Kenyan politicians must root for the small investor. It is in their best interest. There are now over 500,000 such investors. By election time later in 2007, their number will probably have reached 750,000, particularly with the expected Safaricom IPO. Most of these are young Kenyans, and there is a growing number of women -- who refuse to be left behind. Their recent involvement in the stock market will be one potent reason for them to vote one way or another at the next general elections. They will at last have something very tangible to protect, something directly and personally beneficial to them.That’s a lot of votes to lose, for those who rub them the wrong way!
The small investor is a very determined and perceptive lot. Determined because the poverty line gives them nightmares, and they are driven to stay above it – well above. Perceptive in that they have discovered two things. First, that a well managed stock market offers them the most promising opportunity for asset-building, on a scale which no politician has offered them since the heyday (some decades ago now) of land-buying groups; and for staying above the poverty line despite widespread neglect by politicians. And they know that group land-buying, part of the old ethnicity, was essentially a kitchen cabinet project which politicians in many parts of the country did not have the motivation to emulate or counter -- and no discernible inclination to match for the benefit of their own constituents, as opposed to their own personal gain!
Second, that there is real “magic of compounding” in the stock market which politicians, themselves a perceptive lot, have all along known about and quietly enjoyed but which, left to their own devices, would rather not share with wananchi. We say: Keep this gate open! Share the planet!
It is one thing to fault the 2006 IPOs on the grounds that, starting with the “book building”scam attempted during the KenGen IPO, efforts were made to favour institutional investors (and some efforts succeeded, particularly in subsequent IPOs); or to query the mystery and illegal 5% holding by a third party in Safaricom; or to take measures to ensure that CMA and NSE do not “even think about it” in 2007 and beyond. But it is quite another and dangerous thing to make blanket statements of intention to repossess for the state, presumably by executive order or through a parliamentary vote, the shares which investors bought in 2006. Repossess and then do what? This would clearly be a case of repossess and dispossess. Dispossess for whose benefit?
In an election year, in which the margin of victory is unlikely to be larger than that witnessed during the 2005 referendum, it is highly risky and probably political suicide to make 750,000 individual investors highly nervous about the future of their hard-won, and now compounded, assets; or about the future of IPOs in general. Individual (or “small-holder”) shareholding is beginning to acquire the characteristics and passions of a new ethnicity, politician beware. It is a passion, indeed, that is sweeping the whole world – including the ex-communist states of China and Russia.