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Has Kenya's economy finally exorcised ghosts of elections?

By XN Iraki | April 11th 2017 at 09:30:33 GMT +0300

If you discount the political noise in Kenya and focus on economics, a strange truth emerges. This might be one of the best economic news we can share for a long time. It is the clearest evidence that our economy has come of age.

It is no wonder the opposition has found it so hard to stir our emotions despite all the reports on corruption and other vices. The entertaining truth is that our economy has started ignoring politics! Looking at the graph above, it’s clear that every election is followed by a slump in growth, from the Kenyatta-Odinga conflict in 1969, JM murder in 1975, coup de tat attempt in 1982, multiparty in 1991 to land clashes in 1997.

Things changed after KANU left power in 2002, with the economy on an upward trend till 2007 when another political conflict punctuated the growth. It will remain a conjecture how fast the Kenyan economy would have grown if there was no post election violence (PEV) in 2007/2008.

Growth trajectory

The aftermath of 2013 polls was similar to 2002. There was no slump but neither was there a dramatic rise in growth. The World Bank projection is that the economy will grow at six per cent this year despite being an election period. Have we finally exorcised the ghosts of politics?

If the pattern continues, we could reach a stage when politics will be like a gentle wind which blows past trees, houses among other things but leaves them intact. Such a wind also cools us when it’s hot and disperses seeds for regeneration.

The elections would be such a wind allowing regeneration as we vote our ineffective leaders and get new ones. Why has politics lost its power over economics?

One possible cause is the rising class middle class which in Kenya is not defined by the amount of money one has but aspirations too. The growth of academies even in the deepest slums is a good indicator of that aspiration.

New malls have gates for pedestrians, the middle class aspirers. This group has been looped into the modern economy and would loathe having its economic life style interrupted. Once they pay their tax, they are not bothered about politicians anymore. They go to private clinics, private schools, have private security in their private homes espoused by resident associations. Economically empowered people loathe politics. Remember they keep 70 per cent of the profit, more than of what the government takes as tax. Education aids loathing of politics. The more educated people are, the more they realise that their fate is better decided by themselves than politicians. Few can doubt that literacy rate has gone up in the last few years and will continue rising.

Informality is another threat to political hegemony. Most jobs in Kenya are created in the informal sector. These men and women are on their own, very independent. They have mastered the environment and know politicians are not of much use in improving their welfare. They are the majority. Kenya Bureau of Statistics says about 83 per cent of Kenyans jobs are in informal sector. Devolution has damped the economic cycles resulting from election cycles. It does not matter who wins, there will be something for the counties and its emerging local elite. That has made people less enthusiastic about who wins and who loses. No wonder governors’ seat is so coveted.

Globalisation has taken lots of the wind off the sail of politics. Kenyans including those from lower echelons of the society have ridden on globalisation to improve their lives, without government help. They used to flock to USA and Europe, working day and night to improve on their lives and those of their children.

Now they are going to Middle East. And more recently to China for trade and jobs. Once they discovered global opportunities, they feel they are in control of their lives and politics can wait.

Blame information technology for deflating the political egos. With so many sources of information, there are few secrets anymore. Politicians can no longer use information to control the masses.

Their next action is anticipated. Noted how anything and everything is leaked to the social media? Others argue that the attenuation of political influence on the economy is easy to explain; politicians have become economists. Not entirely untrue.

These forces are conspiring to make politics a very expensive game and sadly irrelevant. In the past, all that politicians did was stirring our emotions with a few issues and we followed them en-mass. The political market has matured. Switching voters will be as expensive as switching products in any mature market like soft drinks or automobiles.

Luckily we are all beneficiaries of this emerging trend. We are almost in the golden age, when our economy will be driven by fundamentals not political whims.

Our creativity and ingenuity will matter more than the hosed voices of a politician in political rallies. The voter registration apathy and general lack of political enthusiasm indicate that age is nigh.

Data on economic growth after 2013, and projections, seems to suggest that the age of economic dominance over politics has arrived prematurely. We waited for this age long enough, when our economy would finally be inoculated from the political cycles. Should we celebrate?


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