The state of the economy is the single most important issue that will most likely shape 2020, say several analysts who spoke to the Sunday Nation about their predictions on the key people, institutions and events to watch in the New Year.
The economy, which has been limping since the end of the 2017 general elections, will largely determine the fate of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda.
On Jamhuri Day of 2017, President Kenyatta unveiled four items he said would be the focus of his government in his second term: the provision of affordable housing; improving agriculture and food security; the provision of universal healthcare, and to revamp the manufacturing sector.
At the outset, some observers cautioned that the Big Four Agenda was too ambitious to be delivered within a five-year time frame and now some are concerned that time could be running out for the President to deliver on these items within the remainder of his term.
“The President will be approaching the midpoint of his second and final term in office, so this will be an important year for him,” said Mr Murithi Mutiga, the project director for the Horn of Africa at the International Crisis Group.
“If he doesn't make progress in delivering on his big-ticket promises, it is unlikely that he will manage that at the tail end of his presidency, as attention at that stage will shift fully to the succession race,” he said.
The failure to deliver on the President’s Big Four Agenda has largely been blamed on the sluggish economy, which in turn has impacted negatively on tax targets at a time when the country is servicing huge debts.
Mr Herman Manyora, a lecturer of linguistics and communications at the University of Nairobi (UoN) and a political analyst, was dire in his prediction of the economic situation.
“The sorry state of our economy will render everything else, including politics and politicians, irrelevant if it is not addressed as a matter of national urgency,” he said.
Mr Manyora suggested that the government should renegotiate or reschedule the payment of some of Kenya’s debts until the economy is back on its feet. “We should stop digging the hole we are in now.”
His fears were echoed by financial analysts Ally Khan Satchu, who decried what he termed as the country’s “debt-fuelled investment binge.”
“Our debt-fuelled investment binge is unlikely to deliver a positive return on investment for another five years and, therefore, will also weigh on the economy. I am uncertain how we are going to liquefy the economy,” he told the Sunday Nation.
He, however, added that a lot will depend on the interplay between the Central Bank of Kenya, the National Treasury and the Government to turn the economy around.
“The Central Bank Governor Dr (Patrick) Njoroge closed the year very forthright and is seen by the markets as a very solid steward of the shilling and the Kenyan financial and national interest,” said Mr Satchu.
Treasury has been under a new leadership since July when Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich was charged together with other top officials in the ministry over the Kimwarer and Arror dams scandal.
Mr Satchu praised the approach of the current officials at the helm at the Treasury, including the Acting Treasury CS Ukur Yattani. “Under its new leadership (it) has also been more forthright in its communications,” he said.
He, however, lamented that “our policymaking is a little bereft of ideas and bandwidth just at the time when we need bucket loads of both,” while intimating that the government might turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to shore up the country’s finances.
Mr Manyora said the public will also be keenly watching the performance of the Judiciary in the prosecution of the war on corruption, which has been partly blamed for the poor state of the economy.
“I wish the Judiciary could for once hear the cry of Kenyans and speed up some of these high profile corruption cases so that they act as a deterrent to other public servants who want to steal public resources,” he said.
Mr Kwame Owino, the chief executive officer of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA-Kenya), said that the government should open up on the country’s debt crisis.
“There is a feeling that the country’s true debt level has not been fully declared,” said Mr Owino. “Let’s hope that Treasury as well as Parliament will get to the bottom of this.”
At the continental level, he said he would be keenly watching the progress of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, which came into force in May 2019, but is expected to be implemented as from July 2020.
“There are many benefits to the economy of East African Community in this agreement. But despite being an enthusiastic supporter of the this agreement, I am worried that the EAC Summit is yet to sit and take a common stand since some of the big west African economies, such as Nigeria, have voiced reservations about the agreement,” he said.
On the political front, Mr Manyora said the “three usual suspects” — President Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga — will continue dominating the scene.
While noting that the political space plays an outsize role in Kenya, Mr Satchu said: “I expect the three principals and the attempt to shape the narrative and its outcome to remain central to proceedings and the economy.”
The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) is expected to continue being at the centre of the ongoing political manoeuvres between the three dominant political players.
A product of the March 2018 handshake between President Kenyatta and his hitherto political nemesis, the BBI is viewed by the Mr Ruto wing as a ploy to undermine the DP’s 2022 presidential ambitions.
Mr Mutiga said the political landscape ahead of the next election might get more clearly defined in 2020, just as it did in 2005 with the unsuccessful constitutional referendum — two years ahead of the 2007 vote — and in 2010 when a new Constitution was endorsed and the International Criminal Court's prosecutor identified the suspects.
“There may be similar clarity by the end of 2020 but the focus on individuals seeking the presidency takes away attention from the urgent need to revitalise key institutions, especially the electoral commission which is effectively in limbo,” he said.
He was referring to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) whose fate hangs in the balance after the BBI task force recommended that the current three commissioners, led by its chairman Mr Wafula Chebukati, be kicked out.
The push to oust the commissioners will most probably impact on the boundary review exercise which is to begin next year. If efforts to push the new commissioners out of office turn into a long-drawn affair, it means new commissioners will most likely come into office close to the 2022 general elections, leaving them with little time to adequately prepare for the polls.
On matters of security, the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), which is expected to be scaled down beginning this coming year, will likely impact on Kenya’s security situation.
Kenyan troops, who have been in Somalia since 2011, are part of Amisom, but President Kenyatta has reiterated severally that the Kenya Defence Forces will only pull out once the country is stable.
“It remains to be seen under what arrangement Kenyan forces will remain in Somalia when the Amisom comes to an end,” said security analyst Mr George Musamali.
Mr Musamali said that the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) boss Mr George Kinoti will be keenly watched by the public to see whether he will sustain his fight against graft, which has seen several high profile individuals charged for various crimes.
On the diplomatic front, Kenya is expected to intensify its quest to secure a seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which has received the endorsement of majority of African Union member states.
Kenya is fighting for the seat with Djibouti, which lost the battle for the AU representative for the UNSC seat but is playing up Kenya’s simmering boundary dispute with Somalia as an indicator that Nairobi should not be trusted to handle regional security matters.
Securing a seat in the 15-member council would place Nairobi in a position to hold the rotational presidency of the UNSC and lobby other member states on crucial matters, even though Kenya might not have a vote on substantial matters.
There are two main issues that Kenya would likely lobby the UNSC support: its maritime boundary dispute with neighbouring Somalia and the planned pullout of African Union Mission (Amisom) troops from the Somalia.
According to Prof Macharia Munene, who teaches history and international relations at the United States International University (USIU), getting the UNSC seat will be a matter of national pride and a chance for the Kenya to lobby for its interests and those of the continent.
“It not only gives us an opportunity to serve in the world arena, but also a chance to lobby the UN members closely on matters that affect our country but also those of Africa,” he said.
At the regional level, there will be a number of elections in the coming year, including in Tanzania and Somalia, but by far the most important of these will be in Ethiopia, according to Mr Mutiga.
“Long an anchor of stability in the Horn of Africa, the country is going through a delicate transition which could either go toward the path of stability or widen the divisions in society that have triggered violence over the last two years,” he said.