- Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta is re-contesting early August’s election after the original vote was invalidated by the country’s Supreme Court
- His main — and long-term — political rival, Raila Odinga, is boycotting the race
- Despite short-term political uncertainty, analysts CNBC spoke to seem positive about Kenya’s economy, with Bank of America Merrill Lynch expecting “growth to gain momentum in 2018”
Pedestrians walk past a campaign poster of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy-President William Ruto in the capital Nairobi on October 23, 2017.
Two elections in less than three months is a distraction for any country’s economy — but as Kenya gears up for a re-run Thursday of August’s initial vote, onlookers are positive about the country’s economic fundamentals.
Kenya’s political story in 2017 is a troubled one. Current President Uhuru Kenyatta is re-contesting early August’s election this week, following the original vote being invalidated by the country’s Supreme Court in September. The upcoming election is likely to be a shoo-in for the incumbent given that his main — and long-term — political rival, Raila Odinga, is boycotting the race.
“Clearly the old guard is continuing to play by the old rules,” Jared Jeffery, political analyst at South Africa-based research firm NKC African Economics, said in a note last week.
Political developments taking place on the sidelines are also casting shadows over the main event. One senior member of the Kenyan electoral commission fled to the U.S. last week citing fears for her personal safety. Meanwhile, ballot papers from Dubai have been arriving in the country ahead of the vote — though there has been debate on the neutrality of the firm printing these.
“The credibility of the poll will be low and the legitimacy of President Uhuru Kenyatta will take a knock,” Jeffery added.
Economic issues are on voters’ minds. Paul Gabriel, east Africa analyst at Control Risks, told CNBC that “inflation is a big campaign factor.” This is currently at 8.36 percent, up over 2 percentage points since January of this year. Gabriel added that food prices have risen due to a drought in the country, while prices of imports are higher due to a stronger U.S. dollar.
A policeman guards a consignment of Independent and Electoral Boundaries Commission presidential ballot papers October 21, 2017, at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport following their arrival from the United Arab Emirates.
On top of election-related uncertainty prompting investors to adopt a wait-and-see stance, the process itself is also a lag on Kenya’s economy. Jacques Nel, senior economist at NKC African Economics, said in a note that “spending related to the election and re-run election raise some concern (with some estimates putting the total amount to be spent on elections this year as high as $615 million).” This is concerning given that Kenya’s fiscal deficit was -8.9 percent in 2016/17 according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, a figure the country aims to reduce as part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
But despite all the warning signs, analysts CNBC spoke to seemed optimistic about the future of the Kenyan economy. “We expect growth to gain momentum in 2018,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts said in a note Monday. The country has a young, educated labor pool and unlike many of its regional neighbors, does not rely on oil exports and instead has a diversified economy.
Kenya is highlighted in Control Risks’ Risk-Reward Index of promising African economies, published in September. According to the consultancy, real gross domestic product (GDP) growth averaged 6.0 percent in 2010 to 2016, with 5.4 percent growth forecast for 2017. The World Bank describes Kenya as “one of the fastest growing economies in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Alongside the economic data, Kenya’s election story has been read positively by some international observers. Gabriel said that the Supreme Court Decision was “initially seen as very positive given that the independent judiciary has the power to stand up to sitting government.” While some fear that Thursday’s vote could descend into violence as such events have historically done, “(some) people are feeling more empowered by this,” Gabriel added.