/ 26 February 2010

Is Kenya heading for a meltdown?

Barely two years after an election that left 1 500 people dead, Kenya is still on a dangerous road, say some analysts.

Last week a corruption scandal threatened to bring down the country’s unity government, after President Mwai Kibaki overturned a decision by Prime Minister Raila Odinga to suspend two ministers suspected of corruption. It took until Tuesday for the two leaders to finally meet.

However, even if the two men are intent on ironing out their differences, Kenya still faces enormous problems.

The country is young and educated, but youth unemployment constitutes 78% of total unemployment. If you want a job, say many school leavers, “you have to bribe someone first”. The problem is so bad that there is a significant risk the country will become a failed state, warned Transparency International’s Kenya chief in a recent interview.

“There are no investors willing to invest in the economy because it is structured on corruption,” said Job Ogonda, citing Liberia and Sierra Leone as examples of where this has happened before.

“Getting jobs is based on corruption and because of that people feel alienated.”

According to Ogonda, young people are increasingly turning to violence as the only means to further themselves, adding that the country is likely to face a meltdown in 2012. He points towards the controversial Mungiki sect, which has a stranglehold on the transport sector, and other groups who extort money to finance themselves.

“There isn’t a middle-class neighbourhood in the country where people aren’t forced to pay for security. You pay for it when you move into your house, then you pay a monthly fee and when you’re moving out you pay again. Otherwise, they won’t allow you to.”

Corruption is an ongoing problem in Kenya, which was once regarded as a beacon of stability for all of East Africa. For example, according to one NGO, the government has failed to build a proper water supply infrastructure in the country because government-connected companies make money selling water to people in drought-hit areas or poorly served slums.