Sunday, 29 March 2009

Kenya ranked E. Africa’s most unstable economy

Written by Washington Gikunju

An instability index map of Africa.
March 26, 2009: Kenya is Eastern Africa’s most vulnerable country to political and social upheaval that is expected to arise from a long drawn-out global recession, a new report on the possible impact of the economic meltdown on global security indicates.

London-based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) says the level of risk in East Africa’s biggest economy has been heightened by rapid population growth, high levels of inequality, and widespread poverty that is expected to deepen with the global downturn.

“A stalled constitutional review process, rampant corruption in government and a general breakdown in the rule of law has deepened Kenya’s exposure to social and political tension putting at risk the stability of the coalition government,” the EIU report says.

Kenya’s business leaders endorsed the report as a realistic reflection of the danger that the country faces in wake of incessant political bickering that has dominated the national agenda in the last one year as economic welfare declined.

“Last year’s post poll chaos sent a clear signal that the level of political risk in Kenya is higher than has been indicated. We finally realised that it is possible to descend into the chaos that have over the years dogged neighbouring states with disastrous economic results,” says Dr X N Iraki, a strategic management lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

Official statistics show that in the past 14 months, economic conditions have worsened for an estimated 17.5 million Kenyans or 46 per cent of the population, raising the country’s risk profile.

Civil unrest
Civil unrest that followed the disputed December 2007 presidential vote put Kenya on the world map and a recurrence of the violence is seen as the greatest threat to the country’s stability.

“Formation of a grand coalition government stemmed the crisis, but to prevent a repeat (or worse) requires settlement of long-term grievances, including land disputes, establishment of a new constitutional dispensation and an end to the culture of impunity,” says the EIU.

More than a thousand people were killed and 350,000 displaced in ethnic and political violence that followed the disputed presidential poll.

Ms Violet Barasa, a policy analyst with Africa Policy Institute, says Kenya’s problems are compounded by the fact that formation of the coalition government “merely saved lives, but lacked concrete plans on how to tackle the economic challenges.”

Other factors such as a raging famine — which has exposed an estimated 10 million to starvation — and the unfolding global economic crisis have pushed Kenya closer to the brink of political and social upheaval.

Most vulnerable
“Even before the onset of the global economic crisis, our economy was not at its best. The 2002-2007 growth did not trickle down to the masses adding to the embers to the smouldering fires in land and inequality,” said Dr Iraki.

“So far the grand coalition government has not taken any concrete measures to tackle the looming global economic hardships,” he said.

EIU has ranked Zimbabwe as the most vulnerable to political upheaval with an index score of 8.8.

The index measures vulnerability on a scale of zero (no vulnerability) to 10 (highest vulnerability).

Kenya, with a political instability index of 7.5, is ranked the 19th most vulnerable country, way ahead of neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania who are ranked 63 and 88 respectively.

South Africa, with an instability index of seven, is the 38th most vulnerable State while Nigeria is in the 43rd position.

The ranking is based on 15 key indicators based on what the report refers to as “underlying” and “economic distress” indices.

Somalia and Western Sahara, two African countries that have no functional governments are considered failed states and are not rated in the survey.

Nairobi CBD

The publication of the Economist’s findings comes only two weeks after Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta described the swelling number of unemployed youth as a time bomb waiting to explode.

Early this month, the government launched a Sh15 billion emergency programme aimed at creating about 300,000 jobs for the youth to tackle rising national security concerns.

The Political Instability Index developed by EIU is based on 15 social, political and economic indicators.

Of the 15, 12 represent “underlying vulnerability” pointers, which rank countries according to the level of inequality in their populations, strength of the state and governance, levels of social provision, history of labour unrest, ethnic fragmentation, regime type, public trust in political institutions, neighbourhood effects and history of unrest.

The other three “economic distress” indicators measure the level of development, growth in GDP per head and unemployment.

Low risk
Of the 165 countries surveyed, 27 (including Kenya) are considered to be in the “very high risk” category, 68 are in the “high risk” group while 53 have “moderate” risk of instability.

Only 17, almost all highly developed states, are rated as low risk.

According to the survey, Norway faces the lowest risk of political and social upheavals with an instability index of 1.2 followed by Denmark (2.2), Canada (2.8), Sweden (3.2) and Finland (3.2).

It is believed that a worsening of the world economic crisis will shrink demand for goods and services in the developed world, leading to job losses worldwide and deepening poverty for the most vulnerable.

This projection has seen warnings of dire social unrest come with increasing frequency.

Mr Dennis Blair, America’s new intelligence chief, says political turmoil from the global recession has replaced terrorism as the country’s biggest security threat.

He declared in a testimony before the US Senate last month that the primary near-term security concern of the US is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications.

“The longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to US strategic interests,” he said.

Record highs
The world already had a taste of what may follow prolonged economic recession early last year when a number of countries erupted into turmoil as food prices rose to record highs rendering millions unable to feed themselves.

Food riots were reported in Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, and only abated when international oil prices eased forcing down food prices.

Signs of agitation also emerged in Kenya late last year, after the price of maize meal shot to over Sh120 per two kilogram packet.

So far, two governments (Iceland and Latvia) have fallen as a result of the global economic crisis.

Dr Iraki says Kenya should take advantage of the current crisis to institute far-reaching political and economic reforms. “Without reforms, the fundamentals that led to the events of 2008 will remain and the possibility of future implosions too,” he said.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Relief food at last

On 22.3.09 Ngurumani received their most important guest the Hon. Prof George Saitoti, who happens to be their member of parliament.
The main reason for the visit?....distribution of government food relief, that unfortunately did not include bales of hay for the emaciated livestock herds.
The very day in Ngurumani was celebrated in pomp and color, deigned with the colorful Maasai Women robes of 'RED' every where, and of course accompanied with the kiondos,mifukos and bags of all shapes and sizes to collect the precious commodity, food relief, that composed of maize, beans, the now famous 5kg maize flour bags and some cooking oil.
Although Ngurumani is blessed with two flowing rivers(Entasopia and Oloibortoto rivers),only a few farmers have taken the initiative to engage in farming activities,mostly done through gravity irrigation.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Pastoralists conserve wildlife habitats to protect rare species

Olkiramatian should take heed lest they are left behind in the trend:
This article appeared in the Business Daily Africa.

March 2, 2009: The drive to boost earnings from tourism has seen a rise in the number of wildlife conservancies in the country as ranch owners and pastoralist communities strive to take advantage of free roaming wildlife on their land.

The new trend has seen the creation of five new wildlife conservancies in the last one year alone while more are in the pipeline.

While the numbers may appear small, they point towards new areas that entrepreneurs seek to make money and utilise land hit by constant droughts. The new conservancies are Keiwa, Suswa and Mailwa in the South Rift region and Enoonkishu and Naboisho in the greater Masai Mara area.

Their creation now brings to nine the total number of conservancies created in the last four years.

The rapid increase of the conservancies has mainly been driven by growth in the tourism industry in Kenya in the last five years and the need to mitigate changing land use in wildlife dispersal areas.

Tourist arrivals have increased, with 1.8 million visitors coming into the country in 2007 up from 866,000 in 2003. About three million are expected to visit the country by 2012, according to projections by the Kenya Tourism Board.

This has given rise to the conservancy boom as ranch owners and communities move to take advantage of the growth.

Conservancies are areas explicitly set aside for professional management of wildlife in a way that helps maintain their habitat and increases their numbers and species. Most conservancies are located in areas rich with free roaming wildlife which forms 60 per cent of the total wildlife population in the country.

Kenyan indigenous groups file complaint with AfDB on Ethiopian dam

2 March 2009-(credit to BIC)

Requestors argue that the Gibe III Dam is set to deplete Lake Turkana with dramatic impacts on downstream communities in Kenya, and in the absence of public consultation.

On February 4, Friends of Lake Turkana, a Kenyan organization representing indigenous groups in northwestern Kenya whose livelihoods are linked to Lake Turkana, filed a formal request with the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) Compliance Review & Mediation Unit (CRMU) - the AfDB's internal accountability mechanism - to investigate and intervene in the Bank’s plans to finance the Gilgel Gibe III hydroelectric project in Ethiopia.

Gilgel Gibe III (known as “Gibe”) is part of a continuing series of projects on the Omo River and its tributaries in southwestern Ethiopia. Construction on the third portion of the project began in 2006, but the request for funding to the AfDB was only made recently. The project has become problematic for public funders because the Ethiopian government did not follow standard procedures in awarding the main contract to an Italian firm, Salini, without any bidding procedure. The World Bank has declined to offer financing because of this flaw, as has the Italian government. The European Investment Bank also seems to be leaning against any funding, on the same grounds. The AfDB’s procurement guidelines likewise prohibit it from funding the main contract, but the loan currently under consideration uses a loophole – financing through a sub-contract – to evade the rules.

With so many potential public funders turning away from the project, and with private financiers like J.P. Morgan Chase withdrawing support because of the financial crisis, the AfDB’s contribution becomes more important – even vital - if the project is to be completed.

Unfortunately, judgments about whether procurement rules have been violated do not fall within the CRMU’s mandate. The request filed by FoLT instead focuses on the impact of the project on Lake Turkana. The Omo River supplies roughly 80 percent of the water in the lake, which is the world’s largest permanent desert lake. The contemplated impact of the dam could reduce the lake’s depth, it is estimated, by between 7 and 10 meters. Such an impact would have serious repercussions on the chemical balance of the lake, which is highly alkaline, and therefore on the biodiversity supported by the lake. Lake Turkana hosts the world’s largest group of Nile crocodiles – over 20,000 – as well as many other species of fish, bird, hippopotamus, etc.

A serious impact on the lake would also have a serious impact on the riverine forest and the lands around the lake used for flood-recession agriculture. Most of the peoples living in the area are pastoralists who supplement their diet with seasonal cultivation; a damaged lake would seriously compromise their food security and way of life.

The Ethiopian government approved its Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) on the project in July 2008, nearly two years after construction began, in a blatant violation of Ethiopian law. The ESIA barely acknowledges any impact on Lake Turkana, and provides unrealistically rosy scenarios to claim that the project will actually improve conditions at the lake, such as by “reducing evaporation” – indeed, if there is less water, there is less evaporation. Little effort has been made to consult with affected peoples, and no effort whatsoever has been made on the Kenyan side of the border.

Northwestern Kenya is one of the most arid and resource-deprived parts of Kenya, and conflict among its various people has been chronic. The impact of the Gibe Dam on Lake Turkana would very likely lead to increased violent conflict.

Although Ethiopia is chronically short of power, most of the power produced by this project would, ironically, be sold to Kenya. That power would be very unlikely, however, to benefit the peoples of northwestern Kenya, but instead go to the metropolitan areas such as Nairobi, further south. The arrangements between the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments have not been transparent, and there is now jostling in Parliament and the Kenyan coalition government to ascertain what has been agreed to and whether the interests of the people around Lake Turkana have been taken into account.

Friends of Lake Turkana is careful to acknowledge that while they are fighting for the interests of the people on the Kenyan side of the border, there are hundreds of thousands in Ethiopia who stand to suffer even more disruptive impacts. The Omo River Valley is populated by a very diverse assortment of indigenous groups, also prone to conflict over scarce resources. Consultations with them have been minimal. But the Ethiopian government’s record of repression, and new laws it has recently passed to further limit the activities of civil society groups, have effectively discouraged groups in Ethiopia from organizing explicit opposition. Nonetheless, expatriate Ethiopian groups, together with NGOs with an interest in the region, plan to file a request to supplement FoLT’s in the coming weeks that will outline in more detail the potential problems in Ethiopia.

The AfDB board was originally scheduled to discuss the project on February 25, but that date was delayed shortly after FoLT’s request was filed. There is now no indication when the project will be formally considered, but efforts are being made within the Bank, both through the CRMU and through other contacts, to slow down the process and make sure that adequate consultations and studies are done before any decision is made.