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Will William Ruto serve the people or himself and his pals?



William Ruto Swearing-in

Kenya’s president promises citizens prosperity for impunity

Story by The Economist

Cabinet Confirmation hearings rarely make for compulsive viewing. But few parliamentary committees are asked to vet nominees with pasts quite so contentious as some of those proposed by William Ruto, Kenya’s new president (pictured). Take, for instance, Aisha Jumwa, Mr Ruto’s nominee for gender secretary, who has spent the past year juggling simultaneous murder and corruption trials. Or Mithika Linturi, put forward to run Kenya’s agriculture, who was charged last year with attempted rape. (Both deny all charges.)
This should be red meat for any self-respecting watchdog committee. Yet its members have seemed strangely reluctant to munch. Ms Jumwa’s legal troubles elicited only a brief mention when she appeared before them on October 18th. Others who have been in and out of trouble in the past got an even easier ride. The committee did not ask one nominee why he once threatened to sexually assault a female MP with a beer bottle and glossed over British court documents suggesting that another had taken bribes from two British businessmen jailed in 2015. Njuguna Ndung’u, the president’s treasury secretary, happily batted away politely couched questions about the scandals that marred his time as the governor of Kenya’s central bank.

Kenya has a dire history of corruption and impunity. Had Mr. Ruto been so minded, he could have appointed ministers with cleaner reputations. He did not. One reason is expediency. He won the election in August by a wafer and against the odds. To defeat the combined forces of his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, and Raila Odinga, Mr. Kenyatta’s favoured successor as president, Mr Ruto had to build a large, multi-ethnic coalition. In so doing, he accrued a fat wodge of political debt, some of it from less-than-salubrious types. Several of his cabinet choices smack of payback.

Mr Ruto seems untroubled by his minions’ baggage, perhaps because he carries so much of his own. He was charged by the International Criminal Court in The Hague with orchestrating ethnic killings after a disputed election in 2007. He pleaded innocent and the trial was halted amid accusations of witness-tampering, though the judges pointedly declined to acquit him.

The charges evidently did not hurt Mr Ruto when it came to the recent presidential poll. Indeed, most Kikuyu, allegedly the main victims of the killings after the election of 2007, voted enthusiastically for him. He may reckon that if voters were willing to overlook so great a scandal they would be unbothered by smaller ones, too.

Unlike Mr Odinga’s campaign team, the new president’s one pointedly refused to make the fight against corruption a priority. “For chrissakes stop whining,” David Ndii, his chief policy strategist, wrote on Twitter last December in response to concerns about Mr. Ruto’s seeming indifference to financial transparency. “If you are looking for an anti-corruption platform don’t support [us].” Instead of “virtue-signaling”, says Mr Ndii, the Ruto administration will deliver competent government, an end to injustice and greater prosperity for those at the bottom.

Hard bargain

Such promises may raise eyebrows, given the wealth at the top. The 22 cabinet nominees who appeared before the committee declared they had a net worth of $125.7m between them. Since the average Kenyan has a yearly income of just $2,000, this disparity might cause resentment. It should rather be a source of inspiration, says Mr Ndii, a sign that in President Ruto’s “hustler nation” every Kenyan will have an “equal opportunity to be a billionaire”.


So a tacit bargain is being offered to the Kenyan people: forgive us our trespasses and we will deliver you from poverty. This is reflected in the Ruto administration’s early policy pronouncements. On October 4th the government lifted a ban on cultivating and importing genetically modified maize, a move that could help lower food-price inflation, which surged to 15.5% in September. Mr Kenyatta’s petrol subsidy, which favoured richer car-owners, was swiftly ditched,but kept in place for diesel and kerosene, fuels used by the poor. Subsidies have been introduced for fertiliser in an effort to lower the price of farm inputs. Meanwhile, the government is set to launch a fund in December to ease access to credit for small businesses.

Other early moves have raised cautious hopes. Mr Ruto has promptly disbanded the Special Service Unit (SSU), a police unit infamous for dispensing summary justice and clogging rivers with the corpses of its victims. The president is also trying to burnish his pro-market credentials with plans to privatise state-owned companies. Seeking to contrast himself with his predecessor, who let public debt swell alarmingly, Mr Ruto has told the treasury to cut $2.5bn in recurrent spending.

He sounds pragmatic in foreign policy, too. Whereas he was often hostile towards China in his campaign, promising to deport Chinese citizens he claimed were taking Kenyan jobs, his tone in office has become more conciliatory of late. This has not stopped him aligning with the West elsewhere, however. Kenya recently voted in the UN General Assembly to condemn Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions, unlike the 18 African countries including South Africa that abstained. It did the same in the UN Security Council, where it holds a non-permanent seat.

It is too soon to say whether the president is keener to serve Kenya’s people than himself and his cronies. Some suspect, for instance, that he disbanded the SSU only because it abducted two Indian members of his election-campaign team, who disappeared along with their Kenyan driver in July and have not been seen  since.

Some signs are worrying, however. Criminal cases against Mr Ruto’s allies are rapidly being abandoned. Mr Linturi’s attempted-rape trial collapsed after his alleged victim withdrew her complaint. The director of public prosecutions announced he was withdrawing corruption charges against Ms Jumwa, while the family of the man she allegedly murdered says it is now pursuing an out-of-court settlement. A corruption case against Rigathi Gachagua, who has not even bothered to attend his trial since he became deputy president, is also likely to be dropped.


Mr Ruto’s aides insist that all these cases were trumped up by his predecessor in order to silence him. Kenyans will be praying so. But impunity today in exchange for the vague promise of prosperity tomorrow is not the deal most were hoping for. ■




  • William Ruto Swearing-in

    Kenya's new president William Ruto, seen Tuesday behind fountain fireworks, holds up a ceremonial sword as he is sworn in to office at a ceremony held at Kasarani stadium in Nairobi.

  • William Ruto Swearing-in
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Politics & Policy

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



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.


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.


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



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.


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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Politics & Policy

Kenya Demonstrations: What Does Kenya’s Odinga Want?



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


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.

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