As Kenyatta is Inaugurated, Kenyans Are Feeling Economic Pain

As Kenyatta is Inaugurated, Kenyans Are Feeling Economic Pain


Mr. Kenyatta initially won re-election in August, handily defeating longtime rival Raila Odinga. Mr. Odinga challenged the outcome at the Court, which in September nullified Mr. Kenyatta’s victory. That ruling was celebrated by political analysts as a great sign for Kenya’s democracy, but it undermined the economy. The Nairobi Stock Exchange nose-dived on the Friday of the decision, and by the close of business the following Monday nearly $1.3 billion had been erased from the value of listed companies.

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President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya during his inauguration in Nairobi on Tuesday.

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Baz Ratner/Reuters

Two months of political uncertainty and occasional violence followed. Mr. Odinga withdrew from the second campaign, saying the process remained flawed. The election commission chairman warned that the poll was unlikely to be free and fair. The election proceeded anyway, and Mr. Kenyatta won again, collecting 98 percent of a vote the opposition party boycotted.

Throughout, Kenya’s economy has taken a significant hit.

Kenya welcomed 15 percent fewer visitors in August — the month of the first presidential vote, also the peak of the tourist season and a crucial driver of the country’s economy — than in July. Figures compiled monthly by Kenya’s National Bureau of Statistics show the country’s other major industries suffering as well. Key manufacturing indicators fell an average of nearly 20 percent compared with the same period last year. The agriculture sector also suffered, although the statistics bureau attributed that to drought.

Kenya’s Finance Ministry now expects economic growth of 5 percent this year, almost a full percentage point lower than its initial forecast.

Official figures, however, hardly tell the whole story.

“Those numbers mask how much this affected your average Joe in Kenya,” said Ms. Gordon, the analyst. “It’s not been a good period for the average working Kenyan.”

That is partly because women like Ms. Makau, the clothing seller in Kibera, are ignored in the government’s figures, which do not measure the “informal economy” composed of people who work as street vendors, drivers and casual laborers.

Ms. Makau, 60, is feeling the stress. Her onetime daily income of $10 is now $5, if she’s lucky. She is paying her rent piecemeal so that she does not have to skimp even more on meals for her children. Finding trendy fashions to hawk is a thing of the past.

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Supporters of Kenya’s opposition party, the National Super Alliance, during a protest in Nairobi’s Kibera slum this month.

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Georgina Goodwin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The good stuff is gone,” she said, sitting in her shop, a repurposed shipping container filled with faded castoffs she cannot sell. With virtually no revenue, she lacks the cash to buy new stock in styles her customers want.

Across Kibera, Kawangware and Mathare — Nairobi neighborhoods that are home to hundreds of thousands of the working poor — people say there’s just no money. And when pockets are empty, fruit and vegetables, and the investment they represent, rot on vendors’ stands.

Ritchie Oudu, who makes the bulk of his income selling DVDs in Kibera, has been unable to get new movies in three months. His suppliers, based in downtown Nairobi, are too afraid to visit the slums. He’s dipping into his dwindling savings to pay university fees.

Things are not much better in Nairobi’s central business district. Small- and medium-sized retailers there say the prolonged election and frequent and sometimes violent political demonstrations drove customers away and provoked fears of vandalism.

The election violence is not limited to street fights between ordinary Kenyans, who are usually paid a dollar or less to show support for one side or another. One businesswoman said clients at her men’s wear shop frequently argued over politics. In one case, she said, two customers with opposing views came to blows.

There are some signs of change. As Mr. Kenyatta prepared for his inauguration, Mr. Odinga canceled plans by his party to hold a parallel swearing-in of its “people’s president.” But he later turned the tables, promising supporters at a rally that he would take such an oath next month, on the anniversary of Kenya’s independence.

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A shop that was burned down during clashes between opposition leader Rail Odinga’s supporters and riot police in Nairobi, in October.

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Patrick Meinhardt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Odinga’s speech was cut short by police firing tear gas and, witnesses say, bullets. Members of Mr. Odinga’s party say five people were shot, and two killed, during the afternoon’s chaos.

The skirmish, and Mr. Odinga’s promise of continued provocation, undid feelings of relief in a city where many people, whatever their politics, say they simply want normality.

Ms. Makau, the clothes seller, said she has no idea when she’ll have enough money to restock. Mr. Oudu, 27, is still single, in a country where men are often married by that age, but says he lacks enough cash to date girls. Anna Mwenda, who sells phone credit in downtown Nairobi, cannot afford Christmas gifts for her five-year-old son, or the traditional holiday visit to see her family in rural Kenya.

Jeremy Maganga, a 45-year-old scrap dealer in Kibera, said it is unclear when family life will feel normal again. He and his wife have found new weekend routines to avoid guests — and the social expectation of sharing food. Mr. Maganga sits at work Saturdays, though there’s little business, and on Sundays after church, he and his wife and children loiter away from home.

“Normally we need visitors,” he said, expressing an appreciation for the drop-ins that are common here. “But now, we reduce food at home by cutting them out. We cannot welcome anyone.”

To say such a thing in Kenya is to admit both shame and defeat. Those feelings follow Mr. Maganga everywhere these days; he’s even taken to dodging his wife and children, spending extra-long hours at work and hoping they are asleep when he comes home.

He spends a few Kenyan shillings — no more than a dime or two — on mandaazi, a popular fried dough snack, for the children, just in case they are awake. It is his attempt, these days, at not disappointing them.

“They’re angry at me,” he said of his family, “that I cannot provide.”



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