Will capitalism sustain Kenya’s stability?

Helmi Shaarawi
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Since the early years of its independence, Kenya has set an example for capitalist development, irrespective of the mixed results of other capitalist projects around the world – whether prior to completing its structural reforms for a free market economy or after its domination across Africa and the rest of the world.

It was surprising that this contributed to the country’s relative stability in spite of its many racial, ethnic and tribal divisions, keeping the majority Kikuyu tribes at peace with the tribes affiliated with the Odingas. There are also Muslim Arab ethnicities and southern Bantu people that make it a rich eclectic mix.


This diversity has at times led to bloody tribal conflicts, particularly the carnage that took place between 2007 and 2008. This did not lead to major destruction of national infrastructure but fortunately to constitutional consensus. One of their tribal leaders Uhuru Kenyatta became the president, while leader from another tribe Raila Odinga assumed the post of prime minister.

Kenya will either be governed by neo-liberal capitalist mindset or it will succumb to the vicissitudes of weak capitalist economies, as exemplified by several Third World countries

Helmi Shaarawi

Elections annulled

During elections on 8 August 2017, the voter turnout exceeded 70 percent after grudges were redressed with the dismissal of the International Criminal Court’s case against the president. Successful parliamentary elections were held in around 50 electoral districts and no instances of disturbances were reported. Women were represented in these elections and the assembly consisted of 47 women out of 365 representatives.

However, the national electoral commission suddenly annulled the outcome of the presidential elections and said the elections must be conducted again in two months. This decision was taken after opposition leader Odinga submitted “evidence” to the supreme court claiming that the elections were rigged. What’s surprising, however, is how quickly the verdict was arrived at and announced.

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On the face of it, it seems there are political parties and economic groups in the country that want to maintain stability and balance of power among themselves. This is what has been seen so far in Kenya. We have seen around 200 registered political parties forge alliances.

It seems almost every small tribe has formed a party to exert political pressure with any power that aims to dominate power. This has made groups like the Kalenjins, which is not a minor power, to engage in fierce fighting against the ruling Kikuyu. It was this conflict that led to the 2007-2008 massacres. The Luo tribe headed the opposition but there were different calculations within and some had their own ambitions.

Need to invest in stability

Kenya is scheduled to hold elections again in October. Until then, it is likely to witness major protests. The country will either be governed by neo-liberal capitalist mindset or it will succumb to the vicissitudes of weak capitalist economies, as exemplified by several Third World countries.

If the latter happens, the tribal and racial situation, which people have become familiar with since the liberation war and Kenyatta’s rule, will continue.

I think many believe that peace is likely to prevail in Kenya despite some tensions. Arab parties who have made huge investments in Africa must contribute to securing peace, particularly in Kenya that is one of the largest investment destinations in the continent after South Africa. It’s also one of the largest markets which China eyes.

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There are huge railway projects that link Kenya with South Sudan, Rwanda and Uganda. China’s projects in Kenya are part of its Indian Ocean outreach plan and to the Silk Road initiative, which extends to the Suez Canal.

Kenya is a major and influential player for Egypt in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), even as it has differences with Ethiopia over their shared border and the construction of water dams.

I think Egypt and other Arab countries will take a breather from the problems affecting their interests in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and think like the Americans do, by reaching out to Africa. Therefore, all sides must lend their support in the interest of Kenyan stability.

This article is also available in Arabic.
Helmi Shaarawi is an Arab-African relations expert at the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization. He is former president of the African Association of Political Science.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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