World in brief: Kenya and Angola’s post-election issues

The two countries are in contrasting states of democratic health, says James Orr, but their next rulers will both face debt, inflation and frustrated voters.

The World Today Published 3 August 2022 Updated 20 February 2023 2 minute READ

James Orr

Journalist on South Asia, the US and the Middle East, Freelance

Kenya and Angola are to hold highly charged legislative and presidential elections on August 9 and 24 respectively. Although the former is in much better democratic health than the latter, in each case the victorious presidential candidate will take office in a post-Covid landscape blighted by food insecurity, a cost-of-living crisis and record levels of debt. 

In Kenya, where the front runners are current Deputy President William Ruto and the veteran opposition leader, Raila Odinga, the winner will also face other looming problems. These include unemployment, fuel shortages and a severe drought that has left some 2.8 million people in need of food assistance. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted a spike in interest rates and commodity prices, threatening to undermine the country’s tentative recovery from the pandemic. 

There is growing frustration of young people in Kenya over equality of economic opportunities

Professor Nic Cheeseman, founder of the Democracy in Africa online platform

‘Whoever wins the election is going to see a rising debt burden, rising inflation, significant questions about the productivity of the economy and a growing frustration of young people over equality of economic opportunities’, said Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy at the University of Birmingham and founder of the Democracy in Africa online platform. 

‘Kenya is suffering as a result of high inflation, fuel and food prices and in the entire East African region there is currently a serious food shortage,’ he said. ‘These issues are driving hardship, popular disenfranchisement and anger with the government. Whoever comes in will have to deal with these challenges.’ 

The outcome of Angola’s election is not in doubt

Experts say the outcome of the presidential race in Angola – only the fifth to be held in the country – is not in dispute. A combination of electoral fraud and judicial bias, together with a comprehensive crackdown on independent media and an expansion of executive powers, indicates that President João Lourenço’s authoritarian rule will continue. 

The governing People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) continues to face strikes and other protests over corruption, the high cost of living, poor infrastructure and a five-year recession. 

Debt-servicing accounts for around 60 per cent of government expenditure, while levels of health and education spending are among the continent’s lowest. Yet public dissent in Angola is often quelled by the threat of state harassment or violence. A resolution to the country’s political and economic crisis is unlikely. 

‘The MPLA is going to be crowned the victor, there is no doubt about that,’ said Justin Pearce, a senior lecturer in history at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University. ‘Angola needs an opening up of the public space and an environment for democratic participation. It needs transparency in government and real mechanisms of oversight that could rid the country of cronyism and corruption that is still baked into the system.’ 

The outlook in Kenya, though uncertain, is unquestionably less gloomy. While the election is a potentially combustible mix of heavyweight personalities and conflicting domestic and foreign policy priorities, analysts point out that because the incumbent president, Uhuru Kenyatta, is not standing for re-election, the contest will inevitably lead to a transfer of power to a new ethnic group. 

‘Whatever happens, Kenya will see a transfer from a now Kikuyu president to either a Luo or a Kalenjin one, and there is something about that power rotating between different ethnic groups that will be seen as a positive development for democratization,’ said Cheeseman. ‘That, perhaps, could be a stabilizing and unifying moment in Kenya.’