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FACTBOX-Key political risks to watch in Kenya
September 30, 2010 / 3:20 PM / in 7 years

FACTBOX-Key political risks to watch in Kenya

NAIROBI, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Kenya voted peacefully in favour of a new constitution to redraw the political landscape but the optimism brought about by the vote is being tempered by looming International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants.

The revised charter aims to address ethnically divisive issues that have plagued Kenya’s post-colonial history, such as patronage, corruption and land grabbing.

On the economic front, a resurgent tourism sector and rebounding horticulture revenues are spurring the recovery of east Africa’s largest economy. The benchmark NSE-20 Share Index is up around 40 percent for the year to date, lingering just shy of its 2010 high, hit in early August.

Following are some of the main risk factors to watch:

ICC DEEPENS RIFTS

The ICC’s investigations into Kenya’s post-election violence has driven a wedge through the cabinet. Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo in mid September said trials at the Hague-based ICC were unnecessary as the cases could be heard by local courts.

Some cabinet colleagues quickly distanced themselves from the comments which cast further doubt on Kenya’s commitment to cooperate with ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

A Synovate poll showed more than half of Kenyans want the masterminds of the tribal bloodshed which followed the disputed presidential poll in Dec. 2007 tried at the ICC. [ID:nLDE68L1FU]

Ocampo says he is on track to issue arrest warrants by the end of the year for up to six key suspects.

Critics of the ICC’s investigations denounce the court as a destabilising force as Kenya heads towards the 2012 election. Its supporters argue the fight against an entrenched culture of impunity must not be compromised.

What to watch:

-- Kenya’s cooperation with the ICC. The court’s latest request for the minutes from a series of meetings held by security chiefs after the contested presidential ballot has deepened fault lines within the coalition government.

The government’s official stance is that it will cooperate fully with the ICC.

But some political commentators have interpreted Kenya’s refusal to arrest Sudanese President Hassan Omar al-Bashir during a brief trip to Nairobi [ID:nMCD730308] and Kilonzo’s comments as indications the government may not play ball.

-- Ocampo issues warrants for senior government ministers. If top government officials prove to be on Ocampo’s hit-list -- as is widely believed -- the warrants might intensify infighting within the coalition, unsettling investors.

-- If senior officials who might be considering running for president in 2012 elections are targeted, it could throw open a political landscape where party leaders typically rely on alliances with others to secure enough votes.

-- Possible violent repercussions if any ethnic community feels its leaders have been signalled out.

ECONOMIC REBOUND

East Africa’s largest economy continued to expand in the third quarter and the government’s 4.5 percent growth target for 2010 still looks on track, according to the central bank. [ID:nLDE68R19B]

The Central Bank of Kenya left its key interest rate unchanged at 6 percent on Sept. 23, in line with market expectations and analysts say the easing cycle could soon end. [ID:nLDE68M1HV]

What to watch:

-- End-year rainfall. Rainfall in the final quarter of this year and perhaps the first half of 2011 will likely be below average, sparking concerns of a higher food prices.

A sustained drought would also drive up energy costs, given Kenya’s reliance on hydro-power dams, and hurt tea output, a major foreign exchange earner.

Official forecasts show inflation accelerating to 4.3 percent by December 2010 and 6.3 percent in 2011.

-- A dwindling appetite for government securities. For more than 12 months, government paper auctions have been massively oversubscribed but demand appears to be falling.

On Sept. 22, a 2-year bond received an oversubscription rate of just 3 percent. A day later, the sale of a 91-day Treasury bill was undersubscribed.

-- Central bank buying dollars CBK04. Traders say the shilling's KES= fundamentals are stronger than its price which has hovered around 81.00 to the dollar.

Some market players are frustrated at the central bank’s frequent purchases of dollars which they say have prevented the shilling from breaking through a resistance level of 80.50.

The central bank says it is buying hard currency to boost its official reserves and is not targeting any shilling levels.

NEW POLITICAL MAP

Kenya’s parliament has reconvened and will begin voting on legislation to bring the new constitution into force. First, though, an implementation committee must be established to oversee the preparation of more than 40 bills.

The revised basic law is expected to bring more political stability by removing the winner-takes-all system of the past.

There are greater checks on presidential powers while the creation of a new county level of local government, set to enjoy some autonomy and a share of the national budget, is aimed at a more equitable development of rural Kenya.

What to watch

-- Make up of the implementation committee. Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party has blocked senior politicians who spearheaded the “No” campaign from sitting on the commission to try to ease the passage of bills through parliament.

-- More commissions will be formed to deal with political hot potatoes, such as land ownership, where horse-trading is likely ahead of the final passing of the relevant bills.

-- Political manoeuvrings as leaders eye 2012. Opinion polls point to Odinga as the man to beat in the next presidential ballot. But he will likely need to build new alliances to remain as the 2012 frontrunner.

Political analysts say Odinga will need to woo the Kikuyu, a major voting block, if he is to have a real chance of winning the presidency. His one time ally turned rival, William Ruto, is also likely to stand, taking with him a large chunk of the Rift Valley vote that backed the prime minister in 2007.

-- Odinga’s health. Odinga remains under doctors’ orders to keep his schedule light following surgery to relieve pressure on his brain in early July.

REGIONAL INSTABILITY

Somalia’s former Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke resigned last month, paying the price for the government’s failure to quash an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians. [ID:nLDE68K0GY]

Somali rebels claimed responsibility for the July bomb attacks in the Ugandan capital Kampala, their first on foreign soil, and have threatened to strike Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

Kenya’s government is facing mounting criticism for extraditing Kenyans suspected of involvement in the Uganda blasts without following due legal procedures.

What to watch:

-- Protests by Kenya’s Muslim population. The detention in Uganda of Kenyan human rights activist Al-Amin Kimathi, a prominent Muslim figure, has angered Muslims. Friday prayers could be a flash point.

Kimathi says he was in Uganda to witness the court hearings of Kenyans accused of playing a part in the attack. Leaked Kenyan intelligence reports say Kimathi is believed to be the key cog in al Qaeda’s regional propaganda machine.

-- Further threats of an attack on Nairobi. Regional intelligence agencies said the Islamist cell which hit Kampala had also planned to attack Nairobi.

Any nation deemed to be propping up Somalia’s transitional government risks being considered fair game by the hardline Islamists. Many Somali members of parliament spend large chunks of their time in Kenya, which is also home to a large Somali diaspora in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh.

-- Cross-border attacks in the northeast of Kenya by Somali militants just the other side of the frontier.

-- Referendum in South Sudan in January. Kenya is already home to many Sudanese refugees from decades of conflict. Any instability around the vote could push more refugees into the poor north of Kenya, which is also struggling to house hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees.

Editing by David Clarke and Giles Elgood

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