This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on January 10, 2016
The year 2015 was instructive for the Kenyan economy and government. So what is in store for the economy in 2016? There are key factors that will bolster economic growth as well as factors that may threaten growth.
Inflation started inching upward last year and reached 8 percent in December 2015, above the 7.5 percent limit preferred by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK). The bulk of this inflation has been import inflation associated with the KES weakening against the USD pushing up import bills. This spillover effect may continue to drive the cost of imports upward fuelling more rises in inflation. Therefore, the CBK should continue to keep an eye on inflation and take action to pull inflation below the 7.5 percent limit when needed.
Part of the conversation that dominated conversation about the economy at the end of last year was rising interest rates. A combination of factors such as rate hikes to control KES depreciation, aggressive borrowing from government in domestic markets and high T-bill rates contributed to some banks signaling intent to raise rates. Sadly the news does not get better this year; as mentioned, inflation is at 8 percent and as this is above the preferred CBK limit, it is possible that the CBK will raise interest rates to try and manage upward pressure on inflation. Further, as the US economy continues to recover, it may lead to a further strengthening of the dollar against the KES. Thus again, as we saw last year, CBK may raise interest rates to manage KES depreciation against the dollar. In terms of any foreign borrowing in which government would want to engage this year, IMF’s Lagarde makes the point that the increase of interest rates in the USA has already contributed to higher financing costs for some borrowers, including those in emerging and developing markets. Therefore, government should be ready to borrow on more expensive terms in international markets this year. Also bear in mind that government’s management of the Eurobond has negatively impacted investor confidence in government fiscal management; this is likely to translate into more expensive borrowing terms as well.
Intensification of Political Activity
It is almost certain that electioneering will start this year with politicians beginning to build momentum for elections next year. Sadly in Kenya, intensification of political activity tends to be correlated with lower growth. Luckily this is a threat that can be managed if politicians on all sides of the political divide are responsible in comments made and avoid negative political sensationlisation of issues in their bid to garner votes.
The good news for the economy is that key infrastructure projects are progressing well. In terms of transport infrastructure, the construction of the standard gauge railway in Kenya is ahead of schedule. Further there are updates and expansions in the country’s airports and ports and the tarmacking 10,000 kilometres of new road is ongoing. Secondly, important strides are being made in energy infrastructure; solar power projects will add 1 gigawatt of power to the grid, there is a 310-megawatt wind farm in Lake Turkana as well as the drilling of 20 new geothermal wells. The implications of how such investment, some of which complete this year, could fuel economic growth is apparent.
Ease of doing business
Kenya climbed up 21 places on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index to stand at 108 in 2016. This is a positive sign to investors both local and abroad in terms of Kenya’s attractiveness as a business and investment destination. It is important that stakeholders keep the positive momentum going in order to bolster Kenya being perceived as san attractive country in which to invest.
Anzetse Were is a development economist; email@example.com