Something Big Just Happened in Kenya

President William Ruto knows he’s in trouble. A few weeks ago Mr. Ruto was barricaded inside his official compound in Nairobi, Kenya, while thousands of young Kenyans marched on the streets. Since then, nationwide protests that started over a potential tax hike on basic goods and services have evolved into something much bigger: a demand for Mr. Ruto’s ouster — and an end to a culture in which Kenya’s political class enriches itself at the expense of the social and economic needs of its citizens.

From the start, this movement felt different from other protests. Most of the demonstrators were part of the country’s young majority, spreading information about where and when to show up on TikTok, Instagram and WhatsApp.…  Seguir leyendo »

A commemoration held for the 23 people who died during protests against the Kenyan government's finance bill, Nairobi, 30 June 2024. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

There is as yet no resolution after an unprecedented week in Kenyan politics. What began as protests against a rushed-through finance bill has revealed a crisis of legitimacy within the executive, the legislature and the police that were sent to do the government’s bidding. And while the protesters have been very clear about their demands – reject the finance bill – outsiders who are accustomed to simplistic narratives about African politics have been scrambling and failing to understand what these events really mean.

Kenya is experiencing a polycrisis of sorts. The finance bill is the immediate trigger: an annually produced document that lays out the government’s fiscal strategy, and which normally passes without much comment.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kenyan President William Ruto gives an address at the State House in Nairobi on 9 May (Photo by TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images)

Kenyan President William Ruto’s arrival in Washington on 22 May ends a historic drought. No African leader has made a state visit to the US since John Kufuor of Ghana in 2008 – three times longer than the previous record gap, but a period that has also seen three US Africa Strategies (2012, 2018 and 2022) and two US–Africa Leaders’ Summits (2014 and 2022).

The latest of these strategic resets in 2022 encouraged a somewhat more engaged US administration, reflected in an uptick of visits by officials to the continent.

Yet competing international priorities and the looming US elections risk Washington slipping back into a status quo of complacency on Africa – illustrated by Joe Biden’s failure to make a promised trip to the continent in 2023.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hawkers navigate the traffic along Aerodrome Road in Nairobi in September 2023. (Sarah Waiswa for The Washington Post)

Is Kenya poised for an economic takeoff? Or is the prospect more hype than reality?

It’s a question I wrestled with during a recent, too-brief trip to the country where I lived in the 1990s.

President William Ruto, Kenya’s self-styled “hustler in chief”, tells anyone who will listen that his East African country of about 55 million people is “open for business”. He has plenty of backers, including many Western economists, bankers and the top U.S. diplomat in Nairobi, who agree that Kenya — East Africa’s largest economy and by far its most stable democracy — might finally be ready for its breakout moment after decades of stagnation, autocratic repression and ethnic strife.…  Seguir leyendo »

Liderazgo climático desde el sur global

El mes pasado, se celebró en París la reunión ministerial de la Agencia Internacional de la Energía, y en Adís Abeba tuvo lugar la cumbre anual de la Unión Africana (que hace poco se unió al G20). En ambos foros se reconoció la necesidad urgente de cumplir los compromisos formulados el pasado diciembre durante la Conferencia de las Naciones Unidas sobre el Cambio Climático (COP28) en Dubái, en particular el de triplicar la capacidad de generación de energía a partir de fuentes renovables de aquí a 2030. Pero hay importantes desafíos por delante.

En la COP28 se identificaron muchas acciones que son cruciales para el logro de la neutralidad de carbono en 2050.…  Seguir leyendo »

Deputy President William Ruto and his running mate Rigathi Gachagua praying on stage at a campaign rally, Nairobi, Kenya, June 4, 2022. Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

The markers “right-wing” and “left-wing” have come to mean almost nothing in Kenya. Over the past twenty years politicians have changed sides, coalitions have been constructed and dismantled, and allegiances have shifted based on vague notions of tribal unity and attempts to beat charges at the International Criminal Court. And yet the 2022 elections proved that some long-standing political alignments have survived. President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua are both former youth members of the party that ruled Kenya for its first four decades as an independent country. By choosing to run together, they were reviving allegiances they had forged in the 1980s as students at the University of Nairobi (UoN), where they were acolytes of Kenya’s second president, Daniel arap Moi.…  Seguir leyendo »

Investing in Climate Adaptation and Resilience as a Bulwark Against Conflict

Across the Horn of Africa, drought and flooding are displacing people and sharpening competition for land and water, risking conflict. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2022 – Autumn Update, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to increase funding for climate adaptation.

Investing in Climate Adaptation and Resilience as a Bulwark Against Conflict

Climate change is increasing the risk of conflict across the Horn of Africa. Intensified droughts and floods render land unusable, force people from their homes and compel them to compete for resources. They also raise the stakes in transboundary water disputes. The climate-conflict link is evident in Kenya, where four consecutive years of failed rains appear to be exacerbating ethnic tensions between farmers and herders jostling for access to scarce land and water.…  Seguir leyendo »

A campaign rally in Kisumu, Kenya, in early August. Patrick Meinhardt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It was a sight to behold. Scores of young people, excited and expectant, gathered in Nairobi, chanting slogans and waving banners. But it was no entertainment: They were there for a campaign rally. In the months leading up to Kenya’s elections on Tuesday, the scene was repeated across the country. Here, it seemed, were the future custodians of the country taking a lively interest in the political process.

But appearances can be deceptive. Some, it turned out, attended only on the promise of payment; others were paid to gather crowds from nearby. The actual enthusiasm of the country’s young, in contrast to the contrived air of engagement, is rather cooler.…  Seguir leyendo »

Campaign posters for various candidates on a wall in Nairobi.Credit...Simon Maina/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A Kenyan friend of mine who graduated from Harvard Business School recently told me that the United States is a good place to get an education, but “it is no longer a leading light”.

“We are looking elsewhere, not just the West”, she said. “Democracy? I don’t believe in it”.

She made the comment at a dinner party I attended in the garden of a gated neighborhood in Karen, a wealthy Nairobi suburb earlier this summer, as Kenyans were preparing to elect a new president. Nearly everyone in attendance was a Kenyan who had graduated from a top American school and gone on to an impressive career in finance, business consulting or government service.…  Seguir leyendo »

Cómo un ingreso universal básico ayudó a los kenianos a combatir el COVID

Cuando la pandemia del COVID-19 y la recesión resultante empujaron a 120 millones de personas en todo el mundo a una extrema pobreza en 2020, muchos países se basaron en medidas de protección social para amortiguar el golpe. Para mayo de 2021, se habían planeado o implementado un total de 3.333 planes de este tipo en 122 países o territorios.

Como el mundo enfrentará otras crisis en las próximas décadas, debemos aprender a proteger mejor a la gente contra episodios inesperados –particularmente en la medida en que los efectos del cambio climático se vuelvan más pronunciados y dejen a muchos expuestos a desastres naturales y crisis de ingresos-.…  Seguir leyendo »

Members of the Somali navy patrol near the port in Mogadishu this month. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP)

On Oct. 12, the International Court of Justice ruled in favor of Somalia’s claim to a large contested maritime area in the Indian Ocean. Approximately the size of South Dakota, the waters serve as a critical transit route and fishing grounds — and the seabed likely contains lucrative oil and natural gas reserves.

The dispute between Kenya and Somalia began in the late 2000s when Kenya tried to impose a shared maritime border on Somalia that was similar to its own southern border with Tanzania. Somalia was at war, so could not prevent Kenya from doing so. Since then, Kenya has used the maritime area for its own benefit, but also has helped to monitor and secure the waters.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kenyan coastal fishermen fly black flags on their fishing dhows with the message "Save Lamu Waters" as they take part in a demonstration demanding to be heard in a legal dispute between Kenya and her northern neighbour Somalia Tony KARUMBA / AFP

What is the outcome of the court ruling?

After seven years of bitter wrangling between Kenya and Somalia for control of contested Indian Ocean waters, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 12 October issued an eagerly awaited judgment demarcating the two countries’ maritime boundary, ruling mostly in Somalia’s favour. The main disagreement between the parties had centred on how the maritime border should be drawn. Kenya argued that it should run in a straight latitudinal line from the point on the coast where the countries’ land borders meet. Somalia contended that the sea border should run south east, perpendicular to the coast at the point where its land border with Kenya meets the sea.…  Seguir leyendo »

Somali refugee girls at Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya in 2017. (Ben Curtis/AP)

In March, the Kenyan government issued an ultimatum to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): Create a plan to close two camps that host more than 430,000 refugees, or we will forcibly expel them to their home countries immediately. However, refugees say forced repatriation is not a humane option.

What does the Kenyan public think, and what factors might boost public support for keeping camps open and integrating refugees into Kenya? About half of Kenya’s refugees are Somalis living in Dadaab refugee camp. They have fled a three-decade civil conflict between the Somali government and many rebel organizations, including the al-Shabaab militant group.…  Seguir leyendo »

Retrato del primer presidente y padre fundador de Kenia Jomo Kenyatta (a partir de los billetes de banco). Shutterstock / Prachaya Roekdeethaweesab

El debate de centralización o descentralización para la organización de un Estado trasciende a todo tipo de países del mundo. En naciones muy diversas, la pregunta es clara: ¿es mejor optar por un control centralizado desde la capital para conseguir la unidad del país o es preferible reconocer y apoyar esa diversidad para asegurar una coexistencia pacífica? En Kenia, un país de alrededor de 50 millones de habitantes y 45 grupos étnicos oficiales, llevan haciéndose esta pregunta desde su independencia en 1963.

Al principio, acordaron una organización federal conocida como Majimbo que fue breve. El primer presidente del país, Jomo Kenyatta, revirtió el sistema e impuso una centralización tras vencer en las primeras elecciones tras la independencia en 1964.…  Seguir leyendo »

Even at the best of times, Kenyan governments have not shown themselves to be paragons of efficiency. But these are hardly the best of times. In fact, they may very well be the worst — and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government is living up to the pattern.

When the coronavirus officially arrived in Kenya in mid-March, the government’s initial response was to close all ports of entry and institute a partial lockdown. It closed schools and later instituted a dusk-to-dawn curfew and mandatory quarantines; required people to wear masks in public and to work from home when possible; restricted travel to and from four counties, including the capital Nairobi; and shuttered restaurants and bars.…  Seguir leyendo »

Patrick Meinhardt/AFP via Getty Images. The widow of Cosmas Mutethia, who was killed by Kenyan police during a night curfew, helping to bear a symbolic coffin at a protest outside the Kenyan Parliament, Nairobi, Kenya, June 9, 2020

Not long after Kenya announced its first Covid-19 case on March 13, President Uhuru Kenyatta invoked the Public Order Act to activate a series of measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, such as requiring face masks to be worn at all times, vehicles to run at half capacity, and the closure of religious centers, schools, and “non-essential” businesses. But it was the dusk till dawn curfew that became notorious.

The Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA), a civilian organization created to monitor police misconduct, says that it has received more than ninety-five complaints of police misconduct and has confirmed thirty deaths, many of which occurred while enforcing this curfew.…  Seguir leyendo »

The pedestal for a statue of Queen Victoria that was knocked down in 2015 in Nairobi on June 10. (Khalil Senosi/AP)

On June 11, a significant anniversary quietly passed. It was the centenary of the day Britain officially annexed parts of East Africa to found the Kenya colony, the precursor to today’s Kenyan state. Over the course of the next four and a half decades, the British would consolidate their brutal, parasitic rule and establish a racist, colonial administration that would, in many ways, become the template for the government of the modern Kenyan nation.

It is perhaps not surprising that few Kenyans remember, or wish to be reminded, of that time. At independence in 1963, statues of British monarchs and settlers were hastily taken down and hidden away.…  Seguir leyendo »

Women hold signs during a protest against repeated failures to apply laws that women must hold at least a third of government seats in Nairobi, Kenya, on 22 January 2018. According to Kenya's 2010 constitution, women must have at least a third of seats in parliament and a third of appointed positions. Photo: Getty Images.

In your paper, you write about how the Kenyan government allocated funds to women so they can participate in entrepreneurial activities and gain financial independence. However, many of the women who were able to access these funds came from more privileged backgrounds. How can the government make sure that these programmes reach marginalized and minority communities?

It’s about how the funds are advertised. The people who have access to this information are often more educated and have a deeper understanding of how the systems work. So, women in very rural areas rarely, if ever, hear about these opportunities. And when they do, even when they access the funds, they don't know what to do with them.…  Seguir leyendo »

Grafitti artists from Mathare Roots Youth Organisation with their mural helping curb the spread of coronavirus in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo by TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images

Many Kenyans at home and in the diaspora are used to leveraging home-grown technological innovations to donate money in support of under-privileged families and other households affected by crisis. But with millions of Kenyans in need, the question remains whether community philanthropy can truly substitute formal social welfare in the face of coronavirus.

COVID-19 infection rates remain reasonably low and credit is due to Kenya’s government for its quick response. But, as in other African countries, the measures have brought other costs, with income insecurity top of the list.

Historically, Kenya’s informal sector workers are a hugely vulnerable group, but even those working in the formal economy now face lost wages.…  Seguir leyendo »

A police officer stops a car during lockdown restrictions set by the government to prevent spread of the coronavirus, in Eastleigh district of Nairobi on Wednesday. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

Kenya’s cabinet secretary for health, Mutahi Kagwe, is an unhappy man. A week after the government tentatively allowed restaurants to reopen from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m., he seems surprised that Kenyans are actually patronizing these establishments and having beer with sausages. While bars remain closed, eateries can still serve alcohol to their clients. Ordering a token meal with one’s drink has long been one of the tactics used to get around the country’s ill-considered, poorly drafted and widely ignored law restricting the sale and consumption of alcohol, which was enacted in 2010.

Kagwe’s frustrations reflect the approach of a government used to demanding obedience rather than seeking consent.…  Seguir leyendo »