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OPINION | Kenya is poised to become the ‘Singapore of Africa’

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Nairobi City at night
Of all the countries in sub-Saharan Africa to be optimistic about, the most promising is Kenya. Economic and political forces are converging to put the continent’s seventh-largest nation in a relatively favorable position.

Africa is the fastest-growing continent and is expected to account for one-quarter of the world’s population by 2050. That means more multinational corporations see a need to have a direct presence somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Many such companies already realise they need a presence in Asia, with Singapore proving increasingly popular as the hub, especially as Hong Kong has been absorbed into communist China.

Where in Africa might such a comparable cluster of companies evolve? Unfortunately, some of Africa’s leading nations have experienced major troubles lately. Economic growth has slowed in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and the country has only begun to make much-needed reforms; Ethiopia, the second-most populous country, just went through a civil war; political problems and power shortages continue to plague South Africa. For the time being, those places are not in the running to be a dominant sub-Saharan economic hub, if only because ex-pats will be reluctant to move there.

In contrast, a locale with a reasonable level of English fluency and an attractive year-round climate will get a lot of attention — and that nicely describes Kenya. Kenya also had a growth rate of about 5.5% last year, despite negative shocks to the prices of imported food and energy. Since 2004, growth rates have been in the range of 4% to 5%.

Kenya also has some geographic advantages. It has an extensive coastline on the Indian Ocean, and research suggests that landlocked countries have worse economic performance. Countries with a coast also find it easier to stay in touch with the rest of the world, and Kenya has relatively easy access to China and India, large markets and sources of capital. In the current geopolitical climate, East Africa is attracting more interest from more sources than is most of West Africa.

In terms of scale, Kenya’s population of about 57 million cannot compete with Nigeria’s 222 million. But East Africa, with almost 500 million people, has a larger population than West Africa.

Tanzania, just to the south of Kenya, has a larger population than Kenya. But Kenya is much wealthier and has a superior infrastructure — and that includes the digital infrastructure, as internet access in Kenya is ranked among the most reliable in Africa.

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To the extent the world focuses more on green energy, Kenya also has a positive story to tell. The country already has more than 80% renewable energy, and the climate is ideal for an ongoing expansion of solar power. Foreign companies looking to boost their green reputations might find Kenya an attractive destination. That said, expensive energy — due in part to taxes and poor regulation — has been a growth drawback.

There are other elements of the case against Kenya. It has had difficulty attracting foreign direct investment, even compared to other African nations. Corruption, regulatory barriers to entry, and political instability remain concerns and cannot be dismissed lightly.

That said, Kenyan governance has been stable as of late, and the 2022 election went relatively well. The government is proving more adept at preventing major terror attacks, often coming from groups in Somalia. As Kenya becomes wealthier, there is a good chance those problems will diminish further.

It is also possible that sub-Saharan Africa will not develop a single dominant corporate hub at all. The United Arab Emirates will continue to evolve into Africa’s financial center, Lagos will have the most startup activity, South Africa will remain the dominant business center in the South — and London, Beijing, and India will play more important roles in Africa’s economic future.

Still, African distances are great and its population is growing, two simple facts that argue for Kenyan growth no matter what. The idea of putting a manufacturing plant or service center near Nairobi or Mombasa makes sense even if it serves only East Africa. Kenya’s immediate neighbors to the west and south, Tanzania and Uganda, also have an English-language background, and Tanzania may become one of the world’s most populous countries.

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Not only is Africa rising, but East Africa is too. And Kenya is likely to be the easiest and most predictable way to bet on it.

Story by Tyler Cowen – a Bloomberg columnist.

 

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Banking & Microfinance

Supreme Court of Kenya Dismisses Investors Bid Seeking Ksh 465 million from Billionaire Jimnah Mbaru’s Firm

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Businessman Jimnah Mbaru

An investor’s bid to have Dyer & Blair Investment Bank, owned by Jimnah Mbaru, pay him Sh465 million has been rejected by the Supreme Court. John Kung’u Kiarie, a former KCB director, alleged that Mbaru’s firm conspired with the anti-fraud unit to freeze his money two decades ago and later under-declared his investment returns.

The Court of Appeal dismissed his application for a second appeal to the apex court, stating that the issues raised by the investor were limited to his personal interests. The judges noted that the matters raised were connected to his business relationship with the investment bank and the resulting dispute.

“Justices Daniel Musinga, Hellen Omondi, and Imaana Laibuta ruled that there were no issues of general public importance involved, nor were there any novel legal issues that needed determination by the Supreme Court,” as per the ruling.

According to the law, appeals at the Supreme Court typically involve matters of public importance or interest. In Mr. Kiarie’s case, he had invested Sh91 million with the brokerage firm in March 2003 to purchase a Treasury bond but received a paper worth Sh88 million instead.

Upon the advice of the investment bank, Mr. Kiarie sold the security for Sh91.6 million to invest in a new Treasury bond with a higher yield. However, before the plans could be realized, his banker, CfC Stanbic, received warrants allowing the Anti-Banking Fraud Unit to investigate his account.

As a result, his account was frozen, and Mr. Kiarie was charged with falsely obtaining Sh91.5 million before a magistrate court in Nairobi. Subsequently, he was acquitted due to lack of evidence, and an order was issued to lift the freeze on his money and the associated interest.

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Mr. Kiarie claimed that Dyer & Blair later released Sh67.5 million as the principal amount, along with an additional Sh2.3 million in interest. Mr. Kiarie initially sued Dyer & Blair and CfC Stanbic in 2009, alleging collusion to deprive him of his Sh91.5 million investment.

In a ruling, High Court judge Eric Ogolla found in favor of Mr. Kiarie and directed the brokerage firm and the bank to pay him Sh310 million. However, in July 2017, the Court of Appeal overturned the decision. The appellate court ruled that the investment bank had not participated in the criminal case and therefore did not have the opportunity to cross-examine Mr. Kiarie’s general manager regarding the evidence provided.

The court nullified the damages assessment and the applied interest and instead directed that Mr. Kiarie be paid an amount equivalent to the returns he could have earned from the investment in treasury bonds for one year, minus the brokerage firm’s commission and annual fees.

Mr. Kiarie was unsatisfied and sought to escalate the matter to the Supreme Court. Mr. Mbaru opposed the application, stating that he had complied with the court’s judgment and that Mr. Kiarie had accepted the payment and interest provided.

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Kenya Demonstrations: What Does Kenya’s Odinga Want?

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Former Kenyan Prime Minister - Raila Amollo Odinga
Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga addresses supporters where he called for mass action against high cost of living , Nairobi, March 9, 2023.

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga has a playbook he turns to when he loses an election. He calls supporters onto the streets until he’s given a share of power.

By Antony Sguazzin

This week was no different but it’s unclear whether President William Ruto will yield.

The March 20 protests led to one death and the closing of shops and schools. By piggybacking his demand for the 2022 election loss to Ruto to be overturned with discontent over the cost of living, he ensured a turnout.

His election demand is unlikely to be met. The 78-year-old has run for president five times and lost five times. A Supreme Court that’s proved its independence before by nullifying an election result dismissed his petition.

Odinga’s backers including former justice minister and 2022 running mate, Martha Karua, insist they won and want an audit to try and prove
it.

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Now, Odinga says, protests will be held every Monday and Thursday until he gets his way.

There are precedents.

Violence after the disputed 2007 election forced then-President Mwai Kibaki to appoint Odinga as prime minister and in 2018 the threat of a
redux of that disruption saw President Uhuru Kenyatta extend to him an olive branch.

Odinga’s actions “show that there isn’t really respect for the election process,” said Zaynab Mohamed, an analyst at Oxford Economics Africa.
His tactics risk unraveling the progress Kenya has made, she added.

In 2018, the Supreme Court overturned Kenyatta’s victory and ordered a rerun and last year’s vote was less divided along ethnic lines than previously. That’s a far cry from the violence in the 2007 election that saw more than 1,500 killed and 300,000 made homeless and two decades of
repression under Daniel Arap Moi, whose cabinet Odinga once joined.

There’s little appetite to return to those days.
Bloomberg

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Politics & Policy

Kenya’s President Ruto Faces Baptism Of Fire As Opposition Dares to Unravel His Contested Win

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Kenyan President William Ruto

Kenya, Jan 28- It’s been four months since Kenya’s supreme court unanimously upheld Dr. William Ruto’s Presidential victory. But Raila Odinga, his closest opponent in the recently completed sweepstakes and a perennial contender for the top seat is seeking to upend the order.

Late this January he brazenly told his political base here in Nairobi that his political party – the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition did not recognize Ruto as President of Africa’s top exporter of cut flowers.

“We as Azimio reject the 2022 election results. We cannot and will not recognize the Kenya Kwanza regime (Ruto’s Party) for we consider the Kenya Kwanza government illegitimate. We don’t recognize William Ruto as the President of Kenya and we do not recognize officials appointed by Ruto into office, including his cabinet secretaries,” he said.

Meanwhile, the President has been faulted for failing to act presidential.

As he has intermittently stoked a farcical thesis that begs the question of whether the electioneering season is still on the cards including the critical concern regarding his suitability of being the inherent healer No: 1 of a balkanized terrain.

An exemplar is his public announcement made mid-this January claiming the existence of a plot orchestrated by powerful individuals drawn from the previous government under Uhuru Kenyatta, who sought to abduct and kill the now-retired Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Chairperson Wafula Chebukati, in an effort to block his victory during the 2022 Presidential elections.

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Never mind, when Ruto occasionally makes these sorts of actionable statements while on the bully pulpit, he has shown himself to be averse to providing evidence, a phenomenon that likens him, almost, to a modern-day Louis XIV whose leadership tenet answered to L’ Etat c’est  moi.

 Case in point: Ruto said there was a plot approved by what he termed as the ‘highest office’, whose goal was to paralyze the commission and to get friendly commissioners to announce his opponent Odinga as the winner.

“We know that there was a direct attempt to abduct Chebukati and murder him so that the commission would be paralyzed,” famously said Ruto.

He also claimed Chebukati and two other commissioners, Abdi Guliye and Moya Bolu, were offered huge sums of money to alter the Presidential results and branded the three commissioners as heroes for rejecting the offer.

Conspicuously no evidence from the President or his handlers has shown up to date.

It turns out meanwhile Odinga’s latest nonconformist stance, in the big measure is a product of an anonymous whistleblower drawn from the IEBC who reportedly provided evidence to Jeremiah Kioni, a top drawer in the Azimio party of fraud and manipulation happening in the 2022 elections.

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According to the whistleblower, the IEBC, under Chebukati and Commissioners Guliye and Molu including the CEO of the electoral body Marjan Hussein, provided fabricated information to the world.

Veritably, if the anonymous whistleblower is to be believed Odinga handily won the elections.

 “We’ve seen that 59% of the constituencies cannot be verified with absolute certainty. What can be verified is, Raila Odinga won the elections with 8,170,355 votes representing 57.53% of the votes cast. Ruto got 5,915,973 votes, representing 41.66%,” Kioni said.

The whistleblower claims to be a current employee of IEBC. They say that they have chosen to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. They allege that illegal entities were set up at the IEBC data transmission center’s “back office” to convert Form 34B from its original JPEG format to PDF, in violation of electoral procedures.

Form 34B collates the presidential election results

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This startling information emboldens Odinga’s base, which arguably believes Chebukati and Commissioners Guliye and Molu including the CEO of the electoral body Marjan Hussein denied their man victory.

It has not been lost to adherents of Odinga four IEBC commissioners disowned the results of the August 9 presidential polls.

Among other things, the quadruple alleged the average percentages of the results scored by the four presidential candidates exceeded the 100 percent mark casting doubt on the accuracy of the total number of votes tallied.

According to IEBC, Ruto rallied 7,176,141 votes, which accounted for 50.49 percent of the total votes cast while Odinga got 6,942,930 votes or 48 percent of the votes.

While Roots Party candidate Prof. George Wajackoyah and his Agano Party counterpart David Mwaure amassed 61,969 (0.44 percent) and 31,987 (0.23 percent) respectively.

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“This summation gives us a total of 100.01 pc. The 0.01 percent translates to approximately 142,000 votes which will make a significant difference in the final results we, therefore, decline to take ownership because the aggregation resulted in a total exceeding the percentage of 100,” said then Vice Chair Juliana Cherera who was forced to resign together with Commissioner Justus Nyang’aya after being suspended from office by President Ruto. Commissioner Francis Wanderi would later resign due to what he referred to as unwarranted public lynching, which he said, was based on falsified information

Kenya’s Electoral Commission’s vice chairperson Juliana Cherera and Commissioner Justus Nyang’aya have resigned, days Their resignations come after a Parliamentary investigation recommended their removal from office, over alleged gross violations of the constitution during the August presidential elections.

The two are among the four IEBC commissioners who had refused to endorse Ruto’s win. The other two, Irene Masit and Francis Wanderi, have not indicated if they will also resign.

Commissioner Irene Masit, who is the only one yet to resign, opted to face a tribunal formed to investigate the four dissenting IEBC commissioners dubbed ‘Cherera 4’hoping to fend off allegations of having violated the Constitution and gross misconduct.

Masit is also the only IEBC commissioner yet to leave office after Chebukati, Molu, and Guliye’s terms ended.

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According to Odinga, the election process was marred by irregularities and alleged electoral fraud, saying the possibility of death and bloodshed from post-election violence and fear of International Criminal Court (ICC) charges compelled him to accept Ruto’s disputed win.

 “What we have today are leaders imposed on the people of Kenya by a very corrupt electoral commission and this is totally unacceptable and that’s why we are saying no,” says Odinga who urges Kenyans to be prepared to stand up and defend their rights “because if you don’t do that, these people will continue to rule you without your consent permanently.”

He has cautioned foreign powers whom he has not named from interfering in Kenyan affairs, saying  Kenyans have the capacity to solve their own issues.

“Kenyans will solve their issues themselves and I want to say this without fear of contradiction, Kenyans must come up with the leadership they want. Kenyans must elect leaders they want,” Odinga says.

While the politicking is happening life for the average Kenyan is becoming almost unbearable

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With electricity prices are expected to increase beginning this April by up to 78 percent if the energy sector regulator approves new tariffs from Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) – which owns and operates most of the electricity transmission and distribution system in the country  –  that seek to withdraw the monthly subsidy that cushions poor households.

The listed utility firm says it is engaging the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) — the electricity sector regulator — for the first upward review of power prices since 2018, putting further pressure on consumers.

Besides increasing the base tariff, Kenya Power has reduced the threshold for accessing the monthly power subsidy equivalent to a 24.1 percent discount from 100 kilowatt hours to the proposed 30 units.

This will deny millions of households the subsidy they have enjoyed since 2018 as Kenya Power seeks additional resources to upgrade its transmission network and boost profits, which ultimately allow the utility to restart paying dividends.

 Also, President Ruto’s administration is targeting borrowing Sh3.6 trillion in his first five-year term, upending his plan to go slow on debt.

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The Sh3.6 trillion is equivalent to 89 percent of the record Sh4.1 trillion that his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, borrowed in the five years to June 2022.

At Sh3.6 trillion, the borrowing is more than the Sh2.7 trillion that Mr. Kenyatta chalked up in his first term and Sh1 trillion that the late President Mwai Kibaki borrowed in his last five-year term.

Analysts had expected that the Ruto administration would cut fresh borrowing by a larger margin after committing to ramping up its tax collections over the next five years.

But the rise in spending under the so-called Bottom-Up economic plan, which proposes to channel resources to sectors that can have a mass impact in creating jobs and wealth, has prevented deeper cuts on the country’s borrowing.

Dr. Ruto’s budget will top Sh5.1 trillion in the fiscal year ending June 2027 from Mr. Kenyatta’s last annual expenditure of Sh3.0 trillion. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that the economies of Angola and Ethiopia are scheduled to grow stronger than Kenya’s.

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This projection means that Kenya is set to be replaced as the third-largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa by Angola and Faster GDP growth in Angola and Ethiopia will see Kenya relegated to number five in sub-Saharan Africa’s economic rankings.

 

 

 

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