After a year that began on the wrong footing due to divisions over the hotly contested and controversial 2017 presidential
polls, 2019 could bring with it better economic growth prospects.
Among the key issues that could shape economic conversations and the lives of Kenyans this year are whether a law on interest rate caps will be repealed, the national census, a new currency, and the political climate.
This positive outlook could, however, be affected by the high-octane politics that is gaining momentum – specifically a referendum and 2022 succession politics that could hamper the country’s economic growth.
But with the World Bank has projected Kenya’s economy to hit 6.01 percent this year from 5.475 percent recorded in 2018, the Government is upbeat about the oncoming economic prospects.
“Our growth outlook at around six percent remains stable and so are other macroeconomic indicators like inflation, interest rates, and the currency exchange rates,” Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich averred.
“We will continue to monitor the global developments especially trade wars, Brexit, commodity prices and US monetary policy and take appropriate actions to mitigate any negative consequences to our growth,” he said.
Since Uhuru Kenyatta became president, the highest rate at which Kenya’s economy has grown in a year was 5.9 percent in 2016 and 2013, when Mwai Kibaki retired.
This year’s growth could be supported by strong remittance inflows and rising household income from agriculture and lower food prices.
“Manufacturing is still recovering and its activities remain sluggish. The sector growth rose from 0.5 percent in 2017 to 2.7 percent in 2018, but still remains weak compared with a three-year average of 3.6 percent over 2013 to 2016,” said the World Bank recently.
Among the key drivers of growth, this year will be an improved business environment as well as the easing of the political climate, underpinned by strong agricultural output and a good performance by the service sector.
Further, the Bretton Woods institution projects that with interest rates capping and banks leaning towards government securities, credit is unlikely to grow, especially for small enterprises.
This view has also been shared by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) which has consistently said that the ceiling on interest rates charged by banks was denying entrepreneurs access to credit which is stifling economic growth.
However, according to a survey released last week by research firm Trends and Insights for Africa (Tifa), four out of 10 Kenyans, or 44 percent would like to set up a business next year while 32 percent will be scouting for jobs.
The drafters of Vision 2030 had insisted that for Kenya to be a medium-income economy, its GDP was supposed to grow by more than seven percent annually for two decades.
If the political environment remains stable, Kenya’s economy will for the first time in a decade hit a six percent growth rate in 2019. Industry leaders are however afraid that all this could be wiped out by the unpredictable operating environment.
“2019 promises to be a strong year for the sector, specifically if the predictable and stable business environment can be guaranteed in policy formulation and implementation,” Kenya Association of Manufacturers Chief Executive Phyliss Wakiaga revealed.
On the bright side, previous economic growth numbers show that Kenya’s economy has in the last two decades grown its fastest in the second year after a presidential election.
The growth, however, starts to decline in the third year as another election approaches.
In 2004, just a year after Mwai Kibaki had been elected as president of Kenya’s economy grew by seven percent. In 2010 it rebounded to 8.4 after the peace deal between Kibaki and his political nemesis Raila Odinga in the 2007 elections that led to the grand coalition government.
Then in 2015, year after Uhuru had been elected for his first term it hit 5.9 percent. Thanks to the handshake between Uhuru and Raila, Kenya’s business climate has stabilized, though still struggling in some sectors such as mining which remains on the growth path.
In all real GDP grew an estimated 5.9% in 2018, from 4.9% in 2017, supported by good weather, eased political uncertainties, improved business confidence, and strong private consumption. On the supply side, services accounted for 52.5% of the growth, agriculture for 23.7%, and industry for 23.8%. On the demand side, private consumption was the key driver of growth. The public debt–to-GDP ratio increased considerably over the past five years to 57% at the end of June 2018. Half of the public debt is external. The share of loans from non-concessional sources has increased, partly because Kenya issued a $2 billion Eurobond in February 2018. An October 2018 International Monetary Fund debt sustainability analysis elevated the country’s risk of debt stress to moderate.
A tighter fiscal stance reduced the fiscal deficit to an estimated 6.7% of GDP in 2018, with the share of government spending in GDP falling to 23.9% from 28.0% in 2017. To stimulate growth, the Central Bank of Kenya reduced the interest rate to 9% in July 2018 from 9.5% in May. Nonetheless, a law capping interest rates discourage savings, reduces credit access to the private sector (especially small and medium enterprises), and impedes banking sector competition, particularly by reducing smaller banks’ profitability. The exchange rate was more stable in 2018 than in 2017. The current account deficit narrowed to an estimated 5.8% of GDP in 2018 from 6.7% in 2017, thanks to an improved trade balance as a result of increased Kenyan manufacturing exports. Kenya’s gross official reserves reached $8.5 billion (5.6 months of imports) in September 2018— a 7% increase from a year before.
Tailwinds and headwinds
Real GDP is projected to grow by 6.01% in 2019. Domestically, improved business confidence and continued macroeconomic stability will contribute to growth. Externally, tourism and the strengthening global economy will contribute.
The government plans to continue fiscal consolidation to restrain the rising deficit and stabilize public debt by enhancing revenue, rationalizing expenditures through zero-base budgeting, and reducing the cost of debt by diversifying funding sources. Inflation is projected to be 5.5% in 2019 due to prudent monetary policy. Kenya also benefits from renewed political momentum (including the 2010 constitution and devolution), a strategic geographic location with sea access, opportunities for private investors, and the discovery of oil, gas, and coal along with continued exploration for other minerals.
Among downside risks are possible difficulties in making fiscal consolidation friendly to growth and in finding affordable finance for the budget deficit caused by tightening global markets. Boosting domestic resource mobilization and enhancing government spending efficiency is critical to restrain public borrowing.
Kenya continues to face the challenges of inadequate infrastructure, high-income inequality, and high poverty exacerbated by high unemployment, which varies across locations and groups (such as young people). Kenya is exposed to risks related to external shocks, climate change, and security. The population in extreme poverty (living on less than $1.90 a day) declined from 46% in 2006 to 36% in 2016. But the trajectory is inadequate to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030.
Kenya’s Big Four (B4) economic plan, introduced in 2017, focuses on manufacturing, affordable housing, universal health coverage, and food and nutrition security. It envisages enhancing structural transformation, addressing deep-seated social and economic challenges, and accelerating economic growth to at least 7% a year. By implementing the B4 strategy, Kenya hopes to reduce poverty rapidly and create decent jobs.