Happy Saba Saba Day–and how is Kenya?

Today is the final “Saba Saba Day” in Kenya under the “Government of National Unity.” The presidential campaigns are in full swing and new political parties, alliances and temporary coalitions are announced and denounced weekly.

So how is Kenya?

To be positive, there are lots of important things right in Kenya (as always).

For one thing, there is energy in politics and some real hope that votes will be counted and thus that Kenyans will chose their leaders going forward under the new Constitution.  Of course it must be remembered that Kenyans were more hopeful in 2007.  An improvement politically is a lack of complacency or naiveté.

The economy in the aggregate continues to grow and attract increased foreign investment.  Over the last couple of years taking note of Africa as the last great investment frontier has gotten so commonplace as to be, finally, cliché.

Kenya has tremendous advantages in reference to serving international investors over most other Sub-Saharan African countries at the inception.  Aside from Indian Ocean coastline which makes Kenya a natural gateway for Asian trade, Kenya speaks global English and is home to Nairobi which was already well-established during the era of what I have called “the aid bubble” as the favored location for internationals.  Whatever happens in South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia in the next few years, a lot of the international support/involvement will come through and be “back officed” in Nairobi.  Kenya has been the key regional military ally of the United States throughout its history, while separately serving as “Americans’ favorite African country” in the popular imagination, and attracting a lion’s share of private tourism and aid/mission activity.  And of course there are close ties to Great Britain and British companies of long-standing and plenty of interchange with the rest of Europe.  Nairobi has been an attractive draw for white African businessmen, especially since the mid-90s, and has become more recently a hub for all sorts of African companies. And of course the Chinese find Kenya quite congenial.  There is no reason that any of these things need to go away any time soon.

M-Pesa and other “generation-skipping technologies” have captured imaginations around the world.  And of course, who could fail to see the opportunity for Kenya and Kenyans to play a leading role in East African integration in years to come?

Part of the real danger is that the value of owning and running Kenya continues to grow,  even if more outsiders take some share and a fraction of the population attains some more independent middle class status.  Which makes it that much harder to let go.  And the spectre of some type of criminal justice getting involved after the fact in form of the ICC raises the political stakes.  We have seen significant political violence associated with three out of the four general elections since Moi yielded to a “multi-party” system.  This time we have one of the two leading presidential candidates facing a likely trial in The Hague sometime not long after  the 2013 election.  Is there anything that he can do to advantage his situation that rivals the value of becoming President of Kenya before any such trial?

One of the main “reforms” under the new Constitution is the big increase in “consolation prizes” for politicians through devolved regional government, and the addition of the Senate as another office elected regionally to serve in the national government.  At the same time, under the final deal-making on the Constitution, the office of Prime Minister goes away with the first “post-Unity” government, so there is only one national office to run for and a unitary executive post to be won or lost.

Both Raila and Uhuru attract strong passions–at home and abroad–without even trying, just by who they are.  If they both go after the presidency full tilt the next few months in Kenya may be dramatic.

6 thoughts on “Happy Saba Saba Day–and how is Kenya?

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