1. Home
  2. East Africa
  3. Kenya

Kenyan businesses close in fear of electoral violence

Fire guts down property that was allegedly set on fire by the rival political supporters during the on going post election violence in Kenya, Eldoret, Kenya. January 2008. Majority of people have been displaced following the post election violence that ha IRIN
With less than two months left until Kenya’s general election, some business owners in the western city of Kisumu are suspending operations out of fear violence could erupt, as it did after the 2007 polls. The move leaves thousands without jobs.

“Before Christmas, our company’s director told us to wind up our duties. We thought it was the usual routine where we normally close for the festive season. But this time, things were different since we were paid all our cumulative dues… The company was closing down,” George Onyango, an employee at a Kisumu iron and steel company, told IRIN.

Some 2,000 employees could lose their jobs from the company if the closure is permanent. The company’s management said they would resume operations after the elections in 2013, but only if the situation remained peaceful.

Onyango says the prospect of being jobless forced him to send his family back to their home village.

Rise of gangs

Fahad Abdullah, who runs a building and construction company, saw his property looted and destroyed after the 2007 election. Fearing a repeat of the violence, he has decided to close his business, leaving 1,200 employees without jobs.

"My family and friends operate a chain of businesses in this town, and already seven of them [employing about 2,300 people] have closed down."
“In the previous elections, we witnessed growing hatred for the Asian communities. I don’t know why. Perhaps we are seen as intruders here, and we have no choice but to flee in time. My family and friends operate a chain of businesses in this town, and already seven of them [employing about 2,300 people] have closed down,” he said.

Security officials told IRIN the emergence of criminal gangs in 2012 - allegedly sponsored by politicians - have worsened these fears.

“The gangs are sponsored by politicians and use Mungiki [a criminal gang found mainly in Central Province and Nairobi] style tactics of [extortion] and intimidation to create fear,” provincial police boss Joseph Ole Tito said.

The city was one of the epicentres of post-election violence five years ago, which left some 1,500 people around the country dead and 500,000 more displaced. Kisumu is home to the country’s prime minister, Raila Odinga, a presidential candidate in both the 2007 and the upcoming elections.

Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, current candidates on a rival ticket, are among several people accused by the International Criminal Court of committing crimes against humanity during the 2007-2008 violence.

Eroding economic gains

Joyce Atieno, a vendor selling food to employees of some of the closing businesses, said she now struggles to feed her family. “My major buyers are employees from the [companies], but they are now closed down. I have no business. In a day, I used to make a profit of US$4. But since the company closed down, I rarely make even $2. If the situation continues, I’ll be forced to close down and go to my rural home,” she said.

Experts told IRIN that another round of electoral violence - or even the fear of it - could reverse Kenya’s recent economic progress.

“We are making good economic progress as a country, but the fear of electoral violence and the possibility it might reoccur are real, and it erodes all the economic gains we have made as a country,” Paul Akumu, an economist at Masinde Muliro University, said.

The World Bank projects the East African Community’s economic growth rate for 2013 will be 6.1 percent, but says Kenya’s will be 5 percent should it experience election violence.

Read more
 Security concerns persist
 As polls loom, tensions mount in slums
“Historically, Kenya has also been vulnerable to election-related shocks, and there will be increased attention on the conduct of the 2013 elections, given the post-election violence of 2007-2008,” the World Bank noted in a recent report.

“If violence accompanies the 2013 elections, Kenya’s image as a maturing democracy would be tarnished for a long time,” added the report.

The police say they are working to maintain order. “We will continue to crack down on the gangs. We arrested several gang members and arraigned them in court,” said the police’s Ole Tito.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article

Hundreds of thousands of readers trust The New Humanitarian each month for quality journalism that contributes to more effective, accountable, and inclusive ways to improve the lives of people affected by crises.

Our award-winning stories inform policymakers and humanitarians, demand accountability and transparency from those meant to help people in need, and provide a platform for conversation and discussion with and among affected and marginalised people.

We’re able to continue doing this thanks to the support of our donors and readers like you who believe in the power of independent journalism. These contributions help keep our journalism free and accessible to all.

Show your support as we build the future of news media by becoming a member of The New Humanitarian. 

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.