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Nigeria: Still delicate

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

The Nigerian economy exited recession in the second quarter of 2017 to much applause. Readers of my column would recall my earlier expectations of a positive recovery in the first quarter of 2017. When that did not happen, I took a more cautious view that a recession exit was likely in Q3 but almost certainly in Q4. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised that it finally happened in Q2. A particular client, I thought, would at least be already ahead of its competitors if they acted on my recommendation that the recession was going to be shortlived. But now that the economy is recovering, how sustainable is it likely to be? That would depend on a few things. Government policy for one. Agriculture proved to be resilient during the slump and yet despite stimulus efforts by the authorities in the sector, growth has been slowing. This must be a little frustrating for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which has been at the forefront of encouraging banks to lend to the agriculture sector. It may very well be that one is being a little hasty: there are indications the CBN is beginning to succeed. Recently, Stanbic IBTC Bank signed a 50 billion naira agreement with the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk-Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), an agricultural credit guarantee scheme that used to be a unit within the CBN. Should the partnership succeed, more than 90 thousand jobs are expected to be created. And that is just one bank. Also, power generation has begun to improve, rising to about 7,000 mega watts (MW) lately; albeit only about 96 percent can be transmitted and just two-thirds reach consumers. In any case, it would likely remain a while before there is ample electricity to spur the type of industrialization needed to employ the country’s teeming jobless youths.

High food prices weighing on inflation 
Annual consumer inflation has been slowing; 16 percent in August from almost 19 percent in January, although the price index accelerated by the same monthly pace in both months. So, price pressures remain persistent. High food prices are majorly why, with food inflation – about 51 percent of the consumer price index (CPI) – at 20.3 percent in August from 17.8 percent in January. There are myriad reasons for this. Floods in the agricultural belt states of Kogi, Benue and environs mean this year’s harvest has likely been jeopardized. Incidentally, these are areas that have also been barraged by Fulani herdsmen attacks, leaving damaged crops in their wake. Continued insecurity in the northeastern parts of the country also means a significant portion of the farming community remains idle. Never mind that at least 5 million people in these parts are reportedly in need of food aid. Additionally, exporting food is now very lucrative. So what should ordinarily be sold in local markets are increasingly ferried to neighbouring countries and further abroad, where they can be sold at a premium. Some of the food inflation is imported, however, about 13 percent of the CPI. So, a still dear foreign exchange rate is also a factor. There is much to cheer about in this regard, though. Above US$50 crude oil and relative security in the oil-producing Niger Delta area means rising production volumes have been improving the authorities’ finances. These would likely be constrained still, as the authorities’ 2.2 million barrels per day (mbpd) target for 2017 now seems highly unlikely. Because even if that much could be produced, there are indications the oil exporting countries’ cartel the country belongs to would not allow output above 1.8 mbpd.

Burgeoning debt
There is growing concern about the government’s debt burden, rising to US$64.2 billion (16 percent of GDP) in June from US$63.8 billion two years earlier. Ordinarily, there should not be much worry at this relatively benign accumulation rate. But in the period, foreign debt has increased by almost half. And debt servicing is beginning to weigh overmuch on tax revenue, which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) put at more than two-thirds. Also, the authorities have not been as successful as they would have liked in securing foreign concesssionary debt. There are a couple of reasons for this. It held on to a costly fixed exchange rate regime for too long, haemorrhaging much valuable hard currency. Had the government been more prudent, floating the naira early on that is, it would not have needed to borrow as much. A populist political leadership also meant the CBN lost a great deal of its independence, to the dismay of investors and development partners. Consequently, multilateral financial institutions were relunctant to lend money while such a sub-optimal policy regime subsisted. There is reason to be optimistic now, though. A new FX market platform now allows foreign portfolio investors to trade at market-determined exchange rates. Hard currency inflows have surged consequently, with at least US$9 billion in volumes recorded in the first 6 months of the platform’s operations.

Do not rock the boat
The best the CBN can do at this time – its monetary policy committee would be deciding on interest rates on 26 September – is thus to maintain its current policy stance; one that has engendered naira stability and brought a new lease of life to the equity and fixed income markets. For those who desire that interest rates be lower (the monetary policy rate is currently 14 percent), the fundamental question remains whether they would buy government securities if yields were not high enough. When the authorities recently sought to test if they would, subscriptions were unsatisfctory. So, until market participants are willing to accept lower yields, it would not make sense for the CBN to start reducing interest rates. And that would not likely be the case until inflation is much lower, in the third quarter of 2018, say, when it is likely in the single-digits. Until then, the CBN would do well to do nothing.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

Ghana: Ease faster

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

After earlier boasts about no plans to extend Ghana’s US$918 million aid programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which the country agreed to in April 2015, the still new Nana Akufo-Addo administration was saved from a potential mis-step in late-August, when the Bretton Woods institution graciously decided to extend the package anyway, by another year from April 2018; much to the relief of market participants. Another good news came in one day after the Bank of Ghana (BoG) monetary policy committee (MPC) started its meeting in September (decision due on the 25th): the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) ruled Ghana was within its right to drill for oil in an area of the Atlantic Ocean it considered within its maritime boundary, after Ivory Coast contested its right to do so. Had the outcome been adverse, the US$6 billion Tweneboa, Enyenra, and Ntomme (TEN) oil fields located in the disputed area, which produced first oil in August 2016 and are expected to pump 80,000 barrels per day in 2017, would have been in jeopardy. Prices for Ghana’s still dominant export, cocoa, in the international markets remain poor, however; down about 30 percent from a year ago. And even though gold, its other major source of foreign exchange, has been doing well in the international markets lately (up 15 percent from December last year), local production is likely to suffer this year, as the authorities clampdown on illegal small-scale mining (locally termed “Galamsey”). So put together, the authorities’ finances may suffer a little this year.

Take control and diversify
The authorities are not standing idly by while this happens. Together with Ivory Coast, plans are afoot to ensure both governments have greater control over international cocoa prices. In this regard, they plan to build special warehouses to store cocoa beans, enabling them to mop up excess stock when there is risk of a supply glut like is the case currently, or add to supply when there is a scarcity. That capacity won’t be in place for at least another year, though, as a US$1.2 billion loan request to the African Development Bank (AfDB) is yet to be approved, making it more likely that the infrastructure may only become available in the 2018/19 season. The authorities are geared for the current 2017/18 season, though. In September, the Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod) secured a US$1.3 billion loan from international banks to fund purchases from farmers, which would start in October. The amount is almost 30 percent lower than the US$1.8 billion it raised for the 2016/17 season. Considering that even that much ran out months before the end of that season, with the Cocobod having to seek US$400 million in bridge financing, the ability of the board to offer attractive prices in the 2017/18 season may be similarly constrained. Thus, smugglers who go across the border to Ivory Coast for better prices are likely to continue having bumper paydays for a little while longer.

Still, there is more the authorities could do to diversify the country’s agricultural base. It does not make sense that a country with such fertile land imports almost three-quarters of its food supply. Efforts to boost local production have not been successful, however. True, there have been investments here and there. But as structural constraints remain, returns have underwhelmed. In some cases, factories built to process agricultural produce simply closed shop, after supply of inputs failed to keep pace. Authorities expect that its ambitious “one district, one factory” programme would change this poor state of things. It remains to be seen whether it would, but early indicators are not encouraging. Things are looking up in other areas, though. Power cuts are no longer the norm. And the authorities are acting proactively to ensure there is a low probability of running out of gas for generating power in the future, one of the reasons why electricity was short in the past. The government signed a 12-year gas supply deal with Russia’s Gazprom in September, after a 15-year one with Equatorial Guinea just a month before. That is, despite the likelihood that Ghana may become self-sufficient in gas by end-2018, when the 180 million cubic feet per day Sankofa gas field is expected to come onstream.

Capitalize on slowing inflation
Annual consumer inflation may very well be in the high single-digits from early 2018. My forecasts put the headline at about 8 percent then. But it would likely be in the 10 percent range before end-2017, from 12.3 percent in August. So at 21 percent going into the September meeting, the central bank’s policy rate is way too high relative to the inflation outlook. That is, despite having cut rates by 450 basis points already this year. Since there is no doubt the BoG would ease rates even further, the advocacy here is that it should do so faster. The economy needs the lift.

Also published in my Premium Times Nigeria column. See link viz.

Blue economy: Nigeria could learn from Seychelles

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Some years ago, at an investor event in London, a prominent Africa-focused portfolio manager wondered if anyone knew where he could get research on Seychelles. The firm I used to work for at the time had perhaps the most comprehensive African macroeconomic research coverage, including such countries as Sierra Leone, The Gambia and so on; which I incidentally covered at the time, but no, we did not cover Seychelles. The reason was not farfetched. It is a small country, even by African standards. When you think of Seychelles, the thought that immediately comes to mind are its beaches and other tourist attractions. Turns out, its economy is also well-run. Of course, I had since moved on to other things. But just recently, a contact wondered if my budding research firm, Macroafricaintel, had any report on the country. I wondered what spurred the sudden interest. She graciously explained her curiosity was aroused by such innovative solutions coming from the country like the proposed US$15 million blue bond, the proceeds from which would be used to fund the development of sustainable fisheries. Just so you know how impressive it is, it earned the 2017 Ocean Innovation Challenge award at The Economist World Ocean Summit earlier in the year. In 2016, Seychelles also struck a “debt-for-adaptation” deal with the Paris Club in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), an American non-profit environmental organisationIn exchange for promising to protect at least 30 percent of the country’s waters by 2020, authorities got debt relief to the tune of US$21.6 million. Authorities would thus now be able to disburse about US$280 thousand per year from the interest savings to train fishermen, do research and so on. Unsurprisingly, other African countries with similar endowments like Mauritius, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, and the Comoro Islands are now looking to develop similar initiatives, according to The Economist, a British newspaper. But if they hope to succeed, they must first start with a blue economy roadmap like Seychelles did. What is a blue economy, though? Seychelles’ finance, trade and the blue economy minister, Jean-Paul Adam, defines it “as all those economic activities that directly or indirectly take place in the ocean, use outputs from the ocean, and put goods and services into ocean activities.” With tourism and fisheries accounting for 11 percent of its workforce and 33 percent of its GDP, the Seycehellois government clearly has good reason to take its blue economy seriously.

Collaborate to secure waters
For a very long time, fishing boats from Europe and elsewhere have prowled the continent’s waters with impunity, pillaging them for fish and everything else in between. Oceana, an American non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting and restoring the world’s oceans, released a report in September that put illegal fishing costs to West African countries at about US$2.3 billion per annum. It reports 19 vessels from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece illegally spent about 31,000 hours on Gambian waters between April 2012 and August 2015. Perhaps in response, The Gambia has decided to do something about it, announcing ongoing negotiations with at least three private firms to police its waters and stem the pillaging of their marine life. Greater collaboration between African countries, especially West African ones, would help a great deal, though. And surely for an industry with an estimated output of US$1 trillion per year, it should not be too difficult for African governments to be enthused about doing so. There are already some initiatives in this regard. The African Charter on Maritime Security, Safety and Development in Africa (“Lome Charter”), adopted at the African Union (AU) extraordinary summit on maritime security and safety and development in Africa in October 2016, builds on earlier collaboration mechanisms like the 2009 Djibouti Code of Conduct2013 Yaounde Code of Conduct and 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy adopted in 2014. The Lome Charter is a huge step as it formalizes what is referred to as a “blue economy”, defining it as “sustainable economic development of oceans using such technics as regional development to integrate the use of seas and oceans, coasts, lakes, rivers, and underground water for economic purposes, including, but without being limited to fisheries, mining, energy, aquaculture and maritime transport, while protecting the sea to improve social wellbeing”. 

Make blue economy part of diversification agenda 
One is not aware of a robust government policy on fishing in Nigeria. The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, the most recent 4-year strategic plan of the government, espouses the need to diversify the economy but does not elaborately consider how the blue economy would be tapped in this regard. It mentions fisheries as part of its agricultural policy, though, but does not spell out specific initiatives. Maritime policy in Nigeria is more focused on shipping and security via two principal agencies: the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). Their utility is seen primarily through the lens of the revenue they generate for the government through these activiities. Deep-seated corruption at the agencies means the government has been perennially short-changed, though. Even so, they could be doing so much more. And like the Seychellois example shows, an ambitious blue economy agenda need not weigh significantly on the government’s finances: it could be self-funding if creativity is applied. In the Nigerian case, however, any potential gains would require some initial investment by the government to resuscitate the country’s polluted coasts and waters, especially in the Niger Delta region. Nigeria’s blue economy could offer so much more than oil.

Also published in my Premium Times Nigeria column. See link viz.

Kenyan presidential election re-run must be done right

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

After being initially declared winner in the 8 August 2017 presidential election with 54 percent of the vote, Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent Kenyan president, had the surprise of his life when just barely a month after, the Supreme Court overturned his win and ordered fresh elections within 60 days. His challenger, opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) leader, Raila Odinga, had protested the election results, arguing the umpire was fraudulent in its computation of the tally. While the full court judgement is yet to be released, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has set 17 October as the date for the re-run, with only two candidates on the ballot: Mr Kenyatta of the ruling Jubilee party and Mr Odinga. Holding the new election that early is believed to have been informed by a desire not to disrupt the academic calendar of schools, whose premises are used as polling centres. The NASA candidate is unimpressed, prefering the new poll be held later.

Still, politicians have already started making re-alignments. Isaac Ruto, one of the NASA principals switched to the Jubilee camp in September, for instance. Peter Munya, a prominent county governor, also changed sides to NASA in the same month, where perhaps he believes his political fortunes might be rosier. Renewed campaigns have been characterized by vitriol, especially by the Jubilee candidate, who has spared no one he considers averse to his re-election bid. After initially acting statesman-like in the aftermath of the annulment of his election win, President Kenyatta has now adopted a no-holds barred strategy. Such is the extent of Mr Kenyatta’s angst, he recently called the country’s chief justice, David Maraga, a cheat on the campaign trail. Mr Odinga is not letting up either, announcing in September his determination to double down on his allegations of corruption, which he believes to be rife at the IEBC. Unless the candidates and their supporters desist from such acerbic rhetoric, the risk of unprecedented violence around the re-run poll is high. And to think only about a month ago, Kenyans demonstrated remarkable calm as they voted for candidates of their choice.

Disband IEBC leadership
Sharp divisions within the IEBC leadership have now come to light, with chairman Wafula Chebukati clearly at loggerheads with chief executive Ezra Chiloba. In saner climes, they would both have resigned by now. A leaked memo by Mr Chebukati to Mr Chiloba in early September vindicates the observations of the opposition and Supreme Court. For instance, Mr Chebukati wondered why a username was created in his name without his consent. IEBC vice-chairperson Consolata Nkatha and four other commissioners are livid at not being privy to the memo, only to find out about it in the press; evidence of disarray. Another allegation made by Mr Chebukati asks why expensive satellite phones procured to transmit results failed to work on election day. Ballot papers did not have security features, it turns out. Mr Chebukati also wonders why a “porous file server system” was used to transmit results. The real question begging for an answer, however, is why despite knowing about such irregularities, the chairman went ahead to announce the election results. There is no way Mr Chebukati can escape responsibility for the poll’s failings. In any case, Mr Chiloba has indicated he would have no qualms about resigning if the full Supreme Court judgement implicates him. Both of them are culpable.

Do it right this time
Mr Odinga has formalized his disapproval of a rushed re-run. He complains the umpire did not consult him or his party before announcing a new date. Mr Kenyatta asserts he was not consulted either, but would like the poll held as announced. Besides, argued Mr Kenyatta, there is no requirement in law that the IEBC must consult candidates before deciding on the new date. Even so, Mr Kenyatta is being a little disingenuous, as it is highly unlikely he was not familiar with the thinking of the IEBC ahead of the date announcement. After all, suggestions about the date emanated from a member of his cabinet. But would disrupting the academic calendar be too huge a price to ensure the new poll does not have any of the shortcomings of the earlier one? Definitely not: Mr Odinga is not being entirely unreasonable to think so, especially as the stakes are all too high. Quite frankly, all the needless controversy could have been easily avoided if the IEBC were more transparent in the first place.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

What about the 2017 BRICS summit?

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

The BRICS group of five emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) held its 9th summit in the Chinese city of Xiamen this year (3-5 September). Originally just an idea by former Goldman Sachs (an investment bank) executive Jim O’Neill in a 2001 publication dubbed “Building Better Global Economic BRICs”, BRICS countries today constitute almost a quarter of global output. They have not proved to be as inspiring since those heady days, though. Since its first substantive summit in June 2009, only China (GDP: US$11.2 trillion) and India (GDP: US$2.3 trillion) have proved to be consistent good performers, albeit China has since 2015 adjusted to a new normal of below 7 percent growth. India is forecast by the IMF to continue powering on above 7 percent, though; over the next two years, at least, after a 7.1 percent headline in 2016. But that is where the good story ends. Brazil (GDP: $1.8 trillion) only emerged from a 2-year recession (the longest in its history) in the first quarter of 2017. And South Africa (GDP: $0.3 trillion) exited a relatively short-lived one in the quarter afterwards.

Mostly about China
The 2017 meeting was somewhat overshadowed by coincidental negative global geopolitical happenings; top among them being the firing in late August 2017 of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) over Japan by the communist North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un. China, which consititutes more than 60 percent of BRICS output, was called on by world powers to reign in the North Korean regime, which depends a great deal on it for sustenance. Naturally, the key headline from the final communique was related to the crisis. In any case, BRICS has become a veritable platform for China to project power and influence, as it seeks to have more say in international affairs. (As the second largest economy in the world, China would like the IMF to be more representative of the new global economic order, for instance.) And judging from the paltry US$80 million funding commitment ($76 million for an economic and technological cooperation plan and $4 million for projects by the group’s development bank) China made at this most recent BRICS summit, the group probably serves no greater purpose than that; especially when you consider its US$124 billion funding commitment in May 2017 to its ambitious Belt and Road initiative or so-called new Silk Road plan. (It did pledge $500 million for a South-South cooperation fund, though.) As a counterweight to recent American insularity, China used the occasion to once again make the case for globalisation and climate change; two major global issues the Americans have been reluctant to show leadership on under its current president, Donald Trump. Specifically, Chinese president Xi Jinping posited the group “should push for an open world economy, promote trade liberalization and facilitation, jointly create a new global value chain, and realize a global economic rebalancing”. 

BRICS plus
The 2017 summit had one major distinction though. It was its largest gathering yet, with non-BRICS countries like Guinea, Mexico, Egypt, Thailand, and Tajikistan in attendance as observers. Their presence was informed by a so-called “BRICS-plus” initiative proposed by China, which could see the current 5-member group include more countries, although this was not formalized at the summit. Of course, it is not too difficult to see why Mexico might be interested in more global outreach, as it faces an imminent dissolution of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which if successful would see it lose lucrative market access to America. Considering it is a major campaign promise of President Trump, it is probably only a matter of time before this happens. Mr Trump desires that America get more from NAFTA, which he believes is currently lopsided in favour of neighbours like Mexico. In any case, China indicated it was interested in entering into a free trade agreement with Mexico; in line with a trend where it now increasingly fills the gap left behind by a less-ambitious America. One of the observer African countries, Guinea, got something as well: it secured a US$20 billion loan over about a 20-year period from China in exchange for mining concessions on its bauxite deposits. Structurally, it did not seem like a bad deal, as revenues from projects the loan would fund would be used to service it. They include a planned alumina refinery and two bauxite mine projects. Roads, a power transmission line and a university are other projects earmarked. Still, considering how shrewd the Chinese are, it is not likely the Guineans got the better side of the deal; especially as the Chinese would get to keep any potential gains down the line, often beyond that which could be reasonably valued at the early stages. Like its other international trade and foreign policy initiatives, the ulimate beneficiary of BRICS is China itself.

Also published in my Premium Times Nigeria column. See link viz.

Ethnic politics and the 2017 Kenyan elections

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Two tight opinion polls on the frontrunners of the 2017 Kenyan presidential election just weeks to the 8 August vote made writ large how potentially contentious the outcome could be. [1] For the first time since campaigns began, one poll had the leading opposition candidate, Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA), ahead of incumbent president, Uhuru Kenyatta of the Jubilee Party. The Infotrak Harris opinion poll conducted on 16-22 July put Mr Odinga ahead of Mr Kenyatta by one point, with the former rising in popularity to 47 percent, a 3-point gain from about 2 weeks before.[2]Mr Odinga’s improved chances stemmed from holding on to his key support base, as well as securing new supporters from what used to be the Rift Valley and North Eastern provinces (now a couple of counties), strongholds of the ruling Jubilee Party. Another poll, that by Ipsos, taken on 2-12 July, put both leading contenders at a tie at 45 percent. The Ipsos survey was probably behind the curve in light of its earlier date. Judging from how the media initially under-reported Mr Odinga’s gains, the establishment was clearly shocked.[3]

Not long thereafter, Mr Odinga made a surprise appearance at a televised presidential debate that he and Mr Kenyatta had earlier indicated they would not attend.[4] There was much concern about the reluctance of the candidates to debate each other ahead of the elections. In the vice-presidential debate for instance, only one candidate showed up. Independent deputy presidential candidate Eliud Muthiora Kariara debated himself in mid-July as his rivals found excuses ranging from disagreement with the format to not being formally invited for staying away.[5] Mr Kenyatta’s no-show at the debate was a little surprising considering his campaign cancelled an earlier scheduled trip to Samburu and Marsabit districts in the former Rift Valley and Eastern provinces respectively on the day of the debate.[6] His decision might prove costly: Mr Odinga had the stage entirely to himself.[7] In his defense, Mr Kenyatta asserted the debate would have been a waste of his time, preferring as he put it, to be commissioning projects.[8] NASA stalwarts think he simply fell for their trick: Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr Odinga’s running mate, said he deliberately stayed away from the deputy-presidential debate in a calculated scheme to snare the Jubilee camp into thinking the head of the NASA ticket would similarly not attend the presidential one. They probably have a point, because it is highly unlikely Mr Kenyatta would have ceded 90 minutes of primetime television and radio to his opponent otherwise.

Whether Mr Kenyatta’s debate miss would have an impact on the election results remains to be seen, however. But should Mr Kenyatta lose the election, one of the reasons would almost certainly be because he allowed Mr Odinga to have the undivided attention of the country for more than an hour without the chance to make his own case.[9] Such is the level of uncertainty now that there is talk of a likely second round vote. And even before the debate upset, an objective assessment would have revealed Mr Odinga was probably in a far stronger position than the media, or in fact the opinion polls, suggested. Mr Odinga’s coalition of popular politicians from the major ethnic groups, his populist rhetoric, and the electoral reforms he successfully pushed for, could sufficiently tilt the balance in his favour. That is, barring any major adverse events, of which there are already a few. An ongoing cholera outbreak and the perennial terrorist threat from Somali Al-Shabaab militants are examples of threats that could instigate measures by the authorities with potentially dampening effects on voter turnout on election day.

Ethnic arithmetic favours opposition coalition
Although the 2017 elections would be the second since the new 2010 constitution, which allowed for the devolution of powers to the counties, was adopted, it would also be the first since citizens got a taste of how much power the counties now wield. And it is increasingly obvious a couple of counties might decide the election, judging from the amount of time the two leading candidates dedicated to them during the campaigns. They are Narok, Kajiado, Kisii, Baringo, and those in the former Coast and Western provinces.[10] Even so, a lot of voters are expected to decide along ethnic lines.[11] Mr Kenyatta, who is Kikuyu, the country’s largest tribe and 17 percent of the population (2009 census), and his deputy, William Ruto, who is Kalenjin (13 percent of the population), could easily secure 30 percent of the vote, based on their joint ethnicity alone.[12] Mr Odinga, who is of the Luo ethnic group (10 percent of the population) and the other 4 principals of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition namely; former vice-president and deputy prime minister Musalia Mudavadi of Luhya ethnicity (14 percent of the population), former vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka of Kamba ethnicity (10 percent of the population), former Senate minority leader Moses Wetangula of Luhya ethnicity and Isaac Ruto, who is a Kalenjin, could together easily secure 47 percent of the vote if their ethnicity is a reliable proxy; albeit only Mr Musyoka is on the presidential ticket with Mr Odinga.

Even as tribal loyalities do run deep, however, voting choices may not necessarily be tribally homogenous. Considering deputy president William Ruto is a more influential Kalenjin, Mr Isaac Ruto, who has boasted of bringing at least 1 million Kalenjin votes to the table, cannot be so confident, for instance. And the voters’ register does not necessarily reflect the exact tribal configuration of the population. That is, some tribes might have a greater representation in the register than their share of the population and vice versa. Besides, voter turnout on election day might not be similarly structured. And the loyalties of tribes like the Kenyan Somali (6 percent of population) might go either way, although they may not forgot too soon the court-botched closure of the Dadaab refugee camp by the ruling Jubilee government.[13]

Past election results could also be an indicator of how the candidates might fare this time around. Mr Mudavadi, who is not contesting for elective office in the upcoming polls, secured 3.96 percent of the 2013 presidential election votes. If summed with Mr Odinga’s 43.7 percent, their joint tally of about 48 percent, though impressive, would still fall short of the minimum 50 percent and one vote needed to secure a victory, however. That is in addition to having more than 25 percent of votes cast from at least half of the country’s 47 counties. But add those that could potentially come on the back of the other NASA prinicipals, an extra 2 percent might not be that difficult. In contrast, Mr Kenyatta cannot be assured he would get as much as the 50.5 percent of the vote that he got in 2013. Myriad allegations of corruption, a drought-induced grain shortage (albeit now ameliorated with government-subsidized imports) and so on, have likely eroded some of his support. It is also probable Mr Odinga’s populist and socialist rhetoric resonates more with voters than Mr Kenyatta’s capitalist drift.

Key Politicians & tribal affilliations
Name Political Party Ethnicity
Uhuru Kenyatta Jubilee Kikuyu
William Ruto Jubilee Kalenjin
Raila Odinga NASA Luo
Musaila Mudavadi NASA Luhya
Kalonzo Musyoka NASA Kamba
Moses Wetangula NASA Luhya
Isaac Ruto NASA Kalenjin

Source: Author’s research

IEBC must be beyond reproach
With such a tight race, much would depend on whether voters trust the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). What is significantly different this time around though, is that the election results declared at polling stations would have finality, as opposed to the past practice of making them provisional to final certification by the IEBC in Nairobi. That much the courts have affirmed: the IEBC failed in its appeal of the April 2017 court ruling which ordered that results declared at polling stations must not be subject to change at the national collation centre. [14]Such a decentralized system makes it more difficult to cheat, as all stakeholders would be able to do their own collation based on the same constitutency-level results. The increased transparency consequently is also why fears of violence may be overblown. Credit for these laudable changes must go to Mr Odinga and his coalition partners.

From April 2016 onwards, Mr Odinga and his supporters staged several protests demanding changes at the IEBC that would ensure the umpire is not in a position to fraudulently tilt the elections in favour of the incumbent. After a few deaths, the ruling Jubilee government agreed in August 2016 to replace the IEBC commissioners, which the opposition called biased.[15] One month later, Mr Kenyatta signed into law amendments to the electoral act that included new criteria for recruiting IEBC commissioners.[16]

Despite these gains, Mr Odinga and his coalition partners did not relent in their scrutiny of the IEBC. When the ruling Jubilee government would not budge on an issue, the opposition simply went to the judiciary for redress. Mr Kenyatta did not hide his irritation, as the courts seemed to be ruling more often in the opposition’s favour at some point, forcing a word of caution from Chief Justice David Maraga.[17] Jubilee tried to cast doubts on the credibility of at least one judgement unfavourable to it, citing conflict of interest.[18]Court of Appeal judge William Ouko, who was one of the five-member bench that ruled on the finality of election results at the constituency level, is related to Mr Odinga’s wife, for instance. [19] The niece of one of the NASA lawyers turned out to be married to one of the judges in another case that NASA won. [20] Were that to be a yardstick, however, then almost all the top judges could be conflicted. It is typical of the elite in the private and public sectors to inter-marry; after all, they often belong to the same social circles. Unsurprisingly, when the courts have been unfavourable to Mr Odinga, he has similarly accused Mr Kenyatta of intimidating the judiciary. The key point here is how deliberative combative both sides have been and how determined they are to win.

Procurement activities at the IEBC have also been marred by one controversy after another. It cancelled the tender for poll equipment in March 2017, for instance, amid accusations of corruption from the opposition.[21] [22] The awarding of the contract to print ballot papers to Dubai-based Al Ghurair, a company NASA claims has ties to Mr Kenyatta, is another[23], a charge the firm denies in a sworn affidavit.[24] A high court ordered Al Ghurair to stop the printing of presidential ballot papers regardless, but was later overturned on appeal as the IEBC expressed fears the elections could be delayed.[25] The controversy could have been avoided in the first place if proper tendering processes were followed. Because even before the Al Ghurair saga, the tender had been cancelled at least twice over irregularities, forcing the IEBC to send erstwhile procurement director Lawy Aura on compulsory leave in June 2017.[26] Information Technology director, James Muhati, received a similar treatment at about the same time when it emerged he was not being helpful with a systems audit. His replacement, Chris Msando, was found tortured and murdered in late July, a little over a week to the polls and just before a systems audit was scheduled.[27] Although, the IEBC has since discountenanced suggestions of a disruption consequently, it would be difficult to put in place another senior staff with the same level of competence, preparedness and, as was found, high integrity, within such a short period. Besides, it is highly improbable that Mr Msando’s assailants would have taken such a drastic step if they were not convinced that his replacement would either be less competent or prepared or more pliable. Regardless, they likely succeeded in getting enough information on the so-called Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (KIEMS) through torturing him. Thus, unless there is a re-configuration, KIEMS has likely been compromised. The proximity of the killing to the poll date also means a new ICT manager would not have enough time to gain the trust of the public like Mr Msando was able to. In fact, NASA has expressed fears the transmission of the election results may be hacked. To forestall this, it has asked that an independent international firm be tasked with overseeing KIEMS. IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati disagrees, insisting the commission’s systems are secure and a competent team remains in place to ensure hitch-free elections.[28] Mr Chebukati could not be so sure that early on before the conclusion of substantive investigations. For an election considered to be Kenya’s most expensive yet, these negative events are quite concerning.

There is currently more than 300 cases at the courts against the IEBC.[29] The major ones, that is, those that could have delayed the elections, have been addressed, however. The one that relates to the printing of presidential ballots was earlier highlighted. Another suit by NASA asking the courts to stop the IEBC from using a manual voting system as back-up, has also been quashed. The worry of NASA of course, was that a manual system would be open to fraud. It had hoped voting would be exclusively electronic. But in light of the Nigerian experience where electronic voting kits failed on election day, it is probably wise to have a manual back-up. That is even as Jubilee may likely want the manual system backup for sinister reasons. What NASA had wanted was for the IEBC to postpone the elections should the electronic kits fail. This it hoped would demotivate any shenanigans like the electronic kits being made to deliberately fail just so the elections would be largely manual. Still, the myriad litigations even before an actual vote point to a potentially contentious election aftermath. It is a positive that at least the key questions that hitherto put a cloud over the elections, have been answered by the courts.[30]

Potential turnout holdups
A spreading cholera outbreak is not helpful either.[31] From the beginning of the year to 17 July, there were already 1,216 registered cases and 14 deaths. [32] The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified it as high risk nationally and regionally. Should it deteriorate further, necessary quarantine measures would disenfranchise a swathe of voters. The authorities have already shut down venues where cases have been recorded and ordered the testing of about half a million people in July.[33] More stringent measures are probable. Furthermore, elections are being held this year amid a still challenging food supply environment. Government-sponsored imports to ameliorate the problem have been largely effective, though. But the arrangements have tended to run into problems from time to time. In July for instance, wheat prices rose on higher demurrage charges to ships carrying imported supplies, but were delayed at the ports. [34] A 2kg packet rose as much as 11 percent to 133 shillings from 120 shillings two months earlier. The food crisis came in handy for Mr Odinga, who harped on past warnings about the country’s dwindling grain reserves. A refusal to lift trade barriers with neighbouring Ethiopia to favour Jubilee acolytes’ maize import arrangements with Mexico, was fingered.[35]

Economic costs not likely as high despite fears
Historically, Kenyan economic growth suffers in election years.[36] There have been exceptions. In years when electoral reforms preceded the polls, there was no material negative economic impact that could be attributed. Typically, however, there is a 60 percent chance of a growth slump in an election year, if analysis based on World Bank and Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics data from 1990 is anything to go by. [37] So it is not too surprising that expectations are rife that this might also be the case for the 2017 polls. And the recovery has tended to range from 18-26 months, depending on whether the elections were single-party or multi-party based. [38] But the election-related slumps theory has not proved to be robust post-2002. True, growth was -1.1 percent in 1992 from 1.3 percent the year before. Similarly, growth slowed to 0.4 percent in 1997, another election year, from 4.2 percent in 1996. Growth also slowed to 0.5 percent in 2002 from 4 percent in 2001.

Interestingly, even with the violence that characterised the 2007 elections, growth actually rose higher to 6.9 percent that year from 5.9 percent the year before. This was also the case for the 2013 election year, which saw growth up to 5.7 percent from 4.6 percent in 2012. So, there is room to contend that growth might actually not suffer as much in the current election year. Most economic growth forecasts for 2017 remained around the 5 percent area a month to the elections despite these concerns. In its July 2017 update, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) put its forecast for 2017 at 5.3 percent; albeit lower than the 6 percent estimate for 2016.

Besides, if the IEBC succeeds in being as transparent as it has promised to be, earlier anxiety ahead of the polls might quickly translate into an aggressive push to regain lost economic ground afterwards. And what was largely city-centred violence in the aftermath of the bloody 2007 elections, could supposedly not be the case this time around. This is because as more power has been devolved to the counties since then, what is probable could be no more than small pockets of violence here and there at the local level, and not the type of co-ordinated anarchy in 2007.

Regardless, some remain convinced that there could be even more troubles this time around. One theory revolves around the intergenerational family rivalry between the Kenyattas and Odingas. Mr Odinga would be contesting for the fourth and likely last time, but second time against Mr Kenyatta. After a remarkably strife-filled political life ranging from imprisonment to exile, Mr Odinga is putting everything into this election. There is a family history that Mr Kenyatta is seeking to guard as well. Mr Kenyatta would likely be heartbroken if it turns out he lost to Mr Odinga, the son of his father’s arch-rival and who, like his father, he has managed to prevail over thus far.

Currency speculators, who are almost convinced the shilling would suffer losses over worries of a violent vote, have been having a field day. The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) governor Patrick Njoroge has warned they would get their fingers burnt, pointing to ample foreign exchange reserves boosted by an IMF standing facility precisely for such potential shocks.[39]

Still, economic activity has slowed owing to the upcoming polls.[40]Manufacturers have been reducing their throughput and investors have not been investing as much. [41] International trade has also recorded dampened activity, as landlocked neighbours, who usually pass their cargoes primarily through the Mombasa port, have been diverting them to the Dar es Salaam port in Tanzania. [42] There is historical precedence for these actions. In the aftermath of the 2007 election violence, Ugandan and Rwandese traders reportedly lost 158 billion shillings, compensation for which the Kenyan authorities had no choice but to oblige. [43] This time around, it does not seem like they are taking any chances.

Travel advisories have also been issued by foreign governments, with multinationals reportedly giving their staff leave to move to neighbouring countries a week before and stay until a week after the polls. [44]

In general, most companies have suspended capital allocation decisions till after the elections. Businesses have also organised emergency drills for those staff that have little choice but to stay back during the election period. Tourism would suffer most definitely. Countries that have asked their citizens to take precautions, include the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Canada, Australia and Russia. Some companies have simply asked their staff to take their annual leave in August. These are just precautions of course. The polls may prove to be largely peaceful.

The author, Dr Rafiq Raji, is an adjunct researcher of the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies, Singapore, a trilateral platform for government, business and academia to promote knowledge and expertise on Africa, established by Nanyang Technological University and the Singapore Business Federation. This article was published by the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies on 4 August 2017. It was also published by

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria column on 5 Sep 2017. See link viz.


[1] Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga in dead heat – Infotrak poll (Daily Nation 24 Jul 2017)

[2] Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga in dead heat – Infotrak poll (Daily Nation 24 Jul 2017)

[3] Why did media ignore poll showing Raila ahead of Uhuru? (Daily Nation 23 Jul 2017)–/1064-4027776-u3xb9tz/index.html

[4] Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odingsa to skip presidential debate(Standard, 5 Jul 2017)

[5] Kenyan vice president candidate debates himself after rivals’s no-show (Reuters 18 Jul 2017)

[6] Presidential debate: Uhuru cancels Samburu tour (Daily Nation 24 Jul 2017)

[7] Kenyan president fails to show up for election debate (Reuters 24 Jul 2017)

[8] Uhuru: Why I snubbed debate (Daily Nation 25 Jul 2017)

[9] Kalonzo: How we tricked Uhuru and Jubilee to miss debate (Daily Nation 25 Jul 2017)

[10] Why Jubilee, Nasa have focused campaigns on 5 zones (Daily Nation 13 Jul 2017)–Nasa-have-focused-poll-campaigns-on-five-regions–/1064-4012734-n4biohz/index.html

[11] The role of ethnicity in Kenyan politics (DW 8 Feb 2017)

[12] Census: Here are the numbers (Standard 1 Sep 2010)

[13] Rights groups welcome court ruling to block Kenya refugee camp closure (Guardian 9 Feb 2017)

[14] Kenyan court rules vote results declared at station are final (Bloomberg 23 Jun 2017)

[15] Kenya clears out electoral officials after deadly protests (Reuters 17 Aug 2016)

[16] Kenya enacts law to replace electoral agency ahead of vote (Bloomberg 15 Sep 2016)

[17] Kenya president, chief justice clash as elections approach (Reuters 9 Jul 2017)

[18] Jubilee alleges conflict of interest in Al Ghurair ballot papers case (The Star 10 Jul 2017)

[19] Jubilee alleges conflict of interest in Al Ghurair ballot papers case (The Star 10 Jul 2017)

[20] Jubilee alleges conflict of interest in Al Ghurair ballot papers case (The Star 10 Jul 2017)

[21] IEBC cancels tender for poll equipment, seeks lease (The Star 23 Mar 2017)

[22] Probe ‘corrupt’ IEBC for cancelling poll equipment tender, says Mudavadi (The Star 23 Mar 2017)

[23] NASA links Jubilee officials to Al Ghurair tender, wants Chiloba sacked (The Star 14 Jun 2017)

[24] We have never met Uhuru, Al Ghurair now claims in affidavit (The Star 27 Jun 2017)

[25] NASA loses cross-appeal on Uhuru links to Al Ghurair (The Star 20 Jul 2017)

[26] IEBC fires procurement director over ballot tender (The Star 7 Jun 2017)

[27] Kenya election official tortured, murdered before vote, officials say (Reuters 31 Jul 2017)

[28] IEBC systems secure, Wafula Chebukati says (Daily Nation 1 Aug 2017)

[29] Kenyan election body fighting over 300 lawsuits as vote looms (Reuters 20 Jul 2017)

[30] Court declares IEBC can use manual system (Daily Nation 21 Jul 2017)

[31] WHO sees high risk from Kenya cholera outbreak (Reuters 21 Jul 2017)

[32] WHO sees high risk from Kenya cholera outbreak (Reuters 21 Jul 2017)

[33] Cholera kills four in Kenyan capital since May, government shuts hotels (Reuters 19 Jul 2017)

[34] Wheat prices rise again as imports delay at port (BusinessDaily 20 Jul 2017)

[35] Raila wants Kiunjuri, Bett and Lesiyampe sacked for failing to end food shortage (The Star 8 Jun 2017)

[36] Why economy slows in election years (Daily Nation 23 Apr 2016)

[37] Why economy slows in election years (Daily Nation 23 Apr 2016)

[38] Why economy slows in election years (Daily Nation 23 Apr 2016)

[39]‘Chill’, Kenya central bank tells shilling speculators as election nears (Reuters 18 Jul 2017)

[40] Economic activity slows down ahead of General Election (The East African 26 Jul 2017)

[41] Economic activity slows down ahead of General Election (The East African 26 Jul 2017)

[42] Economic activity slows down ahead of General Election (The East African 26 Jul 2017)

[43] Economic activity slows down ahead of General Election (The East African 26 Jul 2017)

[44] Economic activity slows down ahead of General Election (The East African 26 Jul 2017)