Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tough call for Kenya's next president

In less than thirty days Kenya will elect its first president under a new constitution and later in June mark 50 years of independence from the British rule.

Those bidding to be Kenya’s fourth president will have their plates full once they get into office as they seek to tackle the country’s emerging issues.

Even as political parties gear up for the March 4 ballot race with pre-election pacts and last minute rush to meet the deadlines, those vying for the top seat face stiffer competition not just from their political rivals but also from the more enlightened public.

First on the plate will be the need to have a smooth political transition from the Mwai Kibaki government to the new one that will be set up by the next president.

Establishment of a more credible electoral body and new regulations dealing with election disputes notwithstanding, the new president will have to ensure that the country does not end up polarised by the election into tribal groupings.

The 2007/2008 post-election violence that left hundreds of people dead and thousands others displaced and businesses looted tainted Kenya’s image as a beacon of peace and stability within the East African region and momentarily slowed the country's economic growth rate.

In his last New Year message as head of state, President Mwai Kibaki said that it was paramount for the country to have smooth transitions at both county and national levels.

“The best gift that we can bestow upon our motherland, on her diamond jubilee year is a peaceful election. Let us all play our part and send a clear message to the world that we are a beacon of democracy, freedom and liberty,” said President Kibaki

In the 2012 edition of the Kenya Economic Update Report, Johannes Zutt, the World Bank country director warned that the election may impact on the economic growth.

“Historically, Kenya’s economy has slowed during election periods, but Kenya could grow at 5 per cent in 2013, provided that the next election and the subsequent transfer of power to a new administration are both achieved peacefully,” he said.

At the moment the country’s economy is enjoying some form of stability having witnessed a sharp decline in inflation rates in 2012 and the strengthening of the Kenyan shilling against foreign currencies.
Al-Shabaab militia
The country’s insecurity is a challenge that the new president and his deputy will have to deal with. Kenya launched an offensive against the Al-Shabaab militia sending their army into southern Somali in 2011 to liberate not only Somalia but also the East African economy that had been affected by the increased piracy cases off the shores of Somalia.

The Kenyan defence forces have so far been able to register several victories against the militia including taking over the port town of Kismayu that was for long considered to be the militia's stronghold and economic hub.

This however has come at a cost. The country has witnesses an increase in incidents of terror attacks within major cities that have left many dead and injured.

Nairobi, Mombasa and Garissa towns reported the highest number of attacks in the past year while towns like Ifo and Mandera in Northern Kenya also had cases of explosions believed to have been carried out by Al-Shabaab sympathisers.

The increased cases were attributed to the porous border that Kenya shares with Somalia, enabling the militia to send emissaries and ammunition easily across in order to execute the attacks.
The security forces said that the influx of immigrants also made it difficult for security forces to pick out the militia sympathisers in Nairobi’s densely populated Eastleigh estate which suffered some attacks.
The Kenya-Ethiopia border has also been porous. The Merille militia attack in Todonyang last October provided an indicator as more than a hundred men crossed over to Kenya and began spraying bullets at a Catholic mission in the town.

Apart from the external threats, increased cattle rustling and ethnic conflicts continue to pose a threat to national security.

Renewed fighting between the Orma and Pokomo communities in the Tana River Delta at the beginning of the year brought the number of people killed to 150 and thousands others displaced from their homes, raising doubts over the ability of the country’s forces to contain the situation.

The fighting which began in August 2012 as conflict between pastoralists and farmers has claimed the lives of mainly women and children, evolving into a never-ending cycle of bloodletting attacks and revenge attacks.

Cattle rustling amongst the pastoralist communities of the Rift Valley region has also brought tensions into that part of the country with many people leaving their homes fearing for their lives as the rival communities engage in a deadly game of raiding cattle.

The botched police operation in Baragoi that left several police officers dead has also reflected negatively on the government machinery leading to questions being raised over the competence of the security officers to collect credible intelligence information.

Creating jobs
The next Kenyan president will also have to see a smooth transition of the devolved governments considering the fact that the 47 counties and their administrative structures are being established in the middle of a financial year.

Until the next financial year, most of the infrastructural set-up for the counties will have to be done through the respective ministries. Though the new Commission on Revenue Allocation deals with the distribution of resources in the counties, the president will have to oversee the county governments and senate established and working effectively.

The issue of unemployment especially among the youth is something that the next government will have to look into. A World Bank report titled 'Kenya at Work: Energising the Economy and Creating Jobs,' suggests that the money lost by the private sector through corruption could be used to create 300,000 jobs annually. That alone is a challenge.

Job creation has been one of the greatest challenges of all the regimes since the country’s independence, with many of the ruling class being accused of nepotism and tribalism in their appointments.

The dwindling agricultural sector also needs some revamping. Most of the country’s arid and semi-arid areas are greatly under-utilised though they have the potential of providing food security for the country.

The severe drought that hit the Horn of Africa between 2010 and 2011 affected an estimated 10 million people in the region with an approximate 3.2 million being Kenyans.

Currently the agricultural sector accounts for 25 per cent of the gross domestic product and 18 per cent of the formal employment.

If more investment is made on a national level to improve the sector in terms of research and modern technologies providing a buffer against the effects of climate change it would be possible to not only increase the country’s food basket but also the grow the export capacity that currently stands at 65 per cent.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Baby Malaika ten months on

At the mention of her name, she turns round to face you with innocent eyes and a hearty smile.
Like any other healthy 10-month-old baby, she is struggling to sit down on her own, something the caretakers say she started only recently.
Baby Malaika who was  beaten by a dog three days after birth is doing well at her new home.
But when she raises her arms for you to pick her up, you notice that the right one is a stump, which tells of the tragedy that threatened to end her life soon after she was born.
Baby Malaika or Ika, as she is popularly known, is now used to her new home — Mji wa Salama.
The children’s home in Mombasa’s Tudor Estate has provided Ika with the love and security she needs to lead a normal life.
The scars on her nose and the left side of her face have almost cleared, with small spots taking the place of the numerous stitches the doctors used while treating the severe facial injuries she had sustained.
Mid-March last year, Malaika was admitted to Coast General Hospital with her body mutilated and her right arm bitten off just above the elbow. A dog had literally tried to eat her whole when she was abandoned in a forest in Bwagamoyo village, Rabai, days after being born.
Her cries of pain from the massive trauma she had sustained attracted a curious herdsman who rescued her and put her on the road to recovery.
Doctors had to amputate her arm as much of it had been eaten off and part of the remaining upper limb had been infected.
Even on leaving the hospital after two months of treatment, she had to take medication for a whole month when she moved to the children’s home in May.
Ika is a jovial soul, who, throughout the visit by the Nation team, happily showed off her two teeth.
She has been under the care of Ms Susan Wanjiku Kuria, the home’s administrator, as well as the other 10 caregivers.
Baby Ika has come to appreciate the other 60 children as her siblings.
“Ika has not had any problem settling down at the home. She has received much love from the other children, especially the older ones who came for the December holidays from boarding school,” said Ms Kuria.
Medical cover
Apart from the yellow discolouration of one of her lower milk teeth, Malaika is very healthy. Her clinic records show that she has had progressive weight gain. From an initial birth weight of 1.9 kilogrammes, the figure rose to 3.5 kilogrammes when she left hospital. She now weighs 7.4 kilogrammes.
The administrator is quick to add that the little girl does not suffer from any congenital disease and has not had any chronic illnesses, having had all her vaccinations.
“The discolouration could be due to the medication that she was receiving while undergoing treatment, but the doctors have assured us that after she loses the milk teeth the others will grow normally,” said Ms Kuria.
A well-wisher was able to secure medical cover for Malaika, enabling her to be treated at Mombasa Hospital, Aga Khan Hospital and Pandya Hospital, which are among the best health institutions in Mombasa County.
Ms Kuria said they have been receiving donations for the children at the home, with some specifically for Malaika. An account was opened in her name at Ecobank.
“All funds in the account are particularly used on her and the contributions can help even when she pursues further education. The home has classes from the kindergarten to Standard Eight, so wherever she will choose to go after that we will support her,” said Ms Kuria.
Ika enthusiastically uses her baby walker to move around, perhaps showing how eager she is to take her first steps of a life she was miraculously given.
When placed among the other six babies in the home, Ika blends in well and happily joins in their games.
With her left arm, she grasps the toys. She, however, struggles to lift the amputated limb.
“None of the children make fun of the fact that she has one hand. When she is alone, sometimes she tries to understand her situation. She lifts her left hand easily but when she tries to do the same with her right hand she looks confused,” said Ms Emily Mutemi, the matron of the children’s home.
Prosthetic arm
A Canadian donor has promised to take care of all costs for Ika to get a prosthetic arm once she has grown older and the doctors have given the go-ahead.
Ms Kuria said that although none of Malaika’s family members has come to see her, they need to understand the legal issues surrounding a reunion.
“We have been making a follow-up on the mother and we were told that she was recently released from prison. She has, however, not seen her daughter to date. We don’t know what to do if she or any of the extended family members comes here to claim her,” she said.
The administrator said that she would consult with the county’s children officer because Malaika’s case is unique.
Ika’s mother, Ms Grace Mwadziwe Mwinga, was released from the Shimo la Tewa Prison where she was being held after she was charged in March last year with abandoning the child and exposing her to danger.

The Nation learnt that Ms Mwinga was released from remand after securing a bond of Sh50,000 and a surety in a similar amount. Her case is being heard at Kaloleni Law Courts.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

AU Commission to monitor Kenya's 2013 elections closely

AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Photo|
The Africa Union (AU) Commission will closely monitor the regions elections that are set to take place this year.

In her New Year message, Commission chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said that the continent needed to focus on conducting peaceful elections in order to foster growth and development.

She revealed that the commission will also send observers to cover Kenya’s first general election under the new constitution.

“For the first time, the Commission will be sending a Long Term Observer (LTO) Expert Mission to the scheduled March 4th 2013 General Elections in the Republic of Kenya,” the press statement read in part.

The country is considered an entry point into the East African region and a strong economy within the trading bloc.

Kenya’s general elections have attracted regional and global attention with a lot of focus being placed on whether the country will slip into a state of violence as was witnessed after the 2007 general elections.

Tunisia and Zimbabwe are also scheduled to hold their Presidential elections later in the year.

Dr Dlamini-Zuma expressed concern over the conflict situation currently being experienced in Mali, the Central African Republic and DR Congo, adding that they were derailing development efforts. She called for a regional approach to bring speedy resolution.

The AU Commission is expected to step up its efforts to harmonise infrastructure development in the continent under the programmes for infrastructure development in Africa as well as explore ways to raise agricultural productivity.

She also noted that the commission was committed to ensuring that women attain decision-making positions and advocate for their development across the continent in line with the 2010-2020 African Women Decade.

Dr Dlamini-Zuma congratulated Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud for his efforts in trying to restore democracy in war-torn Somalia adding that “the country had entered a post-conflict reconstruction and development phase.”

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Guest Blog: Africa could be middle income by 2025

Most African countries could reach middle income status by 2025

Hardly a week goes by without an African investors’ conference or growth summit. Portuguese professionals are looking for opportunities in Angola. Silicon Valley companies are coming to Kenya to learn about its homegrown ICT revolution. This is not an irrational fad. 

Since the turn of the century, Africa’s growth has been robust (averaging 5-6% GDP growth a year), making important contributions to poverty reduction. The current boom is underpinned by sound macro policies and political stability. Unlike in some rich countries, public debt levels in most of Africa are sustainable.

 One way to track Africa’s progress is by charting the number of countries that have achieved “middle income status”. In the World Bank’s definition, you become a middle-income country (or “MIC”) when you cross the US$1,000 GDP per capita threshold. To be sure, even at $1,000 per capita, many of these countries still have high levels of poverty and poor human development indicators. Gabon, at over $10,000 per capita income, has one of the lowest immunization rates in Africa. 

Nevertheless, reaching middle-income status signifies membership in the same group as, say, Indonesia, Mexico and China, which have access to global capital markets. It also signifies a level of resources that can, in principle, be used to address the country’s development needs.

How many MICs are there among sub-Saharan Africa’s 48 economies? We have informally asked this question of 200 people (many pundits and professionals among them). The standard answer is “around five”. Only one person got it right and almost everyone is surprised to hear the result: Africa today is home to 22 MICs (23 if South Sudan is included)! Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, is not among them (or for that matter is any other East African Community member). In fact, if you ranked all sub-Saharan African countries by per capita income, Kenya would be right in the middle, ranked 24th out of 48.

If sub-Saharan Africa were one country it would already be a MIC with an average per-capita income of around US$ 1,500. This average, however, masks wide differences. Africa has mature economies, such as Botswana, Mauritius and South Africa; it is also home to fragile and conflict-affected countries that are still struggling with entrenched poverty, such as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Guinea-Bissau. If current trends continue, most African countries will have reached middle income status by 2025. Only about 13 countries will remain low-income, most of them fragile states.

Africa’s more advanced economies can be grouped into four, not mutually exclusive, categories, of between six to eight countries:

First are mature MICs which include Botswana, Cape Verde, South Africa, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles, and Swaziland, with some 60 million people. These are Africa’s better-off economies, located in Southern Africa or small-island states and come most naturally to mind when thinking about Africa’s middle income countries. But their growth rates are actually lower, especially in South Africa, Africa’s largest economy.

Second are commodity MICs. These are Angola, Congo (Brazzaville), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Sudan. These countries, which are home to about 260 million people, are rich in natural resources, mainly oil. By most social standards these countries remain very poor but they would have sufficient resources to fight poverty successfully.

Third are new MICs which include Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Lesotho, Mauritania, Sao Tome & Principe, and Senegal. These countries represent a broad mix of economies representing 60 million people. While continuing to face major development challenges, most of the new MICs benefitted from improved economic policies and Africa’s broader growth momentum.

Forth are Africa’s next MICs. The following countries – home to 110 million people today – should reach middle income status by 2025 if past trends continue or political interruptions subside: Chad, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe. With this group of new MICs more than half of Africans would live in middle income economies and many other countries are just behind, especially in Eastern Africa.

Reaching MIC status is not a goal in itself. Sustaining growth and making it more pro-poor will be a tall order, as the experience of some of the mature MICs shows. In order to grow at current rates, Africa needed to get a few – albeit very important – things right, such as sound macro-management and political stability. This allowed the continent to recover after two unsuccessful decades.

To sustain growth, African countries will need to address the challenges of structural transformation, employment, physical and human capital deficits, all of which have their roots in governance. But if Africans and African policymakers could correct the macroeconomic policy failures of the past, they should, aided by a young population and the technological revolution that is sweeping the continent, be able to overcome the remaining government failures to experience sustained growth and poverty reduction in the future.

Shanta Devarajan is the chief economist for Africa at the World Bank. Wolfgang Fengler is the World Bank’s lead economist in its Nairobi office.