Ideas & Debate

Kenya’s polls cycle need not hurt business

Wafula Chebukati, chairman Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. file photo | nmg
Wafula Chebukati, chairman Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. file photo | nmg 

In a week in which Kenya hosts its first global athletics event in 30 years — ironically, the final ever version of the IAAF under-18 athletics championships — the country enters the final lap in the endless race to be president, sorry, to be elected. In less than 30 days, Armageddon awaits, sorry, we vote.

Yet the local mood seems fearful, tense and uncertain. The grand march to salvation that our competing politicians promise us increasingly looks like the road to perdition or eternal damnation. If 2007 — and the post-election violence — hit almost like a bolt from the blue, 2017 feels like a shauri ya Mungu (in God’s hands) moment — the light at the end of the tunnel likely that of the oncoming train.

This discomfort isn’t helped by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s (IEBC) seeming lack of preparedness.

As I have said before, our elections manager had three simple tasks. One, ensure that we have a credible and inclusive voter register in place.

Two, give voters a list of credible candidates.

Three, bring voters and candidates together through a credible legal and management process driven by efficient systems and appropriate technology.

In short, deliver a free and fair election driven by the best practices in electoral management and the best values of electoral justice as fairness.

Since this has turned out to be an almighty struggle — even a Sisyphean task — on all three counts, what does this mean for the expected electoral justice and management outcomes? Put differently, what do these three leading indicators — an untidy voter register, unkempt candidate management and uncertainty of process mean for the coincident indicator — a free and fair election?

What does this tell us about potential lagging indicators such as muted investment or private sector job cuts? Or leading indicators such as reported pre-election family relocations across the country?

Good people, our politics — and the pressure it places on independent institutions such as the Judiciary, the IEBC or the Auditor-General — will be the death of us.

It prevents us from a real discourse around the state of Kenya’s business cycle. So let’s talk about leading (forward-looking), lagging (backward-looking) and coincident (real time) indicators.

Increasing signs of muted activity at the retail level and the Stanbic Bank’s Purchasing Managers’ Index — are the sort of leading indicators that speak to the faltering, uncertain state of the economy.

Weekly corporate announcements around staff retrenchment as well as profit troubles among Nairobi Securities Exchange-listed firms and persistent, growing inflation are the lagging indicators that confirm this. Yet our penchant is to focus on the one coincident indicator that is a result, not an input — gross domestic product. Even that number was lower in the first quarter of 2017 than in 2016.
Indicators are not actions. They are signalling devices. So, is current signal telling us we should expect a post-election economic downturn following the current pre-election economic slowdown? And where does our interminable politics feature in all of this?

Kenya’s politics signals — in a word — uncertainty. Over the past year-and-a-half — or is it four years — our continuous politicking has caused me to wonder if we need to factor two new indicator sets into our business cycle calculations. Call these ‘blagging’ and ‘bleeding’ indicators.

Blagging? Yes, this is not a Mount Kenya rendition of the word ‘bragging’. To blag is to “persuade someone in a clever or slightly dishonest way to allow you to do something or to give you something”.

Blagging and bleeding indicators would be the political lagging and leading indicator equivalents. “By flukes” would probably be the coincident indicator corollary.

If you listen carefully to the language featuring on the campaign trail — there’s lots of blagging (and bragging) from Jubilee as the political incumbent and an equal load of ‘bleeding’ (read, lamentation) from Nasa as the political contestant. This is, of course, campaign season.

What of the post-election honeymoon period? Or the quieter middle years? Simply, how do we move toward a business cycle that, while not independent, is equally not wholly dependent on the political cycle?

I’m still trying to get my head around non-standard indicators on how much blagging, bragging and bleeding this economy can afford if we are to achieve double-digit growth systematically, and not “by flukes”.