Since early May, Kenya’s main opposition party, Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (“CORD”), has delivered on its promise to stage protests every Monday calling for reformation of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (“IEBC”). CORD accuses the Commissioners under IEBC Chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan, of corruption, incompetence and bias towards the ruling Jubilee coalition, charges the IEBC denies. The ruling Jubilee Alliance (“Jubilee”) has said it stands ready to initiate dialogue to end the violent protests across the country. However, CORD has raised nine issues that the government needs to address before negotiations can start.
The protests planned for Thursday 16 June were temporarily suspended due to signs that ‘political will has been created’, but now CORD says if no solution is found, demonstrations may resume on 20 June.
There have been three people killed and much bloodshead in the fourth week of protests after the police used live bullets to disperse citizens from protesting in Kisumu and Siaya counties, western Kenya. Foreign envoys have called for an end to the violent protests and the main donors to the country have also condemned the violence.
The concern is that this chaos, with over a year until the August 2017 general elections, may spell trouble. It remains too early to forecast the impact of the current political drumming and violent protests on next year’s election. However the police brutality is a worry in a country where ethnic tensions are known to flare up during the election period. Jubilee recognises that the rising tensions are a threat to both national security and the credibility of the 2017 elections; which they are confident of winning. To ensure that their victory is not marred by violence and accusations of rigging, they will likely make steps to address concerns surrounding the IEBC.
On Tuesday 15 June, other protests broke out in western Kenya against police impartiality following the arrest of opposition leaders for hate speech allegations. Among them were Machakos Senator Johnstone Muthama and Suna East MP Junet Mohamed, further flagging growing tensions in the country. Police detained eight pro-government and opposition politicians for investigations into remarks which they said were “bordering on incitement”.
In other news, the 2016/17 national budget was released on Wednesday 8 June. The government announced that it expects robust economic growth around 6 percent in the next fiscal year, and 6.5 in the medium term. They expect this to be supported by ongoing infrastructure investment, private consumption and agriculture. The target to create one million new jobs remains. Furthermore, the Treasury plans to trim the large budget deficit and projects a budget deficit amounting to Ksh691.5 billion (US$6.9 billion) with the aim of bringing it to 9.3 percent of the GDP. The government remains committed to bringing down the deficit gradually to 4 percent of GDP in the medium term
Following the loss of the Uganda oil pipeline deal to Tanzania, Kenya will go it alone to construct the pipeline from its Turkana oil fields to Lamu port on the Indian Ocean. Kenya has the chance to fast track the project and potentially sway the decision of the government of Uganda on which route it uses to export their oil. Africa Matters Limited (AML) sources say that the financing of the Tanzania route is not fully committed and reports have been misleading, so Uganda’s decision may not be as final as perceived.
A key issue with the pipeline route to Lamu was the cited security risks in northern Kenya. Areas near the Somalia border are targeted by Al Shabaab terrorism. Recently, security has been heightened in several parts of the country to prevent planned Al Shabaab attacks during the month of Ramadan. Troops have been deployed in Mandera County on the border. The security situation has improved significantly in Kenya in the last year and we see government prioritising the sector in order to thwart possible attacks.
In further news, President Kenyatta has moved the National Intelligence Service and the National Counter Terrorism Centre from the Ministry of Interior to the Office of the President. He has also taken control of the Northern Corridor Integration Projects Office, the Kenya International Boundaries Office and Directorate of National Cohesion and Values, amongst other departments. This is seen as a response to the ongoing terrorist threat to the country and to Jubilee’s flagship development projects in the north, including the LAPSSET programme and planned pipeline. Chaos surrounding by-elections earlier in the year and the recent violent protests also suggest the security services will have a significant role to play in next year’s elections.
Lastly, the government says it will continue with the planned closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Garissa County, north eastern Kenya. The camp which hosts over 300,000 refugees – predominately Somalis – is seen by some in government as a security risk. There are ongoing bilateral talks between President Kenyatta and the President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud (“Mohamoud”). Mohamoud is the first Somali President to ever visit the camp. The United Nations Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, is closely involved in the process. President Kenyatta, on Friday 10 June, held extensive talks with Ambassadors from the EU where they discussed issues on security and the planned repatriation of Somali refugees. These preceded the President’s visit to Belgium this week. The repatriation of refugees to Somalia, even if conducted in a safe and responsible manner, will be an important development to monitor in terms of security in the east Africa region.
To conclude, ruling Jubilee and opposition CORD head towards the August 2017 general election on shaky political ground. Further violent confrontation, as we have seen in the anti-IEBC protests across the country, is likely. President Kenyatta’s move to take greater control of security departments, partly as a response to the ongoing terrorist threat, is also indicative of the role the security services will play in next year’s elections. Meanwhile, the Treasury recently announced the 2016/17 budget. A real focus for the government will be to reduce the ballooning budget deficit – the hope being to reduce it to four percent of GDP in the medium term – while sustaining economic growth at around 6 percent, increasing revenues and ensuring progress in the country’s important infrastructure and energy projects.