Or­di­nary Kenyans feel pinch of po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

NAIROBI: “Time for an in­ter­view? I have a lot of time at the mo­ment,” said Owino Onyango, sweat­ing as he stepped out of his black­smith’s shop in Nairobi to talk busi­ness, and pol­i­tics.

“Busi­ness goes with pol­i­tics: if pol­i­tics go down, busi­ness also goes down”, said the 64-year-old, grum­bling about the “un­healthy” po­lit­i­cal cli­mate in Kenya since the Supreme Court’s Septem­ber an­nul­ment of Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta’s elec­tion. Elec­tion sea­sons sti­fle the econ­omy in Kenya, but this year’s pro­tracted cri­sis, with many weeks of court dis­putes and street protests, has been par­tic­u­larly bad for busi­ness. Onyango ap­pears hard at work, ham­mer­ing a glow­ing shaft of metal fresh from the forge, but his in­dus­try is an il­lu­sion. “There aren’t many or­ders so I’m re­pair­ing some of my tools,” he said. In re­cent weeks Onyango has been forced to fire two of his five em­ploy­ees. “Po­lit­i­cal lead­ers must ne­go­ti­ate among them­selves to set­tle this,” he said. While well-off po­lit­i­cal elites talk, the “mwananchi” — mean­ing or­di­nary folk in Swahilisuf­fer the most, he said, es­pe­cially in Kib­era, where even in stable times many have to get by on less than a dol­lar a day.

Onyango’s own weekly turnover has fallen from

around 30,000 shillings ($290, 250 euros) be­fore the elec­tions to 10,000 now, he said.

Growth shrinks

Across Kenya’s pri­vate sec­tor, from small shops to big in­vestors, elec­tions are bad news. “The pri­vate sec­tor, mainly the manufacturers, adopt a bit of a wait and see ap­proach,” said Ji­bran Qureishi, chief econ­o­mist for East Africa at Stan­bic Bank. “They stand back, they don’t hire, they don’t build up in­ven­to­ries,” he said. Fear of vi­o­lence, Qureishi said, is the big is­sue, since al­most every elec­tion in the past quar­ter cen­tury has been pre­ceded or fol­lowed by killings and protest.

The Kenya Na­tional Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Right doc­u­mented 37 deaths, all but two at the hands of po­lice, in the days fol­low­ing the Au­gust 8 elec­tion. Kenya looked set to re­turn to nor­mal de­spite anger over Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta’s re-elec­tion, but the Supreme Court’s an­nul­ment of the re­sult has left the coun­try fac­ing months of un­cer­tainty, and an in­creas­ingly tense po­lit­i­cal cli­mate.

A new elec­tion is set down for Oc­to­ber 26, how­ever the op­po­si­tion has an­nounced its with­drawal from the vote, fur­ther deep­en­ing anx­i­ety over how the process will un­fold.

Ser­vice in­dus­tries ac­count for al­most half of Kenya’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, but agri­cul­ture and man­u­fac­tur­ing em­ploy the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity. “If those sec­tors are not do­ing well... then pur­chas­ing power ac­tu­ally sub­sides and that even­tu­ally fil­ters through to the wider econ­omy,” he said. Partly thanks to elec­tions, growth is now pre­dicted to fall be­low five per­cent for the first time in more than four years. —AFP

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