As Kenyans vote, firms and individuals plan for possibility of violence

Sunday August 6 2017

A peace caravan in Marsabit on August 2, 2017.

A peace caravan in Marsabit on August 2, 2017. Several peace campaigns have been held in the country. PHOTO | NMG 

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Companies and regional governments have put in place contingency plans in case violence breaks out over the outcome of the August 8 general election.

Despite several peace campaigns and assurance by the Kenyan government that the elections will be peaceful, some people are not taking chances.

Last week, the Ugandan parliament questioned the country’s level of preparedness in case the elections in Kenya turn violent, considering that movement of goods to the landlocked nation was hampered extensively during the 2007/08 post-election violence.

In particular, legislators were concerned about possible disruptions in supply of petroleum products. The country imports about 80 per cent of its fuel through the Northern Corridor.

During the 2007/08 post-election violence, Uganda faced a severe fuel shortage, with the prices of fuel increasing by about $2 in Kampala and by as much as $2.8 in other parts of the country.

The apprehension in Uganda has led to the Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) — now struggling to regain the regional market which it lost to the Central Corridor in Tanzania — putting in place contingency measures to guarantee uninterrupted supply.

According to the company, there is sufficient supply of fuel in Kenya to meet domestic and regional demand during the elections and the immediate post-election period.

“KPC is ready and able to take the country and the region through this period as far as access to petroleum products is concerned,” said KPC managing director Joe Sang.

He added that the company has 257 million litres of products in stock in its various depots, which can last up to 12 days, and another 194 million litres in the high seas awaiting discharge. An additional 761 million litres are expected to be delivered into the country this month.

Due to rising demand for petroleum products as countries seek to stockpile their reserves, KPC said its Eldoret and Kisumu depots would be operating 24 hours so as to serve the country and the region adequately.

Rwanda's alternative

Meanwhile, Rwanda has long decided to shift petroleum products importation to the Central Corridor through Tanzania after incurring massive losses in 2007/08.

Currently 80 per cent of Rwanda’s fuel supplies passes through the Central Corridor, cushioning the economy from supply shocks in case of violence in Kenya.

“We are at an advantage as we use both the Central and Northern corridors for our fuel imports,” said Robert Opirah, the director general for trade and investment at Rwanda’s Ministry of Trade.

He added that the country has enough strategic fuel reserves with a capacity to run the economy for three months.

According to analysts, Kenya’s general election slated for August 8 is being closely monitored not only by regional governments but also across the globe.

“Ahead of this year’s election, preparedness, including through monitoring key trends and understanding their implications, will be critical for businesses operating in Kenya or whose operations depend on the country,” said Mathias Muindi, an analyst at Control Risks East Africa.

He added that companies should anticipate disruptions caused by occasional blockages of key road and rail routes, port backlogs and some temporary business closures or scaling back of services caused by voting activities and sporadic protests.

“Control Risks does not anticipate widespread violence that will cause significant disruption to business operations in the region. Nonetheless, there will be localised security incidents in some locations, which will not be large enough to cause significant disruption to business operations in Kenya and the rest of the region,” he said.

Households stock up

Some households are stocking up with essential food supplies, airtime and medicine to last for up to one month. Companies have come up with plans not only to secure their assets but also their staff, with many developing manuals on how employees should conduct themselves during the voting period.

The manual prepared by the firm ‘A’ Team Security advises households to stock 15-days worth of non-perishable food, have enough money at home, identify the closest hospitals among other measures.

According to Kenya Bankers Association chief executive officer Habil Olaka, the banking industry has put in place contingency measures that will determine provision of services if violence erupts.

The measures have escalation mechanisms that provide for various levels of decision-making on service provision, starting from the branch, specific bank, industry level and even to the point of involving the regulator.

“Although we do not foresee violence, we have put in place a framework of decision-making to ensure discontinuing of services in case of disruptions,” Mr Olaka said.

Other sectors like tourism, retail, manufacturing and logistics, which suffered immense losses a decade ago, are also putting in place measures to cushion themselves.

The tourism sector, which is currently in high season as tourists flock the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration, has an election preparedness mechanism to detect cases of violence and act accordingly.

“For us it is business as usual, although we have an early warning system to know if there is violence in tourist attraction areas and take action,” said Fred Kaigwa, the Kenya Association of Tour Operators chief executive officer.

Kassim Omar, the chairman of the East African Business Council, said that Uganda should have no worries about the Kenyan election turning violent.

According to him, Uganda and Tanzania have over the years invested in infrastructure that allows for easy use of the Dar es Salaam route. So if election violence renders the Mombasa-Kampala route impassable, this will not be a major challenge for Uganda.

According to the 2016 Central Corridor performance report, it now takes less than four days for goods to move from the Dar es Salaam port to Mutukula border with Uganda.