Tank scandal blows government credibility

The credibility of Kenya is being torn to shreds as evidence emerges linking the government with arms trafficking in the Great Lakes region.

It began two weeks ago when a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying 33 Russian made T-72 tanks was hijacked by Somali pirates on its way to the Kenyan port of Mombasa. Initially, it was reported that the tanks and heavy artillery were destined for Southern Sudan.

Kenya’s government claimed the deadly cargo, saying it had bought it for the military. However, the pirates denied the assertions saying that the ship’s documents showed the owner of the cargo as the government of South Sudan. Southern Sudan military commanders and diplomats strenuously denied knowledge of the cargo.

Strangely enough, the United States Navy, which is surrounding the captured ship, has said that the tanks were going to Southern Sudan.

Kenyan officials had, in the meantime, produced documents proving that they ordered the weapons from Ukraine in a ‘government – government’ deal. Soon after, the Nation newspaper of Kenya published aerial photographs of a previous consignment of tanks being ferried to Southern Sudan on a train. This week, the BBC released documents proving the weapons did infact belong to Southern Sudan.

An official from a sailor’s union at the Mombasa port, who gave reporters details of previous weapon consignments to Southern Sudan, was last week arrested by Kenyan police and charged with possessing marijuana. He is currently awaiting trial.

Regardless of the truth, this saga makes Kenya’s government stink like a corpse. Denials, production of evidence and counter-evidence have created the impression that the government is confused. Neither President Mwai Kibaki nor Prime Minister Raila Odinga have spoken on the tanks.

If the tanks and ammunition really belong to Kenya, it shows a perverse sense of priorities. It means the government is spending billions of shillings on weapons while people displaced by political and ethnic clashes languish in desperation.

After the formation of the giant cabinet back in April, President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila launched an international appeal for Kshs31 billion (US$431 million) to assist in reconstructing homes, government facilities and businesses destroyed in the clashes. Obviously, Kenya’s leaders would rather buy guns than build schools, homes and hospitals.

If the tanks do not belong to Kenya’s military, as is widely believed, then Kenya is violating a United Nations arms embargo on Sudan. That would put Kenya in the pariah status of states accused of supplying weapons for killing and maiming defenceless civilians. With Southern Sudan in dire need of development assistance, the world must be wondering why Kenyan authorities are sending weapons there.

Its also scandalous that an arms shipment of this magnitude – regardless of ownership – did not have a Kenya Navy escort. The Somali coast is notorious for piracy and this year has seen pirate attacks double over last year’s count. The sea around Somalia is patrolled by NATO navies whose presence is tenuous at best. Piracy is a threat to Kenya’s shipping and military analysts are wondering why the Kenyan Navy is out of action.

Kenya traditionally purchases arms from the Western bloc (NATO). If it is confirmed that the T-72 consignment belongs to Kenya, the purchase would mark a radical departure from previous trends. At the moment, Kenya is also buying second-hand jet fighters from the Kingdom of Jordan. At least that’s one consignment whose destination is not in doubt.

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One Response

  1. This is Kenya staying true to an old practice. It has always, and looks like will continue acting as a conduit for Southern Sudanese arms. I am surpised anyone thinks otherwise.

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