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Thousands Lose Jobs As Investors Flee Kisumu

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Experts have warned that another round of electoral violence or even the fear of it could reverse the country’s recent economic progress

With less than one month left until Kenya’s general election, some business owners in Kisumu are suspending operations out of fear violence could erupt, as it did after the 2007 polls. The move leaves thousands without jobs. “Before Christmas, our company’s director told us to wind up our duties. We thought it was the usual routine where we normally close for the festive season. But this time, things were different since we were paid all our cumulative dues… The company was closing down,” George Onyango, an employee at a Kisumu iron and steel company, told IRIN. Some 2,000 employees could lose their jobs from the company if the closure is per- manent. The company’s management said they would resume operations after the elections in 2013, but only if the situation remained peaceful. Onyango says the prospect of being job less forced him to send his family back to their home village.

Previous elections

Fahad Abdullah, who runs a building and construction company, saw his property looted and destroyed after the 2007 elec- tion. Fearing a repeat of the violence, he has decided to close his business, leaving 1,200 employees without jobs. “In the previous elections, we witnessed growing hatred for the Asian communities. I don’t know why. Perhaps we are seen as intruders here, and we have no choice but to flee in time. My family and friends operate a chain of businesses in this town, and already seven of them [employing about 2,300 people] have closed down,” he said. Security officials told IRIN the emergence of criminal gangs in 2012 allegedly sponsored by politicians have worsened these fears.

“The gangs are sponsored by politicians and use Mungiki (a criminal gang found mainly in Central Province and Nairobi) style tactics of extortion and intimidation to create fear,” provincial police boss Joseph Ole Tito said. The city was one of the epicentres of post election violence five years ago, which left some 1,500 people around the country dead and 500,000 more displaced. Kisumu is home to the country’s prime minister, Raila Odinga, a presidential candidate in both the 2007 and the upcoming elections.

Experts told IRIN that another round of electoral violence or even the fear of it could reverse Kenya’s recent economic progress. “We are making good economic progress as a country, but the fear of electoral violence and the possibility it might reoccur are real, and it erodes all the economic gains we have made as a country,” Paul Akumu, an economist at Masinde Muliro University, said. The World Bank projects Kenya’s economic growth rate for 2013 will be 6.1 percent, but says Kenya’s will be five percent should it experience election violence.-

Fountain Meda

 

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