‘Safe hands’ earn Kenya’s central bank chief a second term
Yale-educated economist has been credited with stabilising the shilling and giving credibility to the government’s management of financial affairs
Nairobi — Kenyan central bank governor Patrick Njoroge has been given a second and final four-year term in the job, as President Uhuru Kenyatta opted for continuity in the face of a private sector credit crunch and pressure to reduce government borrowing.
The Yale-educated economist, who advised the IMF in Washington before taking up his post in June 2015, has been credited with stabilising the shilling and giving credibility to the government’s management of financial affairs.
He has won plaudits from the market for his handling of the banking sector following the closure of two mid-sized lenders just months after he took over, and the capping of commercial lending rates in 2016.
“The governor’s reappointment will be seen as providing a stabilising hand,” said Razia Khan, head of research for Africa at Standard Chartered in London.
Njoroge has also won praise for shunning the trappings of office in a country in which officials often abuse state resources, using a modest official car and never moving to the sprawling governor’s mansion in an upmarket part of Nairobi.
He faces the ongoing challenge of formulating monetary policy as a government-imposed cap on commercial lending rates takes its toll on credit growth and as calls grow for the government to reduce its budget deficit.
“From this perspective, experience and continuity will count for a great deal,” Khan said.
The rate cap, introduced by the government in September 2016, has hammered private sector credit, which grew just 4.5% in the year to April — well below the ideal growth rate of 12%-15% according to the central bank.
Kenya’s public debt as a percentage of GDP has risen to 55% from 42% when Kenyatta took office in 2013.
The government has defended the increase, saying the country must invest in infrastructure, including roads and railways.
Njoroge has warned that the space for increased borrowing is running out.
On Njoroge’s watch, the Kenyan shilling has been one of the stablest emerging market currencies, rising 0.54% in 2019, the second-best performer in emerging markets after the Egyptian pound.
“The message the market is emitting is that he is a very, very safe pair of hands,” said Aly Khan Satchu, an independent trader and analyst.
But some criticised Njoroge for failing to deepen the local debt market, which still has no bond issuance calendar.
“In terms of market development, we have not seen much, sadly,” said a senior trader at a leading commercial bank.
Njoroge has said his team has not accomplished all it had set out to do.
“There have been many successes, there have been many failures, there have been many sleepless nights,” he said last week.
One of his latest tasks included introducing new banknotes to curb a surge in suspicious transactions in the financial sector.
Kenyatta also reappointed deputy governor Sheila M’mbijiwe and the chair of the bank’s board, Mohammed Nyaoga, to new four-year terms.