Expert Q&A: Kenyan Election Preview with Patrick Obath

On Tuesday, Kenyans will vote in the country’s general election. The build-up to the Aug. 8th vote has already included the death of a key election official and reports of some residents leaving the capital Nairobi and others stocking up on food, both fearful of possible violence because of the vote.

Tuesday’s vote pits Uhuru Kenyatta against opposition leader Raila Odinga for the president’s office. Kenyatta, the incumbent, beat Odinga in 2013’s race as well as in 2007.

The 2007 elections in the east African country featured violence and contested voting results, events that left over 1,000 people dead (the 2013 election was peaceful).

President Kenyatta has invested in infrastructure projects during his first term in office, including 10,000 kilometers of road construction and a $3.2 billion railroad built with Chinese investment that connects the capital with the port city of Mombasa.

OnFrontiers spoke with Patrick Obath, Associate Director of Adam Smith International about some aspects of Tuesday’s election. Obath is also an OnFrontiers Expert.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


What’s at stake in the election as a whole and vis-a-vis Kenya’s economy?

The main item at stake in the Kenyan elections is the stake for the two main presidential candidates. Raila Odinga has his last realistic stab at the presidency (having had three prior attempts and failed) and Uhuru Kenyatta is pushing for a second term to avoid being the first one-term president in Kenya. The economy is resilient with key indicators like inflation and exchange rate staying steady or going positive and GDP growth marginally shrinking. The activity in the financial markets has been very positive.

Broadly speaking, what are the economic policies of the leading candidates?  

The manifestos of the leading candidates only differ in detail but are derived from Vision 2030. The Jubilee alliance manifesto (Kenyatta) has a strong pro-business section in its third pillar – Transforming the Nation and a strong statement on corruption and security. The NASA alliance manifesto (Odinga) focuses on creating a strong enabling environment that allows the delivery of social reform and well as allowing business to thrive.

What are investors looking for in the election and/or results?

The main investment sectors are financial markets, FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods), IT and services. These are currently looking up and are expected to continue on their growth irrespective of the outcomes of the elections. Should there be any contests on the outcomes of the election it may result in a short slowdown of the current growth.

What would you advise investors to do if Odinga wins and winds down these mega infrastructure, etc. projects as has been mentioned in some quarters?

I do not expect that should Odinga win he would wind down on the mega infrastructure projects as they are part of the Northern Corridor Infrastructure initiatives that are jointly being pursued by Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. Most of them are in different stages of contacting and it would be against Vision 2030 and the current agreed development initiatives to do so


Is there any shaking Chinese investment in the country with the election’s outcome?

Chinese investment in Kenya will continue.  There are many that are on purely commercial basis based on the opportunity that Kenya offers. What might slow down is the investment on a development/supported basis.

Could there be any spillover consequences from the election into neighboring states that should be of concern?

The region is now wiser and stronger and it is not expected that there will be any negative spillover consequence from the elections. There will be a realignment should Odinga win the elections, but by-and-large regional cooperation and the strengthening of the EAC should continue but with a different emphasis. A lot of the agencies that are driving the integration are now well-established and will continue to drive the agenda under the guidance of the regional leadership.

Let us know what you’re watching for with Kenya’s election by leaving a comment below.