Product boycott calls amplify political risk for businesses

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Economy

Product boycott calls amplify political risk for businesses


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Azimio leader Raila Odinga addressing journalists at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation(JOOF) in Nairobi on March 21, 2023 where he announced that protests against the high cost of living will take place on Mondays and Thursdays from next week. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG

A number of top business brands have been dragged into the murky political waters, with the opposition leader Raila Odinga making product boycott calls that mirror the 2017 mass action that hit firms hard.

Mr Odinga, the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition leader, is rewriting the 2017 script by calling on his supporters to boycott certain brands he claims are pro-William Ruto regime.

The claims, which he has not proven, amplify the political risk that faces firms in Kenya as political tensions escalate in an economy where businesses are grappling to recover from Covid-19 disruptions and increased operating costs.

The product boycotts, added to the twice-a-week anti-government protests threat, make for a recipe to dampen the outlook for many businesses that had hoped for a return to normalcy following the swearing-in of Mr Ruto as the President last September.

Mr Odinga on Tuesday singled out three companies in his latest boycott call, alleging they had become enablers and facilitators of the Ruto administration.

He did not provide evidence to back his sensational claims about the three companies.

Kenyan firms, including those in the media, are generally not known to take a political stand on issues such as which presidential candidate to support.

Read: Business bears brunt of protests as stock market indifferent

The product boycott will mirror Mr Odinga’s post-2017 election resistance against the Jubilee administration when he listed some firms whose products and services opposition supporters were to avoid.

The move marks Mr Odinga’s latest attempt to show the inextricable connection between electoral politics and economic power in Kenya.

Mr Odinga, who led the National Super Alliance (Nasa) then, said opposition supporters would boycott the products from companies for benefiting from a regime he labelled “illegitimate.”

He has announced that anti-government protests will now take place on Mondays and Thursdays, a move that will prove disruptive for businesses going by Monday scenes where many had to shut.

The economy took a hit Monday as hundreds of businesses shut down, mainly in the capital, Nairobi and Kisumu, following demonstrations called by Azimio leader Raila Odinga.

Many of the businesses that were affected were shops retailing different products, eateries, supermarkets, and service businesses, both within the CBD and on the outskirts, where pockets of unrest were witnessed.

Addressing journalists at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation in Nairobi, Mr Odinga said the twice-a-week protests begin next week.

“Fellow Kenyans, in the second phase of our protest, and in response to public demand, we shall now hold the protests every Monday and Thursday beginning next week,” he said.

The long-term implications of the boycott are not yet known but the crisis looks set to weigh heavily on Kenya’s economy which is currently grappling with multiple challenges including drought, dollar shortages, debt risk and high cost of living.

Read: Ruto, Rigathi, Mudavadi get Sh802m for new cars

Kenya’s export performance is highly tied to weather conditions and global commodity price movements, with agricultural commodities such as tea, horticulture and coffee accounting for about half of the exports.

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