Tough call for Kenya's next president By SANDRA CHAO in Nairobi | Tuesday, January 29   2013 at  12:44

Voters queue to cast their ballots during past elections. Kenya will vote under a new constitution in the March 4 General Election. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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.