Why Kenya’s presidential election matters

NAIROBI. — Kenyans will be heading to the polls on August 8 for elections that have been closely followed not just in the Horn of Africa country but across the world.

Election posters have replaced consumer goods adverts on street billboards as politicians step up their campaigns to win over the 19 million registered voters.

It is the sixth presidential election since the country of more than 45 million people embraced a multi-party democratic system in 1992. So why do the elections in Kenya matter not just to Kenyans but to the rest of the African continent and the world?

Nairobi is East Africa’s economic hub, and the country is the second-largest economy in the region, according to figures from the World Bank and the International Monitory Fund (IMF).

Until late 2014, when its larger neighbour, Ethiopia, overtook it, Kenya had the biggest economy — at more than $60 billion — of the East Africa region.

“Kenya was quick to welcome foreign investors, more than its neighbours. Kenya, for a long time, had the fastest developing economy in the region,” Samuel Nyademo, an economist at Nairobi University, told Al Jazeera.

“Foreign investors put a lot of money, for example, in the aviation, banking, tourism and the telecommunications sectors.

These sectors generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues for the government and employ thousands of Kenyans. Anything other than smooth elections will be a disaster,” Nyademo explained.

Nairobi is also home to the region’s most developed stock market and, according to Nyademo, the rhetoric on the campaign trails can affect share prices.

The port in Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa serves neighbouring landlocked countries like South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

If elections disrupt this transport corridor, as happened after the 2007 election, when there was widespread violence, the price of everyday goods, such as rice and cooking oil, could rise significantly.

“South Sudan is at the mercy of the elections in Kenya. It will pay the heaviest price in terms of imports and its banking sector if the elections are not trouble-free,” Nyademo said.

The election is also being closely watched in The Hague, the city in the Netherlands where the International Criminal Court (ICC) is based, and in capitals across the European continent.

Both Uhuru Kenyatta, the Kenyan president, and his deputy William Ruto spent time in The Hague defending themselves against allegations that they incited ethnic violence following the 2007 election.

The ICC has since dropped the charges.-The Herald

August 2017
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