Boom times in Kenya

Hopes for the future.

(Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images)

(Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images)

On March 4, Kenyans headed to the polls to elect their new president and parliament. In Magadi, some 85 kilometres south of Nairobi, members of the Masai— a semi-nomadic people in Kenya and Tanzania—waited in the sun to cast their ballots. Uhura Kenyatta, one of the country’s richest men, was declared the victor five days later.

The triumph of Kenyatta, who currently faces charges before the International Criminal Court, was widely interpreted as an attempt by voters to warn against foreign meddling in their affairs. Kenya has been an island of stability and prosperity in the often-turbulent East Africa region. It is a strategic ally to the United States, which has used it as a base for anti–Al Qaida spies. American companies now jostle with firms from China, India and South Korea to enter Kenya’s tech and services market. In a sign of the country’s emerging middle class, fast-food chain Subway announced it will open its first Kenyan restaurant in Nairobi’s bustling Junction Mall in August.

As the country’s economy has grown, citizens have wearied of outside interference. Before the vote, assistant secretary for the U.S. Bureau of African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, warned ominously that “choices have consequences.” But the international powers will now need to deal with Kenyatta, who faces accusations at the ICC of backing post-election violence in 2007. The new president said he expects the world to respect “the democratic will of the people of Kenya.”