Maize saga turns toxic for Raila

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga is an angry man. And its all because of maize. It seems that everytime he intervenes in Kenya’s staple food, he ends up with flour on his face.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga at a press conference after disputed election results were announced, January 2008.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga at a press conference after disputed election results were announced, January 2008.

It began late last year when maize prices doubled due to drought. After encountering a near food riot in his constituency, Raila began an initiative to supply cheap maize to the poor using the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB). The venture did not take off as the NCPB lacked the skills and the capacity for the massive retail distribution required.

A few months ago, the government decided to import maize to offset the shortages as it became clear that Kenya cannot produce enough maize till 2010. A ship from South Africa sailed into the Kilindini Harbour with thousands of tonnes of maize. However, the maize was found contaminated with dangerous chemicals.

Instead of the ship getting sent away with its toxic cargo, as is normally the case, the maize was offloaded to the Grain Bulk Handlers Ltd warehouses. Claims were made that the maize had been sold in the local market. Raila came out to deny the claims. Over the weekend, tonnes of maize were found in shops across the country with strong suspicions that Kenyans have all along been eating the poisonous food.

Raila has denied claims that he is behind the importation and distribution of the toxic maize, terming the claims as cheap propaganda by his political opponents. Indeed, just last week, Parliament absolved the Prime Minister from blame.

Raila is unable to shake off the maize saga and the burden it is exerting on his political career. Just when it seems to fade away from the public limelight, fresh revelations emerge of his involvement and that of his family. The Odinga dynasty, of which Raila is the current partriarch, has been heavily implicated in the maize saga.

When maize shortages were first experienced in the last few months of 2008, it emerged that Raila’s first born son, Fidel, was among those who exported thousands of tonnes of government maize from the NCPB. In effect, the government found itself without any maize to distribute to hunger stricken families across the country. It is said that the Odingas made millions of shillings in Southern Sudan, where maize sells for almost double the prices in Kenya.

Next came the saga of Grain Bulk Handling Ltd and a debate on whether to allow a second grain handling facility at the port of Mombasa. Grain Bulk resisted the move saying that Kenya did not need a second grain handler and that problems at the port arose from inefficiencies in transportation and documentation. Raila supported Grain Bulk amidst a clamour for a competitor to ease the flow of food imports.

Raila’s stance would not have been controversial if it was not for the appearance of exclusive photographs showing the Prime Minister riding a limousine with Grain Bulk owner, Mohammed Jaffer. Raila later had lunch with Jaffer. It has also emerged that Jaffer was a significant financier to Raila’s presidential bid in the 2007 General Elections.

Now, the Odinga family faces allegations that it is behind the importation of the toxic maize. Raila’s opponents are capitalizing on the discovery of suspected toxic maize in Central and Eastern Kenya – both areas that oppose Raila’s presidential ambitions. The discovery of the maize has given rise to wild rumours among the populace and the rumours certainly do not enhance Raila’s popularity in the two provinces.

Government chemists and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) are analyzing the product and have declared it safe, but it will take a lot of convincing among the public to calm the fears.

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One Response

  1. If Raila is innocent then he should have nothing to worry about, but if he is or his son is involved in maize scandal then it is high time he takes the responsibility. The problem with Kenyan politics is that it is so ethnic based to the extent that Raila will do no wrong to the eyes of Nyanza populace and at the same time he will do no good to the eyes of Central Province populace. His did will always be judged based from where you come from and that is Kenya

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