What Kenya, Nigeria should have learned from each other this week

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Kenya and Nigeria may be more than 2,000 miles apart but as Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari concludes a three-day working visit to Kenya today (Jan. 29), he will likely have realized the two countries could not be any closer with their shared challenges.

While the official purpose of Buhari’s visit was bilateral trade talks with president Uhuru Kenyatta, inevitably the presidents of two of the continent’s leading economies will have also touched on corruption and deadly insurgencies as they seek answers to the same difficult problems.

Both men are at different ends of their presidency. While Buhari is only just settling into office having won the March general elections last year, Kenyatta is rallying support as he seeks re-election next year amid rising ethnic and economic tension (paywall). Regardless, they are both entangled in anti-corruption fights. While Buhari has at times been criticized for an over-zealous approach to grinding out the malaise, particularly from the previous government, Kenyatta has been accused of not doing enough. Buhari’s eight-month reign has already seen the arrest of major political heavyweights like a former petroleum minister and a former national security adviser.

Buhari has also changed the leadership of the local corruption agency and has taken steps to prevent further diversion of government money by instituting a Treasury Single Account for better monitoring.

Perhaps Kenyatta can take a leaf from Buhari’s books. Despite a public ‘zero tolerance’ stand, the Kenyan leader is seen as not having done enough to stop corruption in Kenya. A cabinet reshuffle in November failed to convince as key positions remain unchanged. Much of Kenya’s corruption is rooted in procurement malpractice and, in July, this was put in chilling perspective as Kenya’s auditor general announced that only 1% of the country’s $10 billion expenditure for the 2013/2014 financial year could be accounted for.

Most recently the country has been caught up in a $1 billion eurobond scandal about the apparent disappearance of the funds raised from a successful offering. Now Kenyans are petitioning the US attorney general to help recover proceeds.

Ultimately the amounts of funds missing in Kenya pale in significance compared with Nigeria’s much larger oil export-driven economy, but the challenge of mismanagement of funds and unethical leadership is a very familiar challenge to both countries.
A tale of two insurgencies

The two countries have been locked in deadly insurgencies since the start of the decade. Nigeria’s homegrown threat, Boko Haram, devolved into a brutal militant sect since 2009. The terrorists, who declared allegiance with ISIL, have since killed more than 10,000 people and at one point took over large swathes of territory in Nigeria’s north-east.

Boko Haram’s reign of terror also led to the displacement of more than a million people. President Buhari promised to wipe out the insurgency within six months in office but a December ‘deadline’ was passed with the sect still operational. However, Buhari has made critical changes. He fired military chiefs who were allegedly corrupt and has also sought to clean up the arms procurement process in a bid to cater better for a military which John Kerry, US Secretary of State, recently described as previously being underfunded and underfed.

Kenya share a similar problem. Since 2011, Somali terrorist sect al-Shabaab, who are aligned with al-Qaeda, have carried out attacks in Kenya in response to the Kenyan forces entering Somalia as part of an African union military mission.

Even though the total death toll is significantly lower than in Nigeria, brazen attacks on the Westgate mall in 2013 and Garissa University last year have been stark reminders of al-Shabaab’s brutality. Kenya’s security forces have been heavily criticized for failures to stop and promptly respond to these attacks. The attacks has stifled the country’s tourism sector but Kenyan forces are beginning to make strategic gains but suffered devastating attack at a base in Somalia this month with more than 100 Kenyan soldiers killed. Like Buhari, Kenyatta has insisted that Kenya will press ahead with its determination to destroy the terrorist network and that Kenyan forces will not pull out of Somalia.

Regardless of steps taken by both presidents, their countries remain vulnerable to soft target attacks by terrorists and continue to seek ways to improve intelligence capacity to stamp out the threats more permanently.
Room to learn

Even as both countries deal with corruption and insecurity issues, opportunities for economic cooperation remain. Kenya is looking to Nigeria for expertise in oil and gas exploration. To this end, both countries signed tools of agreement recently and talks are expected to cover the subject. Nigeria, on the hand, will also be looking to East Africa’s largest economy as a model as it seeks to pivot away from being an oil-dependent economy. Kenya’s main successes in generating revenue despite not being as commodity rich as Nigeria, have come from high tax generation rates and tourism.

“As Nigeria tries to reset its growth model, and move to a system that is less dependent on oil, more about growth being driven by the private sector, and less about growth being driven by the government, it has much to gain from increased engagement with Kenya.” Razia Khan, chief economist at Standard Chartered Bank told Quartz.

Kenyan-born Khan, who is a long-time watcher of Nigeria, thinks the West African country can learn a lot. “While Nigeria has amongst the lowest non-oil revenue mobilisation ratios in Africa, Kenya has traditionally always been higher than the Sub–Saharan Africa average.”

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