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XINHUA NEWS SERVICE REPORTS FROM THE AFRICAN CONTINENT

 

Kenya faces uncertainty after political and economic twists in 2016

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya witnessed several twists in its foreign relations, from its strained relations with Somalia to plans to quit the International Criminal Court (ICC), in the year 2016 that is coming to an end.

At home, medics strike, formation of the Jubilee party and capping of bank interest rates also left complicated legacies the East African nation will carry forward into its new year.

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AL-SHABAAB THREATS:

Kenya began 2016 on a sad note after reportedly over 100 soldiers were killed at a camp in El-Adde in southern Somalia by the militant group Al-Shabaab.

The assault was the deadliest attack on Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), which work under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), by extremists since the country’s troops went into Somalia in 2012.

The immediate response from Kenya, even as critics called for withdrawal of the soldiers from the country, was increased retaliatory attacks against the terror group in Somalia.

However, a broader strategy, according to analysts, has unfolded over the months, which included closing the Dadaab camp that is hosting close to 600,000 refugees from Somalia.

The government announced in May that it would close the world’s biggest refugee camp by November to dismantle Al-Shabaab networks in the country.

The deadline, however, was later pushed to May next year.

Al-Shabaab, however, remains a big threat to the East Africa’s biggest economy, even as Kenya this year managed to keep the group’s attacks outside the capital Nairobi.

Security analysts observed that the group has changed tack to focus on destroying communication masts in Northern Kenya, where most of their attacks took place this year.

A dozen of the communication equipments have been destroyed since June by the militants as observers say the group may be planning a major assault on Kenya.

With residents not being able to communicate due to destruction of masts, it may be hard for police to get intelligence reports from locals and help may be difficult to come in case of attack, analysts have noted.

Last week, police authorities in Nairobi issued a warning of possible terror attack during the festive season, singling out places with high concentration of people as potential targets, including beaches and places of worship.

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LOVE-HATE RELATION WITH INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT:

Kenya’s love-hate relation with the International Criminal Court (ICC) continued in 2016.

The institution in April declared the trial of Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto and his co-accused journalist Joshua Sang a mistrial, effectively ending all the Kenyan cases at the court.

Prior to that, a case against President Uhuru Kenyatta collapsed in 2014.

The cases prompted the government to renew a push for withdrawal from the Rome Statute to end the country’s relationship with the court, which African countries have accused of unfairly targeting their leaders.

Gambia pulled out of the court in October, with Burundi and South Africa working on the departure in what analysts feared would spark mass exodus of African countries.

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MARITIME DISPUTE WITH SOMALIA:

Kenya’s long-time brotherly relationship with Somalia was challenged this year when the two countries in September engaged in a legal fight at the International Court of Justice over the maritime delimitation of the Indian Ocean.

Somalia wanted the ocean’s boundaries redrawn, making Kenya a landlocked state, and claimed at least five oil-rich blocks.

Kenya, on the other hand, accused Somalia of ignoring a memorandum of understanding on negotiating the boundary dispute as it suspended all explorations in the disputed sea.

The dispute, which remains unresolved, strained relations between the two countries.

In September, Somalia banned miraa from Kenya without giving reasons, which was lifted following the intervention of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

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OLYMPICS GLORY AND SCANDAL:

Kenyans won big in the Rio Olympics and completed the games at position 15 globally, topping in Africa in its best Olympics performance.

The outing, however, was marred with several scandals, including theft of athletes’ kits, mismanagement of athletes, expulsion of some officials from Brazil and embezzlement of money, which led to prosecution of several officials of the team.

Following the scandal, the National Olympics Committee of Kenya (NOCK) was disbanded and an eight-member interim committee was named to oversee the team’s affairs.

Sports analysts have commended the government for the terse action, noting that the theft in the sports body had run for so long without being addressed.

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CAPPING INTEREST RATES:

Kenya sent shockwaves in the financial markets in September when it introduced a law to limit commercial bank’s interest rates.

The law capped interest rates at 4 percent above the Central Bank rate of 10 per cent, cutting rates of some banks by half, as it was applied to older loans and to those offered through mobile phones.

Before the law, lending charges stood at an average of 19 per cent, according to the Central Bank.

The financial institution, on the contrary, offered customers a maximum of a meager 1.5 percent yield on their savings.

Proponents of the law noted that a low interest rate regime was socially beneficial as it protected consumers against usurious lending practices and exploitation.

"Bank should stop intimidating Kenyans that capping interest rates would make credit expensive," said MP Jude Njomo, who sponsored the bill in Parliament.

One of the consequence of the new law, however, was not massive lending to the public, as banks shifted to lending to the government through Treasury bills and bonds at the debt market to make up for low returns expected.

According to observers, effects of the law on banks would be felt fully next year, as the law was operationalized in October.

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PRESIDENT GETS NEW PARTY:

Among Kenya’s biggest political events this year was Kenyatta’s launch of a new party Jubilee, on which he would seek re-election in next year’s polls.

About 12 small parties agreed to dissolve to form the Jubilee Party in October, changing Kenya’s political landscape as the president is headed to the election in a formidable outfit.

"We have in the past fallen prey to divisions based on ethnicity and religion to serve the interest of a few. Ethnic differences in Africa become political differences, with poverty and hatred being the consequences," Kenyatta said during the launch.

Following the move, Kenya now has two major political outfits namely Jubilee and Cord, an alliance of small parties that forms the opposition under ex-Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Analysts have noted that in the long run, the bigger parties’ domination in politics could stifle democracy and kill smaller parties or independent candidacy.

Smaller parties, for many years, have been the biggest beneficiaries of fallout in bigger parties by some candidates defecting once they lose nominations.

But this now would no longer be the case as candidates are barred from decamping last-minute to other parties.

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HEALTH WORKERS’ STRIKE:

Kenya witnessed several workers’ strike this year, but none is as devastating as the one in December, when some 5,000 health workers boycotted work to push the government to implement an agreement on salary rise signed in 2013.

While the nurses called off their strike some 10 days later, the doctors’ boycott, which has been blamed for death of several patients, is still ongoing.

The strike has forced hundreds of desperate patients to turn to more expansive private health facilities and self-medication.

The government has accused the health workers of insincerity, noting that it cannot meet their demands since they are not supported by the salary commission.

Kenya, as several other African countries, has a poor patient-doctor ration standing at 17 doctors for every 100,000 people, far below the World Health Organisation-recommended 100 for every 100,000.

             

 

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