05 Jul

How resilient is the Kenyan economy?

The FT has a great special report on investing in Kenya. Highlights include pieces on devolution, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s “Big Four” legacy projects (including an ambitious plan to build 500,000 new homes), and the promises of the tech sector.

Meanwhile, nominal GDP growth is projected to remain respectable, despite sky-high corruption and generalized administrative failures in both the county-level and national governments.

And here is an excerpt from one of the pieces:

A 2016 report from New World Wealth, an independent South Africa-based research group, found that 8,500 of Kenya’s roughly 48m people controlled more than two-thirds of the country’s wealth.

Highly recommended.

19 Jun

Supermarket shopping in Kenya is increasing the risk of poor nutrition

The middle class boom in many African cities has inevitably resulted in several life style changes but one is proving particularly dangerous.

rise in supermarket shoppingan offshoot of rapid urbanisationhas resulted in locals eating higher amounts of processed food than fresh food typically found at traditional markets.

But it’s a habit that could prove costly on the long-term, a new study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) shows.

The study analyses diet choices and nutrition in urban Kenya and finds that shopping in supermarkets “significantly increases” body mass index (BMI) and a higher consumption of processed and highly processed foods.

Across the continent, the rise of fast food chains is having a similar effect on increasing overweight and obesity levels.

The study collected data in 2012 and 2015 across several households in three towns in central Kenya where the share of grocery sales through supermarkets is about 10% nationally.

The change in diet choices and nutrition as an impact of shopping at supermarkets, a trend that’s already occurred in developed countries, is referred to as “nutrition transition” and the severity of the problem depends on the types of food offered in supermarkets.

Generally, increases in BMI contribute to non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension among locals.

Even though supermarket shopping was not found to result in a rise in calorie consumption, it resulted in “significant shifts in dietary composition,” the study showed.

For locals, energy consumption from unprocessed staples as well as fresh fruits and vegetables reduced and were replaced by dairy, processed meat, snacks and soft drinksfoods that likely contain higher sugar, fat and salt levels and lower micro-nutrients.

To read the full article, click here.


11 Jun

A Chinese coal plant on a UNESCO-protected island in Kenya

Environmental activists in Kenya are determined to show that coal has no place in the country’s energy future. This week, dozens of activists descended on the capital in what campaigners described as the “first anti-coal demonstration in Nairobi.”

The coalition of advocacy groups is protesting the building of a coal-fired energy plant on the island of Lamu, a major tourist attraction, and a UNESCO heritage site, besides coal mining in the Mui Basin in Kitu county in eastern Kenya.

The over 1,000-megawatt coal plant in Lamu is part of an ambitious project aimed at generating electricity to help boost the region’s socio-economic landscape.

Built through a joint Kenyan-Chinese venture, the plant will initially rely on combustible imports from South Africa—a move environmentalists say will damage natural and marine resources, and destroy fishermen and farmers’ livelihoods.

Carrying signs that read “Coalition of death,” “Clean coal is a lie,” and “Don’t be fooled by fossil fool. Coal is not cool,” marchers said the government should put the lives of “Kenyans before coal.”

The protests followed an unsuccessful legal battle to try and stop the plant’s opening, with activists arguing that the threat of climate change has made renewable sources of energy like wind and solar more attractive across the world.

Officials insist they have carried out due diligence, and that the plant will start production to help meet future power demands. The Kenyan-Chinese partnership, however, underlies another effort Beijing is undertaking globally to expand its coal-fired power capacity.

As China’s investment in renewable energy projects at home have dramatically increased, Chinese corporations have also been building hundreds of coal plants abroad, some in countries that today burn little or no coal. This include in Africa, where the promise of subsidized development is pushing many nations to invite the Chinese.

Energy experts say these coal plants run against global emission-cutting drives proclaimed in the Paris Agreement, would harm significant steps taken toward establishing green economies, while the waste and toxins would hurt local communities.

To read the full article, click here.

05 Jun

Chamisa writes to Mnangagwa, ahead of election

Zimbabwean leader Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesperson, George Charamba, has said that interaction between the president and opposition figures “will only be a fixture of post-election Zimbabwe and not before”.

According to the state-owned Herald newspaper, Charamba said this as he revealed that Chamisa recently wrote to the president asking for an inclusion in a government of national unit similar to that of Kenya.

In March, President Uhuru Kenyatta and former prime minister Raila Odinga said they had launched a new initiative to unify the country that was largely divided between tribes that supported the rival leaders, raising fears of violence.

Said Charamba: “Indeed, he (Chamisa) wrote asking for inclusion in a government of national unity, which is why he has given an example of Kenya — President Uhuru and Mr Odinga.”

Charamba, however, said that Mnangagwa would only likely consider making such an offer after the plebiscite.

He described Chamisa’s proposal as an attempt to “violate the democratic will of Zimbabweans in honour of a bilateral arrangement, more so when that arrangement stems from a fear of elections”.

This came after Mnangagwa reportedly declared that his ruling Zanu-PF party would still be in power after the July elections.

According to New Zimbabwe.com, Mnangagwa also described the opposition parties as “barking puppies” who would not mount any significant challenge to Zanu-PF.

“Zanu-PF is in power. Let it be known that nothing will change in this country even if we go for elections because people will vote for our party. Elections on July 30 belong to Zanu-PF. We dictate what happens in this country. We already have an upper hand and the elections have been won already by us. Let those who want to argue do so, but just vote for Zanu-PF,” Mnangagwa was quoted as saying.

Source: https://www.news24.com/Africa/Zimbabwe/mdc-leader-chamisa-writes-to-mnangagwa-asks-for-inclusion-in-unity-govt-ahead-of-election-aide-20180605

31 May

Kenya’s president vows to recover resources lost in corruption scandal

Kenya’s public prosecutor said on Wednesday 24 civil servants and business people charged with involvement in the theft of nearly $100 million of public funds will stay in custody pending a June 4 hearing on their application for bail.

The suspects, who include the public service ministry’s principal secretary, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to magistrate Douglas Ogoti to charges that relate to theft at the government’s National Youth Service (NYS).‏

“Accused to be remanded in custody until Monday 4th June, 2018 when court will rule on their bail application,” the office of the director of public prosecution said on Twitter.

The NYS is a state agency that trains young people and deploys them to work on projects ranging from construction to traffic control.

It is rare for prosecutors to bring such a large group of public officials to court to answer corruption charges.

President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to stamp out graft when he was first elected in 2013 but critics say he has been slow to pursue top officials and ministers.

In the wake of the latest NYS scandal, the president vowed to recover all resources that have been lost to corruption schemes.

“These people who are corrupt should be jailed and we recover all the stolen funds to deliver on the things we promised Kenyans,” Kenyatta told residents of the capital Nairobi while launching a government project on Wednesday.

The president also called out any Kenyans that might entertain the notion of defending people implicated in the scandal, based on their ethnicity.

“I do not want to hear anybody defending those caught in corrupt dealings. A thief is a thief irrespective of the tribe he/she comes from,” said the president.

Chief prosecutor Noordin Mohamed Haji on Monday named 54 people, 40 of them government officials, to face charges including abuse of office and conspiracy to commit an economic crime. Some of those charged remain at large.

To read the full article, click here.

22 May

Africa’s fintech industry has scored another big-ticket investment win

The streak of big-ticket investment in African fintech companies shows no signs of stopping.

Cellulant, the digital payments solutions company operating in 11 African countries has raised $47.5 million in its Series C round—one of the largest for a solely Africa-focused venture-funded company. The round was led by The Rise Fund, an impact investment fund run by TPG Growth, the US-based private equity group, with participation from Endeavor Catalyst, Satya Capital, Velocity Capital & Progression Africa.

First founded in Nigeria and Kenya in 2004, Cellulant has since expanded to nine other African countries and around 12% of Africa’s mobile consumers can make payments using its solutions. Its reach is down to partnerships with over 90 banks and several mobile payments platforms across the continent. The company says it will be expanding to two more countries following the investment.

The deal marks Rise Fund’s first investment in Africa since raising $2 billion last October. The fund’s backers include Andra AP-fonden, the Swedish pension fund and the Washington State Investment Board. It also lists music star Bono and billionaire Richard Branson on its board.

The investment in Cellulant is the latest endorsement of the key role African fintech companies are playing in bridging the crucial payments and financial inclusion gaps on the continent. Over the past three years, the sector has garnered momentum and has become the most attractive for investors on the continent.

Almost a third of funding raised by African startups in 2017 was in the fintech sector as investors bet on consumers turning to more formal financial services in a region where just 17% of the population have banking accounts. Venture funding for African startups jumped by 51% to $195 million in 2017.

Fintech was the biggest attraction for investors with 45 startups raising one-third of total funding. The success of mobile money technology like M-Pesa in Kenya and across East Africa has long shown the potential for other underserved markets. M-Pesa’s success is likely also behind for the increasing presence of mobile networks in the African financial sector and the convergence of the two sectors.

Read the full story at Quartz Africa

16 May

Miguna set for showdown with gov’t as he returns to Kenya today

Kenyans are bracing for another standoff between opposition politician Miguna and the immigration department.

Miguna announced that he will be coming back to the country today and the Kenya Human Rights Commission wrote to the immigration department asking that the government buys the politician a ticket, issue him with a valid Kenyan passport and permit human rights staff to witness Miguna’s entry as ordered by the courts of law.

The immigration principal secretary, Gordon Kihalang’wa, however responded saying the department would not do any of the things requested by the human rights body.

“The department cannot issue Mr Miguna with a valid Kenyan passport as he has not made any application for the same. Moreover, and without prejudice, we reiterate that Mr Miguna has to regain his Kenyan citizenship before being issued with a Kenyan passport,” Maj-Gen Kihalang’wa says in the letter dated May 10.

Kenya’s foreign affairs minister, Dr. Monica has also weighed in on the matter, tweeting that Miguna would not be denied entry as long as he followed due process required by Kenyan and international laws.

‘‘I want to state categorically that the Govt will not deny @MigunaMiguna entry to Kenya but he has to follow the due process that are required by the laws of Kenya and international laws.’‘ She added that Miguna must follow the right procedures to get his citizenship after denouncing it.

Miguna is expected in court on Friday May 18th to give oral evidence against a petition accusing the Kenyan government for stripping off his citizenship.

While the Kenya High Court directed that the deported lawyer is allowed back into the country to face his accuser in person, several such orders have previously been ignored by the authorities in the case of Miguna Miguna.

Miguna’s case also threatens to undermine the unity pact reached by president Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga which was to champion reconciliation and restore the rule of law.

Odinga previously explained that Uhuru ha agreed to drop all cases against opposition politicians in connection with his symbolic inauguration as the ‘people’s president’.

Odinga is presently in the United Kingdom where he is scheduled to address Kenyans on Friday. He will thus potentially avoid a public embarrassment should Miguna be denied entry into the country, despite the newfound collaboration with the government.

Source: http://www.africanews.com/2018/05/16/miguna-miguna-set-for-showdown-with-gov-t-as-he-returns-to-kenya-today/

13 Apr

Kenya’s $3.5 Billion Road Project Delayed by Debt Concerns

Kenya’s second-biggest infrastructure project since independence five decades ago, a $3.5 billion inter-city expressway, will be delayed amid concerns by lawmakers that East Africa’s largest economy is taking on too much debt, the company building it said.

While Kenya is ramping up construction of much-needed infrastructure to underpin economic growth, the cost of the mega projects, mostly financed by Chinese loans, has stirred concern that the debt is unsustainable for the $71 billion economy.

The nation’s debt could rise to 58 percent of gross domestic product by the end of June, from 40.6 percent in the 2011-12 fiscal year, according to World Bank estimates.

Construction of the 473-kilometer (294-mile) four-lane highway between the capital, Nairobi, and the second-biggest city, Mombasa, will be undertaken by San Francisco-based Bechtel Group Inc., which has arranged commercial loans for Kenya to undertake the project. The country will not seek concessional financing or a public-private partnership, according to the company.

The Kenya National Highways Authority wasn’t aware of any delay, public relations officer Charles Njogu said by phone. “The agreement has, however, to be scrutinized by lawmakers because of its size,” he said. Transport and Infrastructure Secretary James Macharia didn’t pick calls to his mobile phone nor respond to a text message seeking comment.

The financing arrangements for the toll road are now expected to be in place by end-June, the initial sod-turning target, and construction work will now begin in the second half of the year, said Andrew Patterson, Bechtel’s regional president for Africa.

“This is looking to be slipping,” he said in emailed responses to questions on Monday. “The debt level is a big concern and we are working to find the right balance with Treasury in regards to the financing.”

Kenya’s biggest infrastructure project since independence from Britain in 1963 is an $8.7 billion standard-gauge railway from Mombasa to the Ugandan border that’s being built under China’s flagship Belt and Road program.

To read the full article, click here.

13 Mar

Opposition Alliance in Kenya Seen ‘Dead’ as Odinga Breaks Ranks

Kenya’s main opposition alliance was cast into disarray after its leader Raila Odinga broke ranks and agreed to a truce with President Uhuru Kenyatta following a seven-month standoff over disputed elections.

Odinga said March 9 he was abandoning a defiance campaign aimed at toppling Kenyatta and will work with him on fostering national unity instead — an announcement that caught the other three main leaders of his National Super Alliance by surprise.

The ructions in the opposition will help Kenyatta consolidate power during his second and final term and are a boon for the ruling Jubilee Party as it gears up for the next elections in 2022.

“Nasa is now dead and its epitaph written,” thanks to Odinga’s decision to strike his own deal, said Peter Kagwanja, chief executive officer of the Africa Policy Institute, based in the capital, Nairobi. “The ideological discordance is clear and its leaders have fallen apart.”

The truce may be good news for East Africa’s largest economy, which has been weighed down by political uncertainty and violence that has cost dozens of lives. Growth slowed to an estimated 4.8 percent in 2017, from 5.8 percent a year earlier.

Founded in February last year, Nasa united Odinga’s Orange Democratic Party, Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper Democratic Movement, Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress and Moses Wetang’ula’s Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-KenyaKemu.

Isaac Ruto’s Chama Cha Mashinani joined the alliance in April, but realigned itself to the ruling party five months later.

While Kenyatta, 56, was declared the winner of Aug. 8 presidential elections, Nasa rejected the results as rigged and the Supreme Court nullified the outcome.

Nasa then boycotted an Oct. 26 rerun, saying the shortcomings identified during the first vote hadn’t been addressed.

Kenyatta secured 98 percent support on much lower turnout and the court upheld his victory, which the opposition took to the streets to protest.

To read the full article, click here.

22 Feb

Crackdown on Dissent Puts Kenya’s Democratic Status at Risk

Once considered an island of stability in a neighbourhood bedevilled by conflict and one-party rule, Kenya is mired in a protracted electoral dispute that’s undermining its democratic credentials.

Political tensions have been simmering in the East African nation since opposition leader Raila Odinga boycotted a rerun of a presidential vote in October and rejected the declaration of Uhuru Kenyatta as the winner.

They flared again when Odinga declared himself the so-called people’s president last month, and the authorities cut off TV stations airing the ceremony, initially ignored a court order to restore broadcasts and deported a prominent opposition lawyer.

The dispute has weighed on Kenya’s economy, the region’s largest, with growth slowing to an estimated 4.8 percent last year from 5.8 percent a year earlier.

That may undermine efforts to create jobs for more than a third of the potential workforce who are unemployed.

While the opposition drew criticism for failing to see the electoral process through, the government response has raised concerns about Kenyatta’s commitment to the rule of law.

“Nobody was expecting him to go to such lengths to keep fighting political battles,” said Christopher Dielmann, senior economist at Exotix Capital. “This is not an electoral blip. It calls into question the political and constitutional structure of Kenya.”

The world’s largest shipper of black tea and a regional hub for companies including Alphabet Inc. and Coca-Cola Co., Kenya emerged from one-party rule in 1992, with three presidents chosen in regular — though often-disputed and sometimes violent — elections.

The press is mostly free and the judiciary set an African precedent when it declared the initial August vote void after claims it was rigged.

The Interior Ministry denied there’s been any crackdown on political opponents. The government is “becoming more disciplined and focused on ensuring that discipline is followed,” spokesman Mwenda Njoka said by phone.  He accused the opposition of “using extra-legal means to sabotage the government.”

To read the full article, click here.