Kenya opposition calls for boycott of Safaricom, Danone unit

 04 Nov 2017 - 0:35

Kenya opposition calls for boycott of Safaricom, Danone unit
Members of the parliament from the Kenyan opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition attend a news conference launching their new campaign in Nairobi, Kenya, November 3, 2017. Reuters/Baz Ratner

By David Herbling & Samuel Gebre / Bloomberg

Kenya’s main opposition alliance called for a boycott of three of the country’s biggest companies, including mobile operator Safaricom Ltd., to press its demands for electoral reform.

The National Super Alliance said its supporters should also spurn Brookside Dairies Ltd., part-owned by Danone SA of France, and closely held Bidco Oil Refineries Ltd., a Nairobi-based manufacturer of edible oils. The boycott forms part of a so-called economic liberation program the alliance started on Friday after earlier rejecting the results of last week’s presidential-election rerun.

“We’re calling for a boycott that will hurt, a boycott that will be painful, a boycott that will bring these corporations to their knees and to their senses until they stand up for electoral justice expressed through free, fair and credible elections,” the alliance said in a statement.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga rejected last week’s presidential-election rerun that gave President Uhuru Kenyatta a second term as a “sham” vote. Odinga withdrew from the race two weeks before the election, saying the country’s electoral commission hadn’t addressed problems that marred the initial vote in August, including firing staff implicated in rigging and changing its election-management systems.

In addition to the boycott, Odinga, a former prime minister who failed to secure the presidency in elections in 1997, 2007 and 2013, has called for protests against the election outcome and demanded fresh elections within three months.

Unrest Deaths

As many as 80 people have died in election-related violence since the initial vote, according to human-rights groups. Police said they’ve recorded only 19 killings in the unrest since Aug. 8. The protracted election cycle has cost the $71 billion Kenyan economy 120 billion shillings ($1.2 billion), Treasury Secretary Henry Rotich said on Thursday.

The Kenya National Commission for Human Rights, a state-run advocacy group, on Friday backed Odinga’s assertion that the latest election wasn’t free and fair.

“From our investigations and findings we cannot say that the repeat elections happened in an environment that promotes free, fair, credible elections,” George Morara, vice chairman of the commission, said in a statement. In counties where opposition protesters prevented polling officials from conducting the vote, “the commission documented the use of firearms and excessive force by security agents,” it said.

Nasa, as the alliance is known, called for a boycott of Safaricom for failing to transmit ballot results from polling stations to a national tallying center in Nairobi. Safaricom, which in September rejected the allegations, said on Friday it would deal with the boycott in “a neutral way.”

‘Negative Politics’

“There’s more talk about it than there is effect,” Steve Chege, director of corporate affairs, said on a conference call. “We know it’s negative politics and it’s likely to blow over in a very short time.”

The alliance said it’s targeting Brookside, which is part-owned by Kenyatta’s family, because the company is failing to adequately compensate dairy farmers for their milk supplies. All three companies are providing funding to the ruling Jubilee Party, John Mbadi, chairman of alliance member the Orange Democratic Movement, said at the briefing.

“Brookside Dairies, like Bidco Industries, provide goods and services supplied by people with the blood of Kenyans on their hands,” Nasa said. “Like Safaricom, they have presided over economic regimes that impoverish than empower Kenyans.”

Brookside Chairman Muhoho Kenyatta didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment. Bidco Chairman Vimal Shah didn’t answer several calls to his mobile phone seeking comment.