Nairobi November 21, 2011
change, plus c’est la même chose?
The last decade in Kenya has been dramatic in many
ways. There are two major positive
changes: Economy and Democracy.
The economy has picked up with an average growth or
about 5% which is a radical shift from Moi’s reign when Kenya had 14 years of
stagnating or falling GDP per capita. Probably a sad world record for a country
not being at war. The signs are visible; better roads, more maintenance and not
least luxury houses mushrooming in and around Nairobi. The capital is making huge efforts to become
an attractive center for visitors and residents alike. They have succeeded;
down town Nairobi was a place seldom visited after dark (or even earlier) in
the past. Streetlights now make walking at night safer and the city center is
reasonably clean; partly because of a ban on smoking in Nairobi -a rule
strictly adhered to, no butts on the sidewalks. Bars and cafés are full of people, crime in various
forms certainly exists. But you feel reasonably safe walking around and
enjoying the evening.
The Democracy has taken its turns and twists. But a
new constitution is in place and is implemented in gradual steps. It prescribes
new structures both at local and central levels.. It is a costly Constitution,
with a Senate and Governors and local governing bodies at 47 counties. But more
important than the cost, is the feeling that the people of Kenya are convinced
that they have the power during election
day. That power was grabbed from them in 2007, which caused the Post election
violence, scaring so many, not least Kenyans. The first acid test will be the
elections that according to the Constitution will be held in August next year,
but might be postponed to December.
But there are tendencies, bad in themselves, but also
representing threats to the positive
Employment is still low, unemployment even worse. The gap
between the rich and the rest is widening. Youth unemployment is a ticking bomb
(also) in Kenya.
The political class looks first and foremost at their
own interest and is absorbed by their internal wrangling. The famine in
northern Kenya is hardly discussed, maybe not even observed, by the leaders.
Not even by media, just as obsessed by the political charades as the politicians.
Corruption is still rampant, there are no signs or
improvement at all. Kenya fared one step better in TI’s assessment of
corruption in the East African countries, but that was the effect of Tanzania
going down rather than Kenya going up. Impunity is the order of the day, now as
Ethnicity is more openly discussed than before, or
rather more observed than before. Some see this as a positive sign. Better talk
about than suppress it. I do not agree. Of course suppression is not the
answer, but focus on ethnicity is certainly not the answer either. It seems
that ethnicity is a card played by the leaders, not necessarily by the people. A
sad observation, if true, but maybe a positive sign?
The war of incursion in Somalia changes the position
of Kenya in the region. The country will now try to be as politically and even militarily
as important as its economic clout admits.
But the operation is a high risk one, and it is doubtful
if the Kenyan people are prepared for a drawn out war with many casualties and
maybe intensified terror attacks, also inside Kenya.
And the question remains, which of the positive and
negative tendencies are likely to be fundamental and structural - or temporary?