PESA Editorial - Kenyan - 3Q2018/19

History of Conflict and its Impact on Kenyan Development

The post-election violence (PEV) experienced in Kenya following a widely disputed election in December 2007 was unprecedented both in terms of scale and intensity. Over 1,000 lives were lost as a result of the ethnic clashes between supporters of opposing political parties. Police heavy-handedness towards protestors and military brutality heightened an already tense situation.

Prior to the PEV, Kenya was generally considered an ‘island of peace’ in a region of turmoil since conflict in the country had typically been restricted to resource-based conflicts (particularly in the North-eastern province – an arid and semi-arid region) and bouts of ‘tribal’ and ‘ethnic’ clashes associated with the 1992 and 1997 general elections. Conflicts in Kenya have historically been attributed to the repression of multiparty politics, entrenched under former President Jomo Kenyatta as well as increasing authoritarianism under former President Daniel Arap Moi. This served to fragment the Kenyan population along ethnic fault lines, further dividing the country into geographic zones of unequal development. These and other grievances found expression in localised and tribal conflicts around resources such as land and water.

The PEV of 2008 diminished Kenya’s ‘peaceful’ image, both internally and externally. In spite of Kenya’s status as the economic hub of East Africa, it has garnered a reputation as a politically risky country. This risk manifests in poor economic policies, corruption, prolonged electioneering seen in the 2012 and 2017 elections and a record of disputed elections which typically escalates into post-election violence. These factors have negatively affected economic growth and development. However, the adoption of a new constitution in August 2010 that sought to establish a new framework to promote a culture of good governance and a commitment to the rule of law seems to have put Kenya back on a path of political and economic growth and stability.

In the aftermath of Kenya’s violent general election of 2007, the government pledged itself to a new vision, ‘Vision 2030.’ The vision, which constitutes the country’s development blueprint seeks to address the structural bottlenecks in the economy and promote good governance.  Vision 2030 expresses the country’s long-term goal to become an industrialised country and attain middle-income status by 2030[1]. The economic aspect of the blueprint emphasises investment through targeted infrastructural projects central to the Kenyan economy and the creation of an enabling environment for public and private investments to flourish[2]. Public-private partnerships are identified as integral to revitalising the economy.

As a result of Kenya’s commitment to create an enabling investment environment for public and private investment, the country has over the past five years attracted substantial investments in the telecoms, energy, transport, water and agricultural sectors among others. In 2017, Kenya was ranked 92/190 economies on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, marking a significant leap from 108/190 in 2016 and 136/190 in 2015[3]. This underscores the extent of Kenya’s commitment to improve its global investment rankings in line with the country’s economic blueprint.


PESA Editorial - Kenyan Defence Forces - 3Q2018/19
Kenyan Defence Forces


Although economic activity has slowed following the 2008 global economic recession, Kenya’s economic growth over the last three years has improved dramatically and has remained steady since. Kenya’s economic expansion has been boosted by a stable macroeconomic environment, low oil prices, a massive rebound in tourism, strong remittance inflows and a government-led infrastructure development initiative. Notably, Kenyan economic growth has been stronger than the average in sub-Saharan Africa: from 2011 to 2016, Kenyan economic growth averaged 4.8% compared to the average of less than 3.0% for sub Saharan Africa[4].   Measuring 4.9% in 2017, Kenya’s economic growth continued to outperform the sub-Saharan average of 2.6%[5].  With a relatively stable economic growth pattern, Kenya joins the ranks of Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ethiopia, whose combined economic growth in 2017 averaged 7.3%[6]. The marginal slump in economic growth experienced by Kenya in 2017 is attributed to weak credit growth, security concerns, political uncertainty associated with a prolonged electioneering period and unfavourable weather conditions negatively affecting agricultural outputs – all of which negatively impacted the country’s economy[7].

Around 10 million Kenyans are estimated to be poor and food insecure, in particular those living in arid and semi-arid areas typically located in the northern regions of the country[8].  With strong economic prospects, Kenya holds the promise of becoming a model of success on the continent and a dominant member of the East Africa region. To sustain these gains, Kenya needs to adopt prudent macroeconomic policies to safeguard the impressive economic gains recorded thus far.  Such policies should facilitate fiscal and monetary prudence, reducing the deficit to 4.3% by FY2019/20 in line with the Medium-Term Fiscal Framework, and negotiating more favourable trading terms with global economic powerhouses such as China. At present, Kenya’s trade with China is skewed in favour of the latter.  As one measure to address this, the Uhuru Kenyatta administration has proposed establishing two additional Kenyan consulates in China to help tap into China’s growing tourism and commercial markets[9].

Total public debt has almost doubled from KES 2.8 trillion (approx. USD 31.1 billion) in 2014 to approximately KES 4.6 trillion (approx. USD 49.3 billion) in 2017, demonstrating Kenya’s lack of fiscal discipline[10]. While Kenya’s ballooning public debt is a major cause for concern, it is important that the country unlocks its productive capacity by prioritising investment in critical infrastructure key to the Kenyan economy. Additionally, economic reforms formulated by the Kenyatta administration need to persist beyond his term, which concludes in 2022. In December 2017, President Uhuru announced that his final tenure will be anchored on what he called the ‘Big Four,’ that is investment projects prioritising the resuscitation of the following sectors: manufacturing, universal healthcare, affordable housing and food security[11].

Kenya has scored impressively on the Human Development Index, with a score of 0.45 in 2000 to 0.6 in 2017 – improving its position from 206 to 142 out of 193 countries measured[12].  Gains have also been made with respect to universal primary education implemented in 2015, with an improvement from 92.2% of children having access to primary education in 1995 to 108.1% in 2014[13]. Child mortality has also been reduced from 63.4 deaths for every 1000 births in 1990 to 35.6/1000 in 2016[14].  The gender gap in education has also been reduced: whereas in 1990 only 8.4% of girls attended high school in contrast to 23.4% of boys, in 2017 29.2% of women attended high school in 2017, compared to 36.6% of men[15].  Increased social spending on health and education is producing significant positive results.

PESA Editorial - Kenyan Defence Forces - 3Q2018/19
Kenyan Defence Forces Emblem

A constitutional clause which makes provision, for the first time in the country’s history, for political ‘devolution,’ is one of the biggest gains of the August 2010 constitution. Devolution has ushered in a new political and governance culture, strengthening accountability and public service delivery at local government level.  This has already resulted in improved overall healthcare and reduced corruption at local government level.  In order for Kenya to attain its promise of a ‘new era’, all political players across the political spectrum will need to fully implement, comply with and respect its constitution.  This is especially relevant as concerns have been raised that Kenya may have fallen five years behind in terms of its Vision 2030. As of December 2017, Kenya’s GDP stood at KES 7.7 trillion (approx. USD 75.2 billion), only half of the targeted KES 15 trillion economy in Vision 2030 (a figure that would have required average economic growth of 10%)[16]. To close this gap, Kenya would need to attain average economic of 15% between now and 2030.  This is highly improbable, given that some key infrastructural projects, for example the Lamu Port and Lamu-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor bringing together Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan, are yet to be executed[17].   Corruption and elite capture of state institutions have been cited as some of the primary reasons for Kenya’s slow growth over the last few decades. In spite of these challenges, Kenya’s substantial youth population, its dynamic private sector and a highly skilled and educated workforce will undeniably be a resource to leverage going forward.

Since the PEV of 2008, the government of Kenya has dedicated ample resources to the research of conflict. This is in recognition of the overall negative impact of conflict on Kenya’s growth and development – whether the conflicts in question are resource-based ethnic clashes in the north-eastern province or differences in political persuasion with a tendency to escalate into violent outbreaks. In 2010, the government, through the National Steering Committee on Peace Building and Conflict Management, commissioned a study to map and analyse conflicts in the country to anticipate possible peace and conflict scenarios as the country moved closer to the General Elections in 2012. The study made recommendations on how to prevent and manage future conflicts to pave the way for peaceful and successful elections and entrench a culture of democracy and good governance. The National Conflict Mapping and Analysis Report, published in September 2011, highlights key conflict issues and factors that need to be addressed in order to make Kenya a peaceful and stable country.  It also articulates the conditions that need to be meet in order to realise Kenya’s Vision 2030. It is hoped that the enactment and implementation of peace-related policies will go a long way towards institutionalising peacebuilding structures and approaches in the country with the cumulative result being a secure and stable country that lays a secure and strong foundation for sustained economic growth and development.


[1] KV 2019a. About Vision 2030, on the Kenya Vision 2030 Website, viewed on 31 January 2019, from
[2] KV 2019b. Economic & Macro Pillar, viewed on 6 February 2019, from
[4] WB 2016b. Kenya – Country Economic Memorandum: From Economic Growth to Jobs and Shared Prosperity, World Bank: Washington, D. C, viewed on 06 February, from,
[5] IMF 2017. Regional Economic Outlook: Sub Saharan Africa Restarting the Growth Engine, International Monetary Fund: Washington, D. C. Available At: [Last Accessed: 31 January 2019].
[6] IMF 2017. Regional Economic Outlook: Sub Saharan Africa Restarting the Growth Engine, ibid.
[7] GoK 2018a. Government Releases Economic Survey 2018, on the Government of Kenya Website, viewed on 17 October 2018, from
[8] AfDB 2018. Small-Scale Horticulture Project Transforming Lives in Kenya, on the African Development Bank Website, viewed on 22 September 2018, from
[9] GoK 2018b. China, Kenya Strengthen Trade Ties Through New Partnership, viewed on 11 February 2019, from
[10] GoK 2018c. Medium Term Debt Management Strategy for FY2018/19- FY2020/21, Government of Kenya: Nairobi. Available At: [Last Accessed: 11 February 2019]; CBK 2017. Annual Report and Financial Statements 2016/17, Central Bank of Kenya: Nairobi. Available At: [Last Accessed: 14 February 2019]; CBK 2018. Annual Report and Financial Statements 2017/18, Central Bank of Kenya: Nairobi. Available At: [Last Accessed: 14 February 2019].
[11] GoK 2018a. Government Releases Economic Survey 2018, ibid.
[12] UNDP 2018. Human Development Indices and Indicators: 2018 Statistical Update, Kenya, United Nations Development Programme: New York, viewed on 06 February 2019, from,
[13] UNDP 2018. Human Development Indices and Indicators: 2018 Statistical Update, Kenya, ibid.
[14] UNDP 2018. Human Development Indices and Indicators: 2018 Statistical Update, Kenya, ibid.
[15] UNDP 2018. Human Development Indices and Indicators: 2018 Statistical Update, Kenya, ibid.
[16] Wafula, P. 2018. How Kenya has Fallen Five Years Behind Vision 2030, on the Standard Media Website, viewed on 16 November 2018, from
[17] Wafula, P. 2018. How Kenya has Fallen Five Years Behind Vision 2030, ibid.




Darlington Tshuma

Former Junior Regional Analyst

Hellen Adogo

Former Junior Regional Analyst

Nokukhanya Mncwabe

Former Editing and Research Specialist


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