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Friday, December 21, 2007

The example Kenya can set for South Africa and the rest of the continent

IN AFRICA, a hard-fought but fair election in a pivotal country is an example-setting event. No, this is not South Africa, where the election of Jacob Zuma as president of the ruling African National Congress on December 18th dealt a shattering blow to his rival, Thabo Mbeki. Although this puts Mr Zuma in a strong position to lead South Africa when Mr Mbeki's second term as president ends in April 2009, his succession is far from certain (see article). In Kenya on December 27th, however, power may very well change hands after the tightest electoral contest in the country's history.
Kenya may not be as sexy as South Africa, but as a haven of stability and prosperity in eastern Africa the quality of its democracy matters. Its northern and western neighbours—Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda and Somalia—suffer in various degrees from war, tribal conflict, government repression, separatism and all that follows. From the countries of the war-ravaged Great Lakes region, such as Congo and Rwanda, Nairobi appears an oasis of calm. But this success is relative. Kenya itself has long been beset by bad governance, corruption and tribalism. Despite receiving billions of dollars of aid, most of its 35m people remain poor. True, few countries have had to contend with the ethnic complexity of Kenya, which has more than 40 recognised tribes. Nor does erratic weather help a largely rural economy. But the main culprit is a system of politics in which a ruling class has hogged most of the cake for itself.
That is why the unusual sharpness of this election campaign is so encouraging (see article). Mwai Kibaki, the 76-year-old president seeking a second term, has presided over economic growth of about 6% this year. Having tolerated greater political and press freedom than his kleptocratic predecessor, Daniel arap Moi, he promises to extend free schooling and fix a decrepit infrastructure. But he has failed to attack corruption in high places with any vigour; indeed, he has let some of the worst crooks stay in government.
His leading opponent, Raila Odinga, who is 14 years younger, is a more energetic figure who now disavows his past socialism and East German education while still appealing to the poor and to some of the marginal tribes, particularly his own Luo in the west and the country's Muslims in the east. Mr Kibaki, by contrast, has long been at the heart of the Kenyan business establishment which his own Kikuyu tribe, the country's largest and richest, dominates. Although polls give Mr Odinga the edge, the president's media machine may help him catch up by the vote on December 27th. Both candidates have flaws: Mr Kibaki's departure is overdue, but the more energetic Mr Odinga's campaign carries a divisive flavour.

Whoever wins, what matters next is that the result should be accepted by the loser and Kenyans should be seen to endorse the principle of peaceful competition. Most of Africa has left behind the era of the one-party state, but its people have yet to be fully persuaded that multi-party politics need not be chaotic. South Africa's ruling party seems unhappy to have submitted itself to an internal contest that has humiliated President Mbeki, who himself seems loth to badger neighbouring Zimbabwe's dictatorial Robert Mugabe into holding fair elections. But if a country as complex and poor as Kenya can hold genuine elections without civil strife, then any country in Africa can. This is its chance to set an example.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Lack of Credibility in the 2007 East Africa’s Most Respected Company Awards.

Over 350 business executives took part in a survey to award one of their own as East Africa’s most respected company. Under the theme “Strength in numbers” organizers of the annual event analyzed collective opinions of chief executives (CEOs) on topical issues influencing the business environment under which they operate. Companies attracting the strongest respect have been those that continue to perform well financially, while maintaining a steady growth and increase in market share attributed to strong executive leadership.

This year’s survey sought views from CEO’s on whether the proposed East African integration was right for the region as well as the role the private sector needed to play in achieving regional success. The nature of response indicates that the CEOs view regional integration as a key pillar in attaining greater development. Working together within a system, overcoming political differences and consolidating advantages a wider market presents would make the region more competitive at the global marketplace.

Winners were unveiled at the Kilimanjaro Kempinski Hotel in Dar es salaam, Tanzania, on November 24 where Kenya’s leading Mobile Phone Service provider Safaricom was voted East Africa’s most respected company and Kenya’s top company in the country’s category. The win comes in the wake of a seamless network the company jointly developed with MTN Uganda, Vodacom Tanzania and Vodacom Rwanda that enables regional roaming at local rates. In 2006 Safaricom registered a pretax profit of $200 million, the highest ever in Sub-Saharan Africa to date. Two other winners in the country’s category included Tanzania Breweries and MTN Uganda (in Tanzania and Uganda respectively).

Last year’s overall winner Kenya Airways scooped the services sector award with Nakumatt Supermarkets and Aga Khan Hospitals coming in second and third respectively. East African Breweries won the manufacturers title, Barclays bank Tanzania (financial services), Serena Group (Hotels and Tourism), Homegrown (Agriculture category). In the telecoms and ICT category, Celtel Tanzania emerged winners.

While it is worth noting that most companies that scooped various awards play significant roles in regional business, one is left to wonder whether the adage “customer is king” would have yielded the same result. An example of an erroneously awarded company is Kenya Airways, which has of late been in the press for all the wrong reasons. Over the past 6 months passenger complaints have been doing rounds in the media attributed to poor service by the company. Even with new ‘state-of-the-art’ planes, issues have been raised concerning dirty and clogged washrooms, absence of in-flight entertainment (even in long haul flights), unexplained flight cancellations and delays, lost and/or damaged luggage without any recourse from the company. The most common complaint across the board was overbooking which meant that some passengers had to forego their travel because their seats had been “overbooked”.

Asking CEO’s to award one of their own is a good thing but we should put in mind that it is the common consumer who is in a better position to give a more accurate account regarding services from the so called top companies. Since CEO’s are considered wealthy and respectable, they most likely receive special form of treatment when it comes to service delivery from companies such as Kenya Airways. Naturally they will vote for it, but what about the passenger who is forced to make do with sub-standard services?

One of the workers at the company reckons that the win came as a shock. Company staff did not expect Kenya Airways to be mentioned among the list of winners let alone be nominated for the award. He however attributed recent complaints that have dodged the airline to lack of enough planes to service its current and other emerging routes. To put this into perspective, the plane that recently crashed in Cameroon is yet to be replaced but the airline still maintains the Doula- Nairobi route. Limitation in the number of planes has resulted in chains of delay making Kenya Airways to operate like a matatu (shared public taxis found in Nairobi), by running round the clock without any significant service or proper customer care regardless of the consequences.

Future organizers of such awards should aim at achieving credibility by combining views from both the corporate world and the common consumer.