outcomes than most African countries.
But there tensions simmer and in the absence of electoral credibility, Rwanda’s political stability may be skin deep.
Rethinking Kenya’s election system
The Kenya case raises questions about elections in Africa and whether they are a force for political stability or instability. I would posit that Kenya has made great strides to improve electoral credibility since its catastrophic 2007 election.
In conclusion, election credibility and political stability aren’t mutually exclusive.
There should be a positive correlation between democracy and the improved well being of a state and its people. But in a country like Kenya with 40-plus tribes, the more populous tribes will always take advantage of their voting might, while the less populous ones struggle to compete. The system just does not work in their favour. It would seem therefore that they are locked out – not by choice but by circumstance.
So, does a majoritarian, “winner-takes-all” system suit an ethnically diverse society like Kenya’s?
Perhaps, not. I’m persuaded that there needs to be a re-imagination of electoral democratic practices in Africa. Kenya should take recent events as an opportunity to clean up its institutions and electoral system. If it doesn’t, future polls will continue to offer up a point of diversion between electoral credibility and a tenuous political stability.
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?
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.
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.
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.