To control the spread of coronavirus, the Kenyan Ministry of Health COVID-19 Taskforce implemented initial prevention and mitigation measures. These included encouraging the public to wash their hands, wear face masks and stay home.
But not everyone will be able to adhere to these because they rely on a daily wage and cannot afford to stay home. Many of these people live in Nairobi’s low income settlements which are overcrowded and where sanitation and social distancing measures are near impossible to maintain. COVID-19 would spread rapidly under these conditions.
To make sure this doesn’t happen, health authorities need timely data to design policies and interventions that are easily understood and relevant to the lives of urban slum inhabitants.
Along with our colleagues at the Population Council (an organisation dedicated to carrying out research on critical health and development issues), we worked with the government’s taskforce committees to do just that. We used rapid phone-based surveys to collect information on knowledge, attitudes, practices and needs among 2,000 households in five Nairobi urban slums. The survey will be conducted every 2 to 3 weeks over the coming months as the pandemic unfolds in Kenya.
Some of our key findings so far are that prevention methods are being adopted by most, but people are starting to struggle: many are missing meals, have lost work and say that the cost of living is going up.
It’s vital to have this information as it will help to inform prevention, control and mitigation measures during epidemics. A recent example is from the Ebola response, where surveys identified the prevalence of misconceptions about Ebola transmission and prevention, the need to prevent stigmatisation of Ebola survivors, and to foster safer case management and burial practices.
What people are saying
One of our key findings so far was that most people are adopting prevention practices, including social distancing, hand washing and wearing face masks. For instance participants reported that – compared to before COVID-19 – they: saw less of family (56%), saw less of their friends (87%), avoided public transportation (76%) and stayed at home more (85%).
But staying at home is proving more difficult. In the day before the survey, 79% had left the house; 37% left once, 24% left twice, 39% left three times or more. Of those that left home, 34% travelled outside of the slum where they live, suggesting significant travel around Nairobi.
When it came to wearing face masks, 89% said they had worn one in the last week, 73% said they always wore the face mask when outside of the home. Of those who did not always wear a face mask, the reasons were mainly that they were uncomfortable (57%) and unaffordable (19%).
Hand-washing was also a widely adopted practice: 95% said most public spaces have hand-washing stations, 76% said they washed their hands more than seven times a day, and 88% said they always used soap. Only 5% of participants say they wash their hands between 1 and 3 times per day. Barriers to regular handwashing were a lack of access to water at home (25%) and that they couldn’t cannot afford (32%) extra soap or water.
Hand sanitisers were used far less: 40% of participants said they don’t use them because they’re too expensive (83%) or not available in shops (24%).
The pandemic is clearing having a negative impact on people’s health and economic and social status.
Most people who responded to our survey (68%) said they had had skipped a meal or eaten less in the past two weeks because they did not have enough money to buy food. Only 7% had received any type of assistance – such as cash, vouchers, food and soap – and only half said the assistance given was enough to cover their households’ most important needs.
Participants expressed their single biggest unmet need was food (74%) followed by cash (17%). This may be related to 77% of participants reporting increased food prices and 87% noting household expenditures increased, as well as more than 4 out of 5 participants reporting complete or partial loss of income or employment.
Women may be disproportionately affected with increased time spent on chores (67% vs 51% of men) and more women reported a complete loss of income or employment compared to men.
When it came to how well-informed people are of the illness, we found a big majority knew that fevers (83%) were a symptom. But less knew about difficulty breathing (48%) and coughs (52%).
We also found that young people were less likely to think they were at high risk of becoming infected compared to older people. We identified two other persistent myths: 27% thought that coronavirus was a punishment from god and 13% thought it could not spread in hot places.
Based on our findings, we recommend that the Kenyan government continue its public education campaigns, with a focus on:
Clarifying that everyone can be infected with COVID-19 and pass on the virus to others, even if they themselves are not at high risk from severe illness.
Recognise that people are starting to be flooded with information on COVID-19 from all sources. This suggests that messaging can be refocused toward accurate prevention measures and accessing social protection.
Given the high rates of people forgoing food, and experiencing a complete or partial loss of income, assistance must be provided so as to avoid a secondary humanitarian crisis. It is particularly important that assistance gets into the hands of women to help them cope with these challenges.
Current assistance efforts are reaching less than 10% of the participants and should be ramped up in a coordinated way.
Kenya is facing a double burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases. Clustering of infections (such as HIV or TB) and noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes or hypertension is now common. This is putting pressure on the overstretched healthcare system.
In spite of this, many individuals with noncommunicable diseases remain undiagnosed for a number of reasons. These include unfamiliarity with symptoms, lack of testing equipment, and costs associated with the tests.
Recent statistics show that just over half a million adults were living with diabetes in Kenya in 2019. About 40% were unaware of their condition. Deaths from cancer are estimated at 7% while cardiovascular diseases account for 13%.
Overall, almost half of hospital admissions and about 55% of deaths in Kenya are associated with noncommunicable diseases.
This leaves countries like Kenya in a particularly vulnerable position when it comes to the severity of COVID-19. Globally, evidence shows people with underlying medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes or cancers are at a higher risk of COVID-19.
Is the health system in Kenya prepared?
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic reached Kenya, access to chronic care, especially for noncommunicable diseases, was challenging. This is worse for patients with more than one chronic disease.
Kenya’s health system is fragmented and largely designed to manage individual diseases rather than managing patients with multiple diseases. This is partly due to health system challenges such as staff shortages, inadequate or dysfunctional medical equipment, drug stock-outs and unskilled providers.
Unlike HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, access to care for most noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes is a major problem especially among the poor. Findings from our study at Mbagathi district hospital in Nairobi revealed some of these challenges.
A 52-year-old female patient said:
My HIV/AIDS care is provided free of charge but other diseases such as diabetes I pay for.
Another 58-year-old male patient said:
Every time I use KSh.1500 (US$15); consultation fee is KSh.300 ($3); I buy drugs for three months and that costs KSh.300 ($3).
During the COVID-19 pandemic, access to care may be even more difficult due to overwhelmed health systems, lockdown and curfews as well as fear of infections. Currently, preparations are being made to prevent or manage COVID-19 cases. But little is said about protocols to manage patients with chronic conditions.
It’s important to strengthen the healthcare system in Kenya to offer integrated care that addresses not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also chronic illnesses.
Management of COVID-19 should take account of other conditions. The current funding such as the $50 million provided by the World Bank should provide horizontal treatment and care. It should address all conditions rather than only prioritising COVID-19 cases.
Integrating care means that individuals could get access to testing and medical care for COVID-19 as well as other conditions such as diabetes or hypertension.
The Kenyan government must also provide healthcare workers with adequate personal protective equipment and address staff shortages by hiring more unemployed doctors and nurses.
And healthcare providers with chronic conditions must be relieved from being at the frontline in managing COVID-19 cases. If this is not possible, providers must be well protected to avoid being infected.
Collaborating with communities and local administrations will help in reporting and tracking cases or deaths, and citizens who defy government laws. Community health workers can sensitise community members and individuals at risk of COVID-19 on preventive measures.
Finally, the police force in Kenya should be made aware that, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, patients with chronic diseases need constant engagement with hospitals. Lockdowns or curfew measures should be sensitive to these populations.
Kenya has achieved a lot since it intervened in 2011. Its intervention was a “game changer”, contributing to a momentum that led to al-Shabaab losing all major Somali cities. But it has fallen short of its goals to subdue al-Shabaab and end terrorism in Kenya. And it will leave a Somalia where its rivals are gaining power and challenging Kenyan national interests.
Kenya’s public motive for intervening in 2011 was self-defence. Its defence forces moved into Somalia to stop al-Shabaab attacks and improve the country’s internal security. Since then, al-Shabaab has lost territorial control over all of Somalia’s larger cities. In 2012, Kenya reclaimed Kismayo. In the same year, it convinced Ethiopia to join the fight.
The combined forces of Kenya and Ethiopia were redeployed under the African Union Mission to Somalia. This was crucial in containing al-Shabaab between 2012 and 2016. This combined force weakened the terror group to the point that it is now unable to hold territories within Somali cities.
But this still does not mean that the intervention was successful. Since it began, al-Shabaab has launched three large attacks in Kenya. In 2013, it attacked Westgate Mall in Nairobi. In 2015, it attacked Garissa University in northeastern Kenya. And last year it attacked the Dusit Hotel complex, also in the capital.
By late 2019, al-Shabaab’s infiltration in Kenya’s northeast intensified, and locals are increasingly accommodating their presence.
The situation in the area around the coastal town of Lamu is similar. Al-Shabaab is taking advantage of animosities between the Muslim Bajunis and the Christian elite who settled in the area in the 1970s.
Broadly speaking, Kenya has managed to curtail al-Shabaab activities in trouble spots in Kilifi and Mombasa. The country also managed to return a large number of foreign fighters to Somalia without much blow-back. Yet the intervention of 2011 failed to keep Kenya completely safe.
Nor did it fully vanquish al-Shabaab. The group is still strong, despite having lost much of its territory. It is richer than ever, propelled by its efficient taxing of the Somali business community, tolled checkpoints and investments, including some in the agricultural sector. Its leadership structure remains intact, with many key officers having served more than four years.
Kenya’s withdrawal from Somalia will have its own drawbacks. For one, it will abandon its long-time allies inside Somalia. Thus, it will lose leverage with both Addis Ababa and Mogadishu.
The government of Somalia’s president, known as Farmajo, has increasingly been at odds with Kenya. The two countries are currently in a diplomatic row over their shared maritime border.
Second, Farmajo’s agenda to place his preferred candidates in political office in Somalia’s regional states has challenged Kenya’s allies in Somalia and especially the regional state of Jubaland.
It has become clear that Farmajo is willing to draw Ethiopian forces as well as the Somali National Army into his quest to consolidate power by appointing political allies. This has pitched Ethiopia against Kenya, and created tension. Ethiopian forces have recently intervened in support of the Somali government in Mogadishu, targeting the enemies of the Farmajo government. That government has been increasingly willing to use military force against the opposition (as well as the Somali media, and against the regional state of Jubaland, led by Kenyan ally Ahmed Mohamed Islam “Madobe”.
Kenya leaves a Somalia where neighbouring Ethiopia plays an increasing role, and also works against Kenya’s former allies. Also, there are stronger totalitarian tendencies on the part of the Somali presidency than before.
Its withdrawal will leave Ethiopia with a dominating position in the African Union Mission to Somalia. As Ethiopia’s alliance with Farmajo is strong, this is bad news for the Somali opposition, including allies of Kenya.
By withdrawing, Kenya has also let its allies down. It has shown that it cannot be trusted to stay the course. Yet the withdrawal follows a wider pattern in Kenyan politics, wherein the 2011 intervention was the exception.
Kenya’s foreign policy strategy has traditionally been passive and restrained. It has held back from the more aggressive politics of all of its neighbours. In the past, this strategy served Kenya well, and the country avoided much of the turmoil that plagued neighbouring countries like Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, and even Tanzania. A Kenyan withdrawal is thus a return to Kenya’s traditional foreign policy, and saves Kenyan lives and resources.
Kenya’s relationship with Ethiopia has been the cornerstone of its regional foreign policy, and a Kenyan withdrawal can repair the relationship. But that will be done on Ethiopia’s terms, enhance Ethiopian power in Somalia and leave Kenya with fewer allies within Somalia.
This is the dilemma faced by Kenyan decision-makers today, and their choices will have far-reaching consequences.
Kenya’s president extended a nationwide night-time curfew by 21 days and said people won’t be able to enter or exit the capital and some coastal areas for a similar period.
The East African nation has 343 confirmed cases of Covid-19, President Uhuru Kenyatta said in an emailed statement. The government has mapped out economic sectors and activities on the basis of infection risk and decided to allow some restaurants and eateries to reopen, he said.
“We will reopen this economy, but it must be in a way that does not endanger many thousands of lives,” Kenyatta said.
The president also assented to tax law amendments designed to cushion businesses and households from the impact of the pandemic, according to a separate statement. The changes include an increase in the threshold for sales tax, a drop in income and corporation tax and lower value-added tax.
Many developing economies suffer from a lack of reliable rainfall measurements due to a lack of funds and a shortage of equipment – such as gauges and radars. Even if countries are equipped with these monitoring instruments, they all have limitations.
Rain gauges, meteorological instruments that collect falling water drops, only provide a very local observation. However, the intensity of rainfall can be completely different from one location to another, sometimes even if it’s less than a few hundreds of metres away.
Radars use radio waves to get precipitation estimates but they may not always be efficient. For example, their beams might get blocked in mountainous regions.
Earth-observing satellites can also provide estimates of rain. These are made from space, using remote sensors. However, the spatial images are coarse, making it hard to analyse rainfall distribution across small areas on the ground.
These constraints pose problems when it comes to monitoring crop yields because many smallholder farmers in developing economies rely on rain-fed agriculture.
Accurate precipitation measurements are essential to farmers. For example, for prevention of over irrigation – this would lead to water saving and more efficient use of fertilisers. Accurate measurements are also desirable for rainfall-based insurance, an important resource to mitigate risk for farmers in developing countries.
In our research venture, we use commercial microwave links – wireless connections between mobile phone towers – from different locations in the world, as an effective low-cost way to estimate rainfall. This adds to previous studies which have shown the same.
However, most of the academic work done so far has been conducted in developed countries pointing mainly to hydro-meteorological applications such as flood prediction.
Our initiative focuses on developing this approach for agricultural needs in developing economies.
Using commercial microwave links
Commercial microwave links are wireless connections which transfer data between mobile phone towers. These links are widely deployed, several tens of meters above the ground, by mobile phone providers all over the world.
Rainfall reduces the signal strength of radio beams between the transmitting and receiving towers. As a result, we can estimate how much rainfall there is based on changes in the quality of the electromagnetic signals. The system can be configured so that signals between towers are recorded over short time periods; for instance, every 15 minutes. This makes it useful for rain monitoring.
In recent years, efforts have been made by the academic community and the private sector to promote the application of this technique in developing countries. However, in terms of scientific publications, until now only a few papers have been published.
In our research venture, we analyse data from a number of mobile phone providers.
An example of such a study recently demonstrated the possible advantage of commercial microwave links, over rain gauges, to detect rainfall in an agricultural field. This was at a tea farm near the town of Kericho, in western Kenya.
Rainfall estimates, acquired by a number of links, were compared with measurements from rain gauges located adjacent to them. While a compelling correlation was observed between the link measurements and rain gauges, the rain gauge method missed a complete rainy episode. Though the gauge is more precise, it provides only a very local observation.
This demonstrates that there’s huge potential in using microwave links in developing countries, where weather monitoring capabilities are often limited.
A sustainable low-cost solution
Many towers are installed in remote areas. This means observations can now happen in places that have been hard to access in the past or where rainfall has never been measured before.
Additionally, the implementation cost is low because the data is already collected and logged by many mobile phone operators in the course of their service quality.
Considering the mobility, and relative ease of installation of the wireless technology in the field, the total number of installed links will likely continue to grow, including particularly, in Africa. Therefore, the proposed method is expected to be available, and sustainable, into the future.
But there are limitations.
Commercial microwave links were designed for communication needs, not measuring rainfall. And so, major uncertainties in measurements do happen.
For example, in rural areas, since towers are sparser, the link lengths will be longer than in urban areas. Technically, in this situation the links are operated in beam wavelengths that are less sensitive to rainfall. As a result of the lower density of the link network and the lower sensitivity of each link in this case, readings will be less accurate.
Therefore, an ideal approach would be to use this technology as a complement to existing tools like rain gauges, radars and satellites. That being said, considering the many cases where there are no monitoring assets at all, the ability to provide information regarding rainfall in the area using mobile phone towers would still be invaluable.
One of the ways this information can be used is in rainfall-based insurance, an important resource to mitigate risk for farmers in developing countries.
Precipitation amounts are closely correlated to agricultural production, so this insurance pays out based on the rainfall measured (by a rain gauge, for example) as an index. A major concern with this insurance is that the contract will fail to properly reflect actual agricultural losses. One key source of this is the potential difference between the local rainfall experienced by farmers covered by such insurance, and the rainfall measurements used to calculate the indemnity.
Since measurements from commercial microwave links can improve the spatial rainfall picture, they present a sustainable solution to reducing such basis risk.
Ultimately, we hope that our findings will mean that farmers will benefit from better designed rainfall-based index insurance and poor households will benefit from more accurate crop yield monitoring.
The study conducted in Kericho, Kenya, was done alongside researchers Prof. Zhongbo (Bob) Su, Prof. Joost C.B. Hoedjes and PhD candidate Kingsley Kwabena Kumah from the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation at the University of Twente in the Netherlands.
Noam David, Founder of AtmosCell and Consulting Expert, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ; H. Oliver Gao, Professor, Cornell University, and Yanyan Liu, Senior Research Fellow, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
German customs officials are attempting to track down about 6 million face masks ordered to protect health workers from the coronavirus which went missing at an airport in Kenya.
“The authorities are trying to find out what happened,” said a defence ministry spokeswoman, confirming a report first published by Spiegel Online.
The FFP2 masks, which filter out more than 90% of particles, were ordered by German customs authorities. They and the armed forces procurement office have been helping the health ministry to get hold of urgently needed protective gear.
The shipment was due in Germany on March 20 but never arrived after disappearing at the end of last week at an airport in Kenya. It was unclear why the masks, produced by a German firm, had been in Kenya.
“What exactly happened, whether this a matter of theft or a provider who isn’t serious, is being cleared up by customs,” said a government source.
Kenya’s health ministry declined to comment and a Kenyan Airports Authority (KAA) spokeswoman said the company was still assessing the situation.
Spiegel Online reported that Germany has placed orders worth 241 million euros with suppliers for protective and sanitary equipment to fight the coronavirus.
The defence ministry spokeswoman said there was no financial impact from the loss of the masks as no money had been paid.
Germany is preparing its hospitals and health workers for a big increase in admissions of patients with the virus. It has 27,436 confirmed coronavirus cases and 114 people have died, the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said.
Several African governments on Sunday closed borders, canceled flights and imposed strict entry and quarantine requirements to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, which has a foothold in at least 26 countries on the continent as cases keep rising.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster and warned the outbreak could have a “potentially lasting” impact on the continent’s most-developed economy, which is already in recession.
Measures to be taken there include barring travel to and from countries such as Italy, Germany, China and the United States.
“Any foreign national who has visited high-risk countries in the past 20 days will be denied a visa,” he said, adding that South Africans who visited targeted countries would be subjected to testing and quarantine when returning home.
South Africa, which has recorded 61 cases, will also prohibit gatherings of more than 100 people, Ramaphosa said.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said his government was suspending travel from any country with reported COVID-19 cases.
“Only Kenyan citizens, and any foreigners with valid residence permits will be allowed to come in, provided they proceed on self-quarantine,” he told the nation in a televised address.
The ban would take effect within 48 hours and remain in place for at least 30 days, he said.
Schools should close immediately and universities by the end of the week, he added. Citizens would be encouraged to make cashless transactions to cut the risk of handling contaminated money.
Kenya and Ethiopia have now recorded three and four cases respectively, authorities in each nation said on Sunday, two days after they both reported their first cases.
In West Africa, Ghana will ban entry from Tuesday to anyone who has been to a country with more than 200 coronavirus cases in the past 14 days, unless they are an official resident or Ghanaian national. Ghana has recorded six cases.
President Nana Akufo-Addo said in a televised Sunday evening address that universities and schools will be closed from Monday until further notice. Public gatherings will be banned for four weeks, he said, though private burials are allowed for groups of less than 25 people.
In southern Africa, Namibia ordered schools to close for a month after recording its first two cases on Saturday.
Djibouti, which has no confirmed case of COVID-19, said on Sunday it was suspending all international flights. Tanzania, which also has no cases yet, canceled flights to India and suspended school games.
Other nations have also shuttered schools, canceled religious festivals and sporting events to minimize the risk of transmission. Some 156,500 people worldwide have been infected and almost 6,000 have died.
Avocado is grown in several parts of Kenya and about 70% of avocado production is by small-scale growers. They grow it for subsistence, local markets, and export purposes.
The avocado export market in Kenya is dominated by five major exporters: Kakuzi, Vegpro, Sunripe, Kenya Horticultural Exporters, and East African Growers. These companies source their avocados primarily from smallholder farmers, although some firms also source from larger growers or own plantations.
In a new study we surveyed 790 avocado-farming households in Kenya and analysed what factors get in the way of smallholder farmers participating in export markets. We then looked at the implications this has on their farming businesses. This included labour inputs – such as hired and family labour – farm yields, sales prices, and finally, incomes.
We found that exporting more of Kenya’s avocado production could raise the incomes of Kenyan smallholder farmers. But, to do so, programmes and policymakers need to reduce the barriers that smallholders face when they want to participate in export markets. These include the costs of harvesting, transport and having liquidity. There are also farmers’ organisation transaction costs, such as membership fees and the opportunity costs of time when attending meetings.
The barriers to entry
Smallholder avocado farmers in Kenya face several big barriers to participating in export markets.
Capital and liquidity constraint: They often don’t have enough capital to meet the high costs of participation in export markets. For instance being able to buy or grow higher quality avocados. In most cases, contract farmers need to harvest the produce themselves and transport it to collection sheds or company premises. Their payment then usually arrives after a delay of one to two weeks.
Limited access to production technologies and institutional support: For instance, credit and training. This means smallholder avocado farmers are left out of important parts of the value chain.
Poor infrastructure: In rural areas a lack of good roads makes it difficult and costly to bring produce to markets in far-off areas.
The benefits of exports
We found that participating in export markets raises smallholder farmers’ incomes by nearly 39%. This is mostly on account of higher prices offered in international markets. For example, a dozen Haas avocados, distinguished by their dark green and brown skin and smaller than average avocado stone, sell for 3.5 Kenyan Shillings ($0.03) in domestic markets. But they fetch nearly double, 6 Kenyan Shillings ($0.06), in global export markets.
Smallholder farmers’ participation in export markets also increased employment opportunities within the community. International markets demanded higher quality avocados which required additional labour.
Our study found that hired labour costs increase by about 1,300 Kenyan Shillings (US$13) and smallholder farmers’ family labour inputs increase by about 15 days, if they participate in export markets.
We also found that smallholder farmers who participated in export markets were older and had received more training than those who participated in only local markets.
Additionally, participants’ farms were on average about 0.11 acres larger, with more Hass avocado trees, the favoured variety in international markets.
Those smallholder farmers who were cracking export markets were also more likely to live near an organised and established farmers’ group. These groups allow farmers to share agricultural techniques to improve their produce quality and increase yields.
The groups were more likely to focus on contract farming that grants higher prices for farmers’ produce while reducing the costs and barriers for communication between contract firms and farmers.
However, we found only a few smallholder farmers are linked to export markets through contract farming.
Connecting with exporters
The Kenyan government, recognising the potential to increase exports and boost smallholder welfare, recently started encouraging more smallholder farmers to connect with exporters. But integration with export markets remains a difficult barrier for individual smallholder farmers to overcome.
To make export markets more accessible for smallholders, the Kenyan government should increase seedling provision and facilitate avocado cultivation training programmes. Policies geared towards export promotion and encouraging innovative contract design would increase smallholder farmers’ yields and improve the quality of their produce. This would be critical for farmers to participate in export markets.
Additionally, programmes focused on improving the quality of farmers groups, making them more organised and better connected to resources and contract firms alike, would also provide an impetus to participating in export markets over the long term.
Mulubrhan Amare, Research fellow, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
The upsurge of Somali piracy after 2005 led to significant international activity in the Horn of Africa. Naval missions, training programmes, capital investment and capacity building projects were among the responses to the threat. States in the region also started to focus on the dangers and opportunities associated with the sea.
Kenya and Djibouti, two states directly affected by piracy, achieved widespread reform of their domestic maritime sectors through new national initiatives and assistance from external partners. Djibouti’s President Ismail Guelleh recently commented during talks with Kenya on security and trade links that
What happens in Somalia has an immediate impact on all of us.
At its height, between 2008 and 2012, it is estimated that Somali piracy cost the Kenyan shipping industry between US$300 million and $400 million every year. This was as a result of increased costs (including insurance) and a decline in coastal tourism. It also damaged Djibouti’s maritime industry, financial sector and international trade.
The upsurge of piracy after 2005 had a number of causes. It grew from poverty and lawlessness in Somalia alongside opportunity and a low risk of getting caught. By 2013 the threat had been reduced. This was due to a combination of naval patrols, private armed guards, self defence measures on board ships and capacity building efforts ashore.
Historically, most states in the Horn of Africa have struggled with limited capacity to address maritime insecurity. Their naval assets, training, human resources, institutional and judicial structures, monitoring and surveillance have all been critically underfunded.
But the international response to piracy – and the investments and partnerships that emerged – have helped some states to improve in these areas.
More importantly perhaps, since the decline in piracy attacks, Kenya and Djibouti have been paying more attention to policies around maritime governance and “blue” economic development. This relates to sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, job creation and ocean ecosystem health. The refocus marks a shift from traditional investments related to land based conflict and land borders.
In a recent article, I examine how Kenya and Djibouti reformed their domestic maritime sectors following a decline in acts of piracy. The study sheds new light on the limitations and challenges facing domestic maritime sectors in Africa as well as some of the innovative approaches taken.
A key point is that blue economic growth is not possible without addressing security threats at sea. This includes building a robust maritime security sector, improving ocean health and regulating human activity at sea in a more sustainable way.
Many of the new developments in the region have been supported by international partners. The Djibouti Navy and Coastguard work closely with the US Navy. Together, for example, they are developing capacity for stopping and searching suspicious vessels. This is important in countering the illicit trafficking in people and smuggling of migrants through Djiboutian waters.
Djibouti has also benefited from Chinese direct investment, which accounts for nearly 40% of the funding for its major investment projects. Chinese state-owned firms have built some of Djibouti’s largest maritime related infrastructure projects. These include the Doraleh Multipurpose Port, a new railway connection between Djibouti and Addis Ababa, and the opening of China’s first foreign military facility.
This is a clear example of Beijing prioritising its growing economic and security interests in Africa. And advancing its “massive and geopolitically ambitious” Belt and Road Initiative.
Kenya, too, has received international assistance and investment. This includes support to set up the Regional Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Mombasa. Organisations like the International Maritime Organisation have led training for staff from the centre and for the Kenyan Navy.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has provided law enforcement training for the Kenyan Maritime Police Unit. It also opened a new high-security courtroom in Shimo La Tewa, Mombasa, for cases of maritime piracy and other serious criminal offences.
At a national level, there is evidence of a fundamental shift towards building a more secure and sustainable domestic maritime sector.
For example, Kenya has created a new coastguard service. Its job is to police the country’s ocean territory and to ensure that Kenya benefits from its water resources. The country has new naval training partnerships, maritime capacity building projects and an implementation committee to coordinate “blue economic” activities. These include fisheries, shipping, port infrastructure, tourism and environmental protection.
For its part, Djibouti has rapidly developed its maritime sector and recognised the financial benefits of leasing coastal real estate. The country has an ambitious development plan titled “Djibouti Vision 2035”. This sets out its aspiration to become a maritime hub and the “Singapore of Africa”. It’s trading on the fact that it has a similar strategic position along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
All of these approaches require robust laws and regulations governing human activities at sea. They also call for a capable and flexible coastguard and navy to enforce these regulations and secure coastal waters against threats such as piracy, fisheries crime and the illicit smuggling of drugs, weapons and people.
The way forward
There are lessons in the Horn of Africa experience for other regions of Africa facing similar maritime insecurities. One example is the Gulf of Guinea.
The first lesson is that there’s a need to convince coastal states with weak maritime capacities of the untapped potential of the blue economy. Even reputational damage can harm tourism, development and investment in coastal regions. This was clearly illustrated in the case of Kenya.
Blue economic growth needs a safe and secure maritime environment for merchant shipping in particular. It can also help alleviate poverty in coastal regions, provide alternatives to criminal livelihoods, and allow local communities more ownership of issues that affect them.
Ultimately, maritime security and blue economic growth need to be considered as a unified policy issue.
Over the past 10 years mobile-based lending has grown in Kenya. Some estimates put the number of mobile lending platforms at 49. The industry is largely unregulated but includes major financial players. Banks such as Kenya Commercial Bank, Commercial Bank of Africa, Equity Bank and Coop Bank offer instant mobile loans.
These lending services have been made possible by the ballooning financial technology (fintech) industry.
Since the early 2000s, Kenya has been touted as a centre of technological innovation from which novel financial offerings have emerged. Mobile company Safaricom’s M-Pesa is a well-known example. It is no surprise, therefore, that technology and unregulated lending have developed together so strongly in Kenya.
The digital loan services appear to be bridging the gap for Kenyans who don’t have formal bank accounts, or whose incomes are not stable enough to borrow from formal financial institutions. These services have improved access to loans, but there are questions about whether the poor are being abused in the process.
Who borrows and why
A survey released earlier this year showed that formal financial inclusion – access to financial products and services – had increased from 27% of Kenya’s population in 2006 to 83%. M-Pesa was launched in 2007.
Mobile money services have benefited many people who would otherwise have remained unbanked. These include the poor, the youth, and women.
The next logical step was to make loans available. The first mobile loans were issued in 2012 by Safaricom through M-Pesa.
In 2017, the financial inclusion organisation Financial Sector Deepening Kenya reported that the majority of Kenyans access digital credit for business purposes such as investing and paying salaries, and to meet everyday household needs.
Some of their findings are illustrated in the figure below.
Unpacking the digital lending story
The implications of these findings are two-fold. Digital credit can help small enterprises to scale and to manage their daily cash flow. It can also help households cope with things like medical emergencies.
But, as the figure shows, 35% of borrowing is for consumption, including ordinary household needs, airtime and personal or household goods. These are not the business or emergency needs envisaged by many in the investment world as a use for digital credit.
Only 37% of borrowers reported using digital credit for business, and 7% used it for emergencies. Many in the development world thought this figure would be much higher.
Second, the speed and ease of access to credit through mobile applications has caused many borrowers to become heavily indebted. In Kenya, at least one out of every five borrowers struggles to repay their loan. This is double the rate of non-performing commercial loans in conventional banking.
The mobile-based lending business model depends on constantly inviting people to borrow. Potential borrowers receive unsolicited text messages and phone calls encouraging them to borrow at extraordinary rates. Some platforms even contact borrowers’ family and friends when seeking repayment.
It’s not always clear to customers what they will have to pay in fees and interest rates or what other terms they have agreed to. The model has been accused of making borrowers unknowingly surrender important parts of their personal data to third parties and waive their rights to dignity.
Concerns and remedies
There are concerns about how the business model may make people even more vulnerable.
The most prominent is the debt culture that has become a byproduct of mobile-based lending: borrowers fall into the trap of living on loans and accumulating bad debt.
So, what can be done to improve the system so that everyone benefits?
First, even though digital loans are low value, they may represent a significant share of the borrowers’ income. This means they will struggle to repay them. Overall, the use of high-cost, short-term credit primarily for consumption, coupled with penalties for late repayments and defaults, suggests that mobile-based lenders should take a more cautious approach to the development of digital credit markets.
Second, some digital lenders are not regulated by the Central Bank of Kenya. In general, digital credit providers are not defined as financial institutions under the current Banking Act, the Micro Finance Act or the Central Bank of Kenya Act.
Mobile lending platforms are offered by four main groups: prudential companies (such as banks, deposit-taking cooperatives and insurance providers), non-prudential entities, registered bodies and non-deposit-taking cooperatives as well as informal groups such as saving circles, employers, shop keepers and moneylenders.
Under current law, the Central Bank of Kenya regulates only the first two members of this list. So they should both be subject to the interest rate cap that was introduced in 2016. But some of the regulated financial institutions that also offer digital credit products have not complied with the interest rate cap, arguing that they charge a “facilitation fee”, and not interest on their digital credit products.
Third, and closely related to the point above, is the issue of disclosure. Borrowers often take loans without fully understanding the terms and conditions. Disclosures should include key terms and all conditions for the lending products, such as costs of the loan, transaction fees on failed loans, bundled products (services offered and charged for in tandem with the loan) and any other borrower responsibilities.
Fourth, with 49 digital lending platforms it is imperative that the lenders are monitored and evaluated for viability and compliance. Many mobile lending platforms are privately held (and some are foreign-owned) and are not subject to public disclosure laws.
Finally, changes to the current digital credit system across all the lending categories – prudential, non-prudential, registered and informal entities – are needed. An obvious failure of the system allows borrowers to seek funds from several platforms at the same time, creating a “borrow from Peter to pay Paul” scenario. At the same time the country’s Credit Reference Bureau has been faulted for occasionally basing its reports on incomplete data.
Credit reporting systems need to be stronger. They should get information from all sources of credit, including digital lenders, to improve the accuracy of credit assessments. Efforts to make the system work better should consider whether digital credit screening models are strong enough and whether rules are needed to ensure first-time borrowers are not unfairly listed. There could also be rules about reckless lending or suitability requirements for digital lenders.