News: Crisis in Kenya Impacts Whole East Africa

Readers of Aid Workers Today saw we have been rather worried about the wider and longer term post-election violence in Kenya. Not that I underestimate the shame of hundreds who died in violent street clashes, including dozens burned alive as they sought refuge in a church. But there is more to the conflict than what one can actually see on television.

First of all, an estimated 250,000 Kenyans are now estimated to have been displaced by post-electoral violence, which, in many places, has an ethnic dimension to it. Some 5,400 Kenyans sought refuge in neighbouring Uganda. The UN estimates between 400,000 and 500,000 people have been affected by the conflict. That in itself constitutes a new and major humanitarian crisis aid agencies are scrambling to deal with.

The direct cost to Kenyan economy is figured at $31 million USD a day, according to Vice President Moody Awori, due to many businesses having to close during the unrest and foreign governments advising their citizens against travel to the usually tourist-friendly nation. Hopefully this will have a rather short term impact, if the riots stop soon.

The sudden outbreak of violence may then have sparked a humanitarian crisis, but there is also a much longer term economical impact: Only a few weeks ago, with fears mounting of a global economic downturn following the US sub prime mortgage crisis, Africa was being viewed by some investors as a relatively safe bet for the first time in recent decades. The end of major wars in western and southern Africa, a string of non-violent elections and decent if not spectacular economic growth figures across a string of countries was sparking new interest and optimism. "In some ways, we are where India was in the early 1990s," African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka said in mid-December. "We are at the point where Africa is no longer an object of just pity and aid." Kenya was regarded as central to this process. Sadly, the recent violence has potentially jeopardised that, investors said.

The conflict also affects regional trade. Kenya's port of Mombasa is the largest and most important entry point for supplies in East Africa. The Mombasa-Nairobi road is the only way into Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, eastern Congo, southern Sudan and most of northern Tanzania. So no wonder the economies of the whole region are directly and immediately affected by the Kenyan crisis. Due to shortages of supply, petrol pumps are running dry in Uganda and Burundi and rationing is imposed in Rwanda.

At last, but not least there is the issue that directly concerns us, aid workers: the violence in Kenya has blocked aid shipments to the rest of the region. Traditionally, just like the commercial trade, aid agencies are heavily relying on the port of Mombasa to bring in relief supplies transshipped to Somalia, Southern Sudan, Uganda, Eastern DRC, Northern Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. Most of WFP's food shipments to east and central Africa are now stuck in Mombasa port leaving trucks stranded and contractors refusing to move without armed escort. That by itself, can snowball into one big regional crisis.

Sources: Reuters, UN News, AFP, The Other World News and International Aidworkers Today. Pictures courtesy Reuters and AFP


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