By Kap Kirwok
January 26, 2013
According to sections of the commentariat – very, very bad.
Indeed, the dominant narrative being pushed by the chattering classes goes something like this: an election victory by the UhuRuto ticket will spell doom for the country. Several reasons are offered: foreign aid will dry up as the United States and some countries in Europe turn off the aid taps; our exports to Europe (mostly horticultural) will suffer. Tourism too, could be affected.
If strict sanctions are imposed, the proponents of the dominant narrative argue, the Kenyan economy could tumble. With reduced export revenues and foreign investment inflows, the Kenya Shilling could take a beating. This will be taking place against the backdrop of diminished domestic revenue. The recent announcement by the Kenya Revenue Authority that it fell short of its half year target by Ksh34 billion strengthens their case, especially given the demands on the Exchequer by the devolved system of governance.
Let us call this the impact argument.
Then there is what we may call the atmospherics argument. It is argued that the election of UhuRuto will poison the ‘atmosphere’ with so much uncertainty: will they cooperate with ICC? Will they stay the course in this legal due process? What if they refuse to cooperate? What if they are both sentenced to jail? Such questions, it is argued, create the kind of uncertainty that is very bad for business investment. The business community may adopt a wait-and-see stance, holding back on critical business decisions. Under this poisoned atmosphere, several things could go topsy turvy, including the sovereign risk, credit worthiness, interest rates and inflation. Even the steady flow of remittances from the Diaspora may turn into a trickle. No one – not even hyper patriotic Kenyans in the Diaspora – would invest in an ‘atmosphere of poisoned uncertainty’.
There is also the optics argument. It is argued that having a President of Kenya and his deputy – both accused of the worst crimes – taking turns at the dock in The Hague will forever dent the image of the country. The country could be isolated diplomatically, its chief executive unable to transact business with the majority of the world.
In the worst case scenario, the commentariat argue, we could find ourselves in similar or worse situation than Zimbabwe. We could join the ranks of pariah states and on the road to being failed.
Finally, there is the impunity argument. It is said that the election of the accused duo will do to impunity what corruption has done to insecurity: fuel it.
Those are the arguments on one side – passionately put forth by the chattering classes. It is a powerful case. There is, naturally, another side of the case, presented and defended with equal passion.
The counter argument, it turns out, is not as weak as you might expect. It has three strands, the first of which is the budget support argument.
It is pointed out that – if you look at Kenya’s recent budgets – you will find that at least 85 percent of public expenditure is financed through domestic revenue. They affirm that Kenya is not aid dependent. If aid dried up completely, it would not hurt much and may instead strengthen the country’s resolve to become self-reliant.
The second strand is the ‘nature-abhors-a-vacuum’ reasoning. Were the West to pull out and stop supporting Kenya, other partners will quickly fill the gap, it is argued. ‘Other partners’ in this case often means China and such other emerging economies as India, Russia, Brazil, South Africa and Turkey. The West, which is struggling to regain its economic footing, is thought to no longer carry the powerful influence they used to have. Related to this argument is the idea that Kenya’s strategic location and ‘anchor’ role in Eastern Africa confers some level of immunity from the kind of sanctions that say Zimbabwe – a landlocked country ‘in the middle of nowhere’– faced. It is argued that the United States in particular has important security interests that a stable Kenya can only safeguard. They are therefore unlikely to take precipitate and destabilising actions against Kenya.
The final argument is a moral one. If Uhuru and Ruto are cooperating with the ICC, why, they ask, would the West punish them before a guilty verdict is returned? By electing ‘suspects’ what democratic crime would the Kenyan people be committing? The proponents of the counter argument belief the West would hold their fire until the end of the ICC process. And, even in the event the two refused to cooperate with ICC, the worst they can do is impose mild, selective sanctions (restrict travel, freeze assets) targeting the two rather than punish the entire Kenyan population.
These are the contending positions. Where do you stand?
Do you, like me, believe that sometimes ‘nature will take its course’?