East Africa

Case of collective anxiety for Greater Horn of Africa as Kenyans vote in a devolved govt

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If there is a single event that could be marked down as a pivotal point for East Africa and one that sets the tone for the rest of 2013, it would have to be the Kenyan elections.

All of East Africa will be watching closely as Kenyans head to the polls. Two dates have been circled for the past few months — March 4 (Election Day) and April 11 (the date for the election run-off should a clear winner not emerge on March 4).

For the Greater Horn of East Africa (GHEA) this election represents a case of collective anxiety.

The 2007 General Election in Kenya and the political fallout remain fresh in the minds of East Africa’s citizens, politicians and businesses. If there were ever an instance of an entire region suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, GHEA would be a primary example when the post-election violence erupted in Kenya between December and January 2007 and 2008 respectively.

The irony of Kenya’s previous election is that it showed how integrated the region truly is despite the scepticism expressed by some.

The 2007-2008 post-election crisis and violence showed the extent to which the region is intertwined. Each partner state of the East African Community felt the consequences of a Kenya in turmoil.

Landlocked countries, specifically Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi were in dire straits as their main trade arteries with Mombasa port were closed off. Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam port was overwhelmed with the diverted traffic.

The region has passed a certain threshold and now when anything major happens domestically in one country, it has a direct impact on all the countries in the neighbourhood.

This is why the 2013 Kenyan election is as much a regional issue as it is a national one. It is why, for the lead-up to this year’s election, there is an all-hands-on-deck approach to Kenya by the EAC partner states.

Aly Khan Satchu, CEO of Rich Management and well-known economist in the region, in answering a question posed to him on what is at stake for the EAC and regional integration on March 4, said, “Kenya remains the anchor state and the geopolitical pivot of the EAC.” Translation? Everything is at stake!

The two leading candidates of the election, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, have everything at stake in this election. They simultaneously have everything to gain and everything to lose depending on how things shape out. Their reactions to a loss will be incredibly important for the trajectory of Kenya’s future.

Their actions could either strengthen Kenya’s institutions that were created as a result of the fallout from 2007 or completely undermine it.

For Kenya, its future as a unitary state is at stake. At the most dramatic level, the outcome of this election will affirm or undermine this unity.

Bold and courageous leadership will be needed to oversee the consequences of a devolved government and its implementation while simultaneously keep the country’s fiscal house in order. This type of leadership will be essential in preventing misuse of funds, quarrels over jurisdiction and resource allocation. Without it, we will see more marginalised communities.


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