Economy, politics and education to shape 2018

Sunday December 31 2017

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Nasa leader Raila Odinga

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Nasa leader Raila Odinga after attending a church service led by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby last month at the All Saint Cathedral, Nairobi. The church has tried to bring the two leaders to dialogue with little success. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By KIPCHUMBA SOME
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Kenya had a turbulent 2017, with many of the biggest challenges related to the economic downturn and the political tensions that arose from the extended acrimonious electioneering period.

These two key issues are likely to dominate 2018 again, plus the ongoing sweeping reforms in the education sector that have generated a lot of public debate and controversy. 

The presidential election might be over and in favour of President Uhuru Kenyatta but the long shadow it has cast over the land will be with us for longer, going by Nasa’s pledge to swear in Mr Raila Odinga as people’s president in the new year.

While some legal experts have dismissed Nasa’s move as inconsequential in law, it will no doubt heighten the political tensions once again and probably escalate in violent confrontations between the police and Mr Odinga’s supporters.

During the festive period, Mr Odinga indicated that he would be sworn in in January, a stance that was reiterated  by his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka upon his return from Europe.

SWEARING-IN

Two camps have emerged in Jubilee on how to treat Mr Odinga were he to go ahead with his swearing-in. Whereas one camp calls for violent intervention were such an event to take place, another camp calls for a  calm restraint, advancing the theory that the whole charade would amount to nothing and would be good fodder for Jubilee to mock the Nasa leader.

“The government response to the formation of parallel governance structures would likely involve heavy suppression by security forces,” said Ms Patricia Rodrigues, a security risk analyst in Nairobi.

“A sustained period of unrest prompted by anti-government campaigns would also disrupt supply chains for companies operating in the region that are reliant on the Kenyan port of Mombasa, particularly companies operating in South Sudan and Uganda,” she added.

The fractious relationship between Jubilee leadership and the Judiciary will also be closely watched in the coming year. The President had promised to “revisit” the Supreme Court decision to overturn his August 8 win, describing it as a “judicial coup”.

SUPREME COURT

Several Jubilee sources intimated to the Nation that formation of a Parliamentary Select Committee or appointment of a Commission of Inquiry to look at the whole episode of the Supreme Court decision  are still on the table.

Many will also be watching whether Nasa will hold or implode in the wake of their loss. The sharing of key parliamentary positions has already caused a strain within the coalition with some of the parties accusing Mr Odinga’s ODM of taking all important positions.

Mr Musyoka will also be a man to be keenly watched in regard to Nasa’s future. According to a pre-election agreement, Mr Odinga will set aside his presidential ambitions in support of the former VP in 2022. It remains to be seen if this agreement will hold.

The prolonged presidential election took a heavy toll on the economy which is hoping for a boost in the coming year. Sectors that were badly affected include manufacturing.

While analysts say that the fundamentals of the economy are solid and the outlook promising, there will be a need for aggressive marketing to woo foreign investors who had been spooked by the political uncertainty.

INTEREST RATES

The cap on bank interest rates is likely to be reviewed to unlock loans to millions of Kenyans who can no longer access them after lending institutions cut back on giving out unsecured loans to ostensibly cushion themselves from losses.

Sectors that are hoping for a lift in 2018 include manufacturing, which had slowed down in 2017. The stock market has been shaky, consumption dropped while retail suffered, leading to several supermarket closures.

Also hit was the real estate sector, where construction of new houses was largely put on hold while demand for finished housing units stagnated. This had a direct impact on mortgages.

Meanwhile, economic slowdown wiped out thousands of jobs. Kenyans have had to tighten their belts for the better half of 2017. Despite the poor performance, the government will need to invest more on labour intensive projects in order to give a lifeline to millions of unemployed youths.

NEW CURRICULUM

Teachers have also been raising concerns over the rolling out of the new competence-based curriculum expected this month. The system places emphasis on continuous assessment tests (CATs) over one-off examinations.

It will be rolled out for nursery, Standard One, Two and Three, but teachers say that they are yet to be adequately trained. Parents are also complaining of the high number of books they are supposed to buy.

They are required to buy 12 text books, two each for Maths, English, Kiswahili, Social Studies and Religious Studies. In addition, parents are required to purchase up to four revision books for their children.

Among the programmes set for roll-out include implementation of the new curriculum, the opening of hybrid boarding schools, the NHIF cover for students and the mass transfer of teachers.

Other factors that will affect the new term are the 100 per cent transition for students from primary to secondary schools, the new Teachers Service rules and the government plan to provide text books to schools.

CURRICULUM

The new curriculum has raised questions among teachers and parents over its implementation.

Parents are still burdened with the number of books they are supposed to buy for their children while teachers feel they are not yet prepared for the new curriculum.

The mass transfer of head teachers and their deputies has also become a subject of debate among stakeholders. While the Education Cabinet Secretary says the move is aimed at improving efficiency in schools, the teachers’ trade unions have termed it “punitive.”

On Saturday, the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) threw its weight behind the government.

EDUCATION POLICY

“The TSC, in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, have a responsibility to ensure prudent, effective and equitable implementation of the education policy to safeguard the heritage of our nation,” said NCCK’s general secretary Canon Peter Karanja.

In sports, a drawn-out tussle between betting companies and government over taxes threatens to hamper the smooth running of several activities in 2018.  Gaming firm SportPesa has threatened to withdraw sponsorship to several national teams, federations and clubs, valued at Sh1 billion. The firm’s chief executive Ronald Karauri claims they cannot withstand the increased taxation rates.

 Wanjohi Githae, Luke Mulunda, Faith Nyamai and David Kwalimwa contributed to this article