Amid concerns about the violence that followed Kenya’s election, its neighbours are finding that they too are among the injured. Before the unrest, the five countries of the East African Community — Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda — expected to see their combined gross domestic product grow by 6 per cent in 2008. Economic analysts now predict that the region’s growth rate will be at least 1.5 percentage points lower. Reducing the region’s vulnerability to a future upheaval in Kenya, UN officials say, will be difficult and costly.
John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, briefed the UN Security Council in February noting that the regional impact of Kenya’s crisis has been particularly significant because of the country’s long-standing role as East Africa’s main transportation hub. More than 80 per cent of Uganda’s imports pass through the port of Mombasa, as do almost all of Rwanda’s exports. Commercial trade and humanitarian assistance to Burundi, the eastern DRC, parts of northern Tanzania and southern Sudan also rely on the port. These countries are therefore "at risk of being significantly affected by violence and disruption" in the country, Mr. Holmes said.
In a region that has been working hard towards economic integration, the impact on trade and business has been severe. Most commodities go through the port via the Northern Corridor, a network of highways through Kenya to neighbouring countries. Each day some 4,000 light vehicles, 1,250 trucks and 400 buses carry more than 10 mn tonnes of cargo to Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi along the route. However, in January and early February, some 40 illegal roadblocks barred the way.
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that fuel costs in Uganda, eastern DRC and Burundi rose by up to 50 per cent as a result of the delays, the price of petrol products in Kigali, Rwanda, more than doubled, and severe shortages prompted the government to begin rationing fuel.
According to the Uganda Manufacturers Association, the price of food went up about 15 per cent, and in January inflation rose to 6.5 per cent from 5.1 per cent the month before. By mid-February, manufacturers had lost $43 mn because of delays, destruction of goods and slower production. The Uganda Revenue Authority reported daily income losses of up to $600,000 because of disruptions in trade.
Air traffic between Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya also fell because of the high cost of aviation fuel. Kenya Airways, the region’s largest carrier, suspended direct flights to Paris, affecting passengers from Burundi, Rwanda, DRC, Seychelles and Comoros who had to switch to longer and more expensive routes. Bus companies servicing the Nairobi-Kampala and Nairobi-Kigali routes reduced the number of trips because of insecurity and the slowness of secure convoys.
Relief aid endangered
Another concern is additional disruptions to the flow of food aid and other humanitarian assistance to some 7 million refugees and other people who have been displaced in the region. The survival of many depends on direct support from the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and other relief groups based in Kenya. The WFP alone moves 1,000 tonnes of food out of Mombasa port every day of the year. According to Alistair Cook, a WKP logistics officer, long closures of the route threaten to leave refugees facing starvation. "It’s a very worrying problem," the organization’s spokesperson Peter Smerdon told the UN Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN).
The alternative route through Tanzania takes two weeks longer and costs 20 per cent more. Relief aid would first have to travel 1,000 km by road from Mombasa to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam, then another 980 km by rail to storage and milling plants in western Tanzania. From there it would cross Lake Victoria to Port Bell, Uganda, by boat, then go by truck to southern Sudan and the DRC. Mr. Holmes told the Security Council that the Kenya events have prompted aid agencies to look at such alternatives. But transport through a peaceful Kenya, he added, "remains by far the preferred option."
The crisis exposed the region’s "over-reliance" on Kenya’s transport infrastructure, especially Mombasa port, notes Abe Selassie, the International Monetary Fund representative in Uganda. Efforts to reduce this dependency have been planned for some years, but none has been completed. Fuel and other imports to Uganda can be transported via Tanzania, but that road ends at Lake Victoria and the goods then have to be shipped across the lake. Uganda does not have any ships that are in good operating order.
In January, Rwanda signed an agreement to obtain petroleum products from Dar es Salaam by rail. But the distances and poor state of Tanzania’s roads and railways makes this expensive. Analysts argue that with improvements in its infrastructure, Tanzania could become a bigger player in the region’s economy but these are long term possibilities, not short-term solutions.
Speaking at a February meeting of bankers from the East African Community, the group’s Secretary-General Juma Mwapachu said that the economic dislocation so far — and the threats were especially worrying to the community’s five member states. "We need to address the question of integrated infrastructure," he said, so that "in future we avoid the after-effects of a crisis like the one now in Kenya." Much of the meeting’s discussion revolved around how to strengthen alternative transport routes.
The potential repercussions were felt throughout the region and donor governments had to press for a quick and meaningful resolution. The signing of the power-sharing agreement seems to be the proper direction the country is heading. But analysts agree that much needs to be done to make sure the peace is sustained. "We can’t afford to fail," said Mr. Annan. "This is not about the fortunes of political parties or individuals. This is about Kenya and the region."
The Author Ms. Mary Kimani is a writer for United Nations Africa Renewal magazine Please e-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.