Ideas & Debate

Why Kenya can’t afford ‘22 poll economic disruptions


Past electoral seasons have mostly disappointed many for the socio-economic disruptions they cause, especially to businesses and investments. They interrupt critical focus on national development, scare away investments, while diverting essential resources.

Elections have often been violent, divisive and hateful, sometimes gravitating to raw primitive animosity for no apparent logical reason, and this dents Kenya’s national self-esteem. They barely add much value to the economy.

To businesses and investors, Kenya elections are a key area of risk analysis usually defined as “country risk”.

Depending on prevailing electoral decibels, Nairobi Stock Exchange foreign investors will predictably offload their shares about a year to elections resulting in dollar capital flight and weakening of national current account.

Longer-term foreign investment decisions are often postponed until after elections, mainly due to unpredictability of investment environment.

A few months to elections, expatriates will book air tickets to ostensibly go for long overdue overseas vacations.

The real reason being they are running away from potential electoral violence. And incoming business visitors and tourists will similarly postpone their trips to Kenya .

About a year to elections and a year after government business and services go into a neutral gear, as minds turn to elections and as they wait for new government to form and announce its priorities, which may completely derail previously ongoing projects.

Out of every five years electoral cycle, two years are wasted awaiting elections and preparing new post-election agenda.

This is about 40 percent of lost development time and opportunities. This is why Kenya is always playing a catch-up game with the rest of the world, and why the country will take that much longer to evolve into an economic “tiger” .

What is really unforgivable, is how “war chests” for fighting elections are funded . This is the boiling pot for corruption as taxpayers’ money is cunningly and corruptly diverted to fund elections.

Politicians’ handouts to the public and churches are usually monies diverted from public coffers.

Corruption and elective politics have for a long time been inseparably conjoined, making it difficult to eliminate corruption in public offices. The implications here are that the economy never gets full value from taxpayers’ money.

Instead of being progressive and transformational, Kenyan elections often scare more than inspire new generations, which is unfortunate.

Elections are usually not contested on any meaningful principles nor serious manifestos, for they tend to be more personality-centric than patriotic. Parties and alliances formed a few months before elections cannot possibly craft credible manifestos.

The above is based on my observations of past Kenya elections, of which I first voted in 1969. Violence and corruption were mostly absent in the early years of our nationhood, having evolved in 1990s and become a routine in nearly every election thereafter.

There is still much time to make sure that the 2022 elections will be calm and civilised with minimum socio-economic disruptions.

The starting point is to ensure that systems and capacity for electoral authorities are ample, and indeed there is a lot to learn from previous shortcomings.

Deliberate efforts are needed to minimise the ethnic factor in our elections by forming political alliances and partnerships that are diverse and inclusive.

This seems to be happening with the shaping up of various groupings across the country, which have the effect of averaging out the political participation and averting hegemony which has often led to violence.

Yes, economic development and investments love continuity and abhor gaps and uncertainties.

The economy is still under convalescence from Covid impacts, and cannot afford further disruptions from elections, and this is why the political elite needs to ensure that peaceful transition can be assured to safeguard the national economy.

We need to break with the past and make elections a process that everyone including businesses can look forward to.

For those crafting economic manifestos, we need to go back to basics and recreate full capacity in productive sectors (agriculture, livestock, manufacturing, mining) as these have the highest potential for jobs and national wealth creation.

These will utilise the infrastructure which we have heavily invested in.