Year-End Roundup & Predictions

Year-End Roundup & Predictions

2009 was a bad year for East Africa. 2010 will be a little bit better.

Socially, culturally and politically, I think it’s been a GOOD YEAR for Kenya and a BAD YEAR for its neighbors.

I’m positive on Kenya and critical of its neighbors even while supporting the western powers growing sanctions on Kenya for not moving quickly enough towards a new constitution.

This may seem like a contradiction, but in fact what it means is that the outside world’s attention to Kenya is working: it is absolutely encouraging all the right moves by Kenya’s still entrenched, corrupt leaders. Ultimately, of course, the people will have to oust these scoundrels, and right now that looks possible.

The Hague has begun the process of trying those who might have been responsible for the 2007 genocide. The U.S. and the U.K. in particular have banned the most corrupt individuals from traveling to their countries. A draft constitution is circulating among all factions of the society for comment, and Kenya’s invigorating journalistic transparency has grown even greater with such additions as FM Capital Radio. Kenya is still ranked worse than Uganda or Tanzania by Transparency International, but its improvement is significant. If there isn’t any major reversal in the way things are going, I think 2010 is going to be a very good year for Kenyan society.

Tanzania and Uganda, on the other hand, are turning gruesome in the shadows. Tanzania’s corruption is so much less known than Kenya’s, because its power centers keep it that way. But just through extrapolation of what we do know, I frankly believe that Tanzania must be infinitely more corrupt than Kenya.

One of Tanzania’s finest transparent media, This Day, was forced to reduce daily publication to weekly because it couldn’t obtain the interest or funding that the country’s strictly controlled media easily obtains.

Scandals in Tanzania’s electricity board, and worse, in its precious gold mining industry, threaten to reach absolutely astronomical proportions. It’s so bad that Zanzibar is without electricity more than half the time, and the Toronto based owner of one of the world’s richest gold mines in Tanzania is trying to sell it. And no one wants to buy it! They just can’t manage the corruption.

And Uganda is ready to dive off the end of the earth. Encouraged by disreputable American righties, the Parliament is set to pass a law that would give the death penalty to anyone convicted of being a practicing gay. And worse actually, lengthy imprisonment for anyone who knows someone actively gay and doesn’t tell! (Imagine what this will do to tourism!)

Uganda’s problems are mounting, and specifically as a result of the current president’s growing grasp on life-time power.

I think 2010 will be a GOOD YEAR for Kenya, but another BAD YEAR for Tanzania and Uganda.

It’s been a very BAD YEAR for tourism. Statistics are near impossible to come by and then impossible to confirm, but my best guess is that about a third of the tourism industry that existed in 2007 is now gone. It may be more. Kenya has taken the worst hit, and in certain sections of the industry the employee base is now less than 50% what it was in 2007. But equally deep hits were taken by Tanzania’s newer central country tourism (Zanzibar, the Selous) and Rwanda, which may be seeing a decline of more than 60% in tourist arrivals.

I don’t see this changing, soon. It may be a better year in 2010 than 2009, but it will still be a BAD YEAR for tourism throughout the region.

Most of 2009 was awful for the region’s weather. It was a BAD YEAR. But the arrival of normal if above average rains these last few months throughout the region broke the drought except in some isolated areas in Kenya’s north. All predictions are for normal if above average precipitation for 2010. So expect a GOOD YEAR for 2010’s weather.

It was a BAD YEAR for wilderness and wildlife, as the “drought” persisted through the third quarter. The lack of rains was the main cause, but by no means the main explanation. Poaching increased substantially as the age-old argument of whether a country’s wildlife should be viewed as an immediate resource for the local population (such as for food, or destroyed when threatening farms, or allowed for stock grazing). The drastic reduction in tourism only aggravated the situation: Reduced revenue for anti-poaching and other management needs contributed to a spiraling decline in the efficacy of the area’s wildernesses.

Virtually all species except the predators and scavengers (obviously) declined. Hippos took the biggest hit – they need the most grass which wasn’t growing. We aren’t sure about elephants yet, because they migrated, presumably to better places. But whether they’ll return and whether these better places helped them to survive remains to be seen.

Shore birds, especially flamingoes, suffered terribly. No one was killing or eating them, but human populations were desperate for their water sources.

As I reported earlier, we think the entire biomass probably declined by 5%. That’s not bad by the standards of past droughts, and it’s now stabilized. But I don’t see any extraordinary rebound in 2010 as was the case the year after past droughts. The natural biology that normally leads to population rebounds is this time offset by poorer wildlife management, increased poaching and less tourism preparation, caused by not just the past drought, but the current economic downturn.

So expect 2010 not to be worse for wilderness and wildlife, and basically that means it will GOOD.

Strictly economically, the entire region with Kenya in the lead is experiencing the same type of GDP jobless growth we are experiencing here in the U.S. Like here, this is a skewed statistic created mostly by government stimulus. The fact is that 2009 was a terribly BAD YEAR for the economies of all the region once you strip them of their government stimulus.

I’m afraid that 2010 will be worse. That’s one of the curses on developing countries. They are led into an economic abyss by the developed world, and then the developed world emerges out of the abyss first, often at the expense of the developing world.

How bad it will be will depend upon how much aid the developed world gives. But I can’t imagine any amount that will make 2010 anything but a BAD YEAR economically.

East Africa Report20092010
Tanzania, Uganda