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Economic Impact of Election Violence on Display in Western Kenyan City


In Kenya, post-election violence has killed more than 1,000 people and displaced 600,000 others. The mayhem has had a major impact on the country's economy which has been one of Africa's strongest. Business leaders report huge losses and many predict that Kenya will be unable to meet projected growth targets. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from the western Kenya city of Kisumu on the country's post-election economy.

Abdul Omar gazes dejectedly at the hollow shell that used to be his cell phone shop in the western Kenyan city of Kisumu.

He describes his reaction to having his once thriving business with four employees literally smashed to bits, "I just got very (upset) and I didn't even want anything to do with this place for the time being because everything that was here went - the furniture; there is nothing. All the investment that was here is gone. I had not insured it, so, that is that," he said.

This Kisumu branch of a supermarket called Ukwala employed 110 people before being razed to the ground in the violence following the election results.

In the days following Kenya's disputed December 27th elections, hundreds of businesses in Kisumu and other places across Kenya were looted, burned, or smashed by crowds enraged by the election results, which many say were rigged in favor of Mwai Kibaki and his Party of National Unity at the expense of Raila Odinga, who heads the Orange Democratic Movement party.

The conflict also involved an ethnic dimension, with certain groups burning and destroying the homes and businesses of other groups in tensions that date back to colonial times.

At the Ol-Njorowa flower farm in Naivasha about an hours' drive northwest of the capital Nairobi, production stopped for several days in late January.

No workers reported for duty during the thick of the crisis. In mid-February, all but 60 of the 400 employees were back on the job.

Weeks after the fighting, thousands of flower farm workers still live in a displaced persons' camp, while up to 10,000 have fled the area.

Peter Otieno, Naivasha secretary of Kenya Plantations and Agricultural Workers' union, explains that clashes between ethnic groups in late January have divided the remaining workforce and may affect the flower industry's bottom line.

"The trust that had been there is now lost, and without that trust, the production of these employees have been diminished. Some of them are just going there (the workplace) because they do not have (any)where (else) to go, so that is the only place they can go. But their inner heart of working had been lost," Otieno said.

Flower farm worker Judith Atieno, who lives in a camp, describes her experience, "Some of the people who were my colleagues told attackers where we stayed. Then the attackers came to our home and attacked us. So we cannot work with these colleagues anymore because they may do the same thing in the future."

The cumulative effects of the post-election violence have dealt a severe blow to the economy.

In a January 19th report, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers estimated that the Kenyan economy stands to lose more than $3.7 billion (U.S.) in the first half of this year and as many as 400,000 jobs could be at risk.

The Central Bank of Kenya says it is unlikely that the country will achieve the eight percent growth expected for 2008.

Among the hardest hit has been Kenya's $1 billion (U.S.) a-year tourist industry. The Kenya Touist Board calculates losses of nearly $80 million (U.S.) per month for the first quarter, a decline in revenue of about 78 percent.

Business leaders say now that a power-sharing deal has been reached to end Kenya's political crisis, it will take the economy 12 to 18 months to bounce back and restore Kenya's reputation as a strong and dynamic business hub in the region.

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