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Moi's decline & Constitution (2000-)

President Moi finally left office in December 2002 after a peaceful elections process. The new elected president was Mwai Kibaki, leader of the multiethnic National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), which managed to defeat KANU for the first time in Kenya's short democratic history. This came as a surprise to many, specially since the candidate running for KANU was Mzee's son Uhuru Kenyatta. Kibaki focused his message on anticorruption, but internal rivalries would follow and NARC would split up over a consitutional process. Some Government politicians left NARC and allied with Kenyatta's KANU to form the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), which opposed the new Constitution draft and gained enough popular votes to knock down the proposal in a referendum in November 2005.

In an atmosphere of unrest, Kibaki was reelected in December 2007, in a process that was followed by two months of riots and violence promoted by ODM's followers who under the leadership of Raila Odinga accused Kibaki's Government of fraud. Some 1,500 people died and Kenya's tourism collapsed. Through the intervention of the United Nations in February 2008, a power share agreement was reached to bring Odinga into the Government as the prime minister. Finally in August 2010 the new Constitution was adopted, providing for the suppression of the prime minister role after the next presidential election which will take place on 4 March 2013.

In spite of political changes, today Kenya is a country were there is not much room for hope. Its marketed image of economic prosperity, together with the much boasted pictures of a Nairobi skyline silhouetted by skyscrapers, induce would-be tourists to imagine an idealized Kenya that sharply contrasts with the reality they discover during their trips. Many western travellers confess that they are apalled by finding a poverty far beyond their expectations, even if the strict and authoritarian rule of KANU did actually achieve an economic wealth exceeding that of other neighbouring countries. But just a couple of hours in the country is enough to find out that this level of wealth is very unevenly distributed.

Corruption remains the big challenge. Kenya still ranks 154 out of 182 countries in the world in the global corruption index by Transparency International, with a score of 2.2 out of 10 and no appreciable changes in the last years even with Kibaki's crusade against corruption. This curse is present and visible at all levels of public administration, from the Government's armchairs to the lowest officials. A paradigmatic example is the much overcrowded Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, designed in 1958 to carry 2.5 million passengers a year and now coping with more than twice that number, to the dislike of travellers who arrive at a crammed and dirty airport with interminable immigration lines. Expansion plans have been announced since 2006 for a new Terminal 4 to be built with the financial support of the World Bank, but there seems to be a total lack of progress due to misappropriation of funds and corruption, according to internal sources cited by press reports.

Population growth rate, which was formerly the highest in the world, seems to have slowed down in recent years. Still, with 2,44%, it ranks 29th in the world. The population has more than quadrupled since independence, from 9 million in 1964 to an estimated 43 million in July 2012 (data from CIA World Factbook). Spectacular levels of economic development would be required to maintain an acceptable standard of living for such an increasing population, but conversely, life conditions are worse today than they were in 1980 according to some ratios.

The trade balance is negative and the dependence on agriculture places economy at the mercy of weather. Droughts have led to critical situations, like the appearance of the hunger ghost in the driest regions, invasion of farms by the Maasai searching for pastures, and water shortages. Moreover, three quarters of the energy are imported from abroad and the domestic supply depends almost exclusively on hydroelectric plants, so eventual droughts impose energy restrictions, with a devastating effect on economy. Droughts are usually compensated by years of good harvest, but storing facilities are not sufficient nor suitable for ensuring a constant food supply. Furthermore, the main body of the exports is due to tea and coffee, reason why the country is also vulnerable to price fluctuations of these two products in the international markets. The economic development relies to a great extent on humanitarian aid, unemployment is sky high, bureaucracy is Kafkian, and salaries cannot cope with inflation.

Kenya has managed to stand as a big player in the competitive market of tourism, which has played a fundamental role in economic growth. A great part of this achievement must be honoured to all those who have strived for nature conservation in a country where there is still a land issue pending and where sustainable development is still an utopia. But tourism is extremely sensitive to social and political stability. The riots after the 2007 elections caused a collapse of tourism revenues which are gradually recovering, but ethnic riots, banditry, poaching, and an increasing terrorism threat by al-Shabaab, the Somali branch of al-Qaeda, all are major blows to the powerful albeit fragile Kenyan tourism sector.

The land issue is a great pending subject of Kenyan economy. Both Kenyatta and Moi overlooked this matter and never implemented economic changes to favour dispossessed peasants, many of who had to emigrate to nurture the city slums. After invasions of white settlers' farms in Zimbabwe that started in 2000, some Kenyan activists as the former MP Stephen Ndicho seeked a parallelism by which they tried to induce empoverished Kenyans to occupy colonial farms. But there is no such parallelism, since most big land in Kenya is in the hands of black Africans. According to Wikileaks and other sources, former president Moi himself misappropriated over two billion dollars of state money and illicitly amassed a fortune similar to that of African dictators like Zairean Mobutu Sese Seko. However, it is very unlikely that Moi will ever be trialed. All this, and still the demagogic victimist speech againts the whites is deeply rooted in Kenyan politics and society, half a century after independence.

Today, the sons and grandsons of the Mau-Mau Freedom Fighters are as poor in the black man's country as their elders were in the white man's country.


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Cradle of Mankind
First migrations
Swahili coast
Portuguese empire
Omani domination
Mountains of the Moon
Inland peoples
Kenya exploration
Partition of East Africa
Protectorates & Lunatic Express
Settlers, hunters & sportsmen
African nationalism
Mau-Mau & end of the Colony
Uhuru, Jamhuri, Harambee
End of a century
Moi's decline & Constitution