Kenyans eating wild animals as drought worsens

Wild animals in Kenya face extinction by ending up on dinner tables as the worst drought in a generation takes its toll on a people impoverished by years of poor governance, corruption and political sterility.

Rains have failed in Kenya, 10 million people hit by famine.

Rains have failed in Kenya, 10 million people hit by famine.

People have always poached wild animals for meat. It is a carry over from the old days, long before colonialism, when wildlife roamed the land in huge herds. However, our forefathers resorted to eating wild game only in extreme situations. Some tribes, such as the Maasai and the Somali, looked down on people who ate wild game, viewing such persons as too poor to own livestock.

With colonialism and eventual independence, hunting of wild animals for food or, indeed any other purpose, was criminalized. This pushed the trade to the periphery of economic and social activity. Until recently, only a few places along the Nairobi – Mombasa highway and in parts of the Coast and Rift Valley provinces recorded incidences of bush meat trading. In any case, these were places that were in close proximity to wildlife sanctuaries such as the Nairobi, Tsavo, Amboseli, Nakuru and Mt Longonot National Parks.

Today, the situation is different. The country is experiencing a severe drought that has resulted in shortages of maize, wheat, sugar, milk, water, electricity, fruits and other essential commodities. As a result, prices have spiraled upwards in the past two years and made life harder for the majority poor. This explains the desperate situation that is forcing people to resort to bush meat.

Unlike the previous situation when bush meat was relegated to outlaws at the periphery of society, today’s bush meat industry is very much a mainstream affair. Unemployed youths in communities living close to national parks have formed underground syndicates where they sneak into parks to hunt wild animals then sell the meat in villages and towns.

The most popular animals for game meat are buffalo, antelope, impala, dik diks and duikers. These type of animals are popular because they resemble domestic animals both in size and flesh. The buffalo has almost similar characteristics as a cow, while antelopes, gazelles and dik dik look and feel like goats. The guinea fowl resembles the domestic chicken while warthog meat reminds one of pork. Other animals being hunted for food include zebra and giraffes.

Drought and poverty have become so bad that people are eating wild animals that were previously banned in traditional culture. Baboons, monkeys, squirrels, rats, hawks and eagles have become part of the people’s diet in recent days. This is negatively affecting their numbers. In certain parts of Kenya, monkeys that used to run around freely because nobody would disturb them have retreated in fear deep into the bush. A few weeks ago, a television programme highlighted the plight of villagers who admitted to slaughtering baboons for food.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has tried its best to cope with the phenomenon but it is difficult to fight a hungry, unemployed and desperate population. Despite the dangers of arrest and prison sentences, more and more people are getting into the bush meat trade for lack of alternatives. The current drought has worsened the situation as many farmers have exhausted their food supplies. Cattle, goats and sheep have died in large numbers and even where they still survive, the production of milk is insufficient for the family’s nutritional and financial needs.

People are also lashing out at wildlife, some of which has ventured into human settlements in search for food. Elephants are rampaging through farmland stripping bare any available piece of greenery. In Pokot and Mbeere Districts, homes have been invaded by snakes that are unable to find anything to eat in the bush. This has resulted in an increase in snake bites.

While monkeys and baboons are cowering in fear in certain parts of Kenya, they are very destructive elsewhere. Reports have been made of gangs of primates roaming the landscape in search of food. Nothing can stand in their way as dogs are pounded into mince meat.

Kenya government response to the drought was late and disjointed. Many of the top personalities in government are partly responsible for the current food mess. Post election violence following the disputed 2007 elections severely disrupted farming activity. By the time peace was restored in April 2008, the planting season was all but gone. The maize scandals of late 2008 pointed at a ruling elite greedy enough to make billions of shillings from hungry people. Food prices sky rocketed because cabinet ministers and legislators were buying out government food stocks for export to Southern Sudan where prices were almost three times what they would get in Kenya.

Kenyan leaders continue to engage in a financial orgy of spending. Most of the money is going towards pay hikes, luxury mansions, limousines and extra body guards. The biggest debate in Kenya today is not on how to provide food to the starving masses but on who benefits from political appointments geared towards the next general elections in 2012.

Advertisements

Negative growth for Kenya’s economy in 2010

Thanks to political instability, water shortages, impending power rationing and now Swine Flu, Kenya’s economy will experience negative growth for the first time in almost a decade.

Apart from the ravages of drought, Kenyan dams suffer from massive siltation as seen in this picture of the waters behind Kiambere Dam.

Apart from the ravages of drought, Kenyan dams suffer from massive siltation as seen in this picture of waters behind Kiambere Dam.

A collapsing economy will further add to the woes of a shaky coalition government in a country where the redistribution of national resources has become a catchy slogan.

The closure of the Masinga Hydro Electric Dam last week highlighted the effects of a two-year drought on electricity production. The Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) has said that it will close a second dam by September if rains don’t fall soon. Unfortunately, the next rainy season in that particular part of Kenya is expected in October, meaning that more dams might close.

Kenya’s industrial and domestic electricity users, face two unpalatable choices: either continue paying for electricity at current rates but experience rationing, or: pay higher prices for oil-fired generators in order to have a steady electricity supply. Neither choice appeals to an economy still suffering the effects of post election violence.

Kengen and the Kenya Power & Lighting Company (KPLC) have been criticized for poor planning in national electricity production. The current drought was predicted months ago and both companies should have taken contingency measures. Instead, Kenya will be forced to rely on so-called “emergency generators,” some of which have been in “emergency use” for the past 10 years! Needless to say, there is lots of money to be made by oil suppliers at the expense of impoverished Kenyans.

Kengen and KPLC do not have a monopoly in poor planning, though. The country’s water providers have literally been caught napping by the ongoing drought. The city of Nairobi is likely to experience a disease outbreak as water supplies become scarcer. The main dam at Ndakaini will dry up in the next few months unless a miracle brings forth torrential rains. The city’s second dam at Sasumua collapsed in 2002 and is only now getting repaired.

Water supplies in other cities are in a sorry state. Kisumu, which lies on Lake Victoria, has not had a fresh water supply for decades and cholera outbreaks are common. The water crisis in Kisumu is so bad that most industries left the lakeside city long ago. Mombasa still relies on the colonial-era Mzima Springs project for much of its supply. Meanwhile, deforestation and land degradation have squeezed the life out of the country’s rivers, with most reduced to seasonal streams.

And just when the tourism industry thought that it had weathered the effects of post election violence, along comes SWINE FLU! Truly, the job of marketing Kenya to overseas tourists must be a terribly frustrating experience! The post election violence of 2008 brought the tourism industry to its knees, as travellers fled a near civil war. Today, tourist numbers are nowhere close to pre-2007 levels and the Swine Flu outbreak will further discourage visitors.

Back in the year 2000, massive power rationing and water shortages resulted in two consecutive years of negative economic growth. Industries closed and the ensuing retrenchments reduced overall consumer spending. The shrinking economy of the closing years of Daniel arap Moi’s presidency contributed a lot to the loss of KANU in the 2002 General Elections. Incidentally, the tourism industry was also depressed in the year 2000 due to political violence surrounding the 1997 elections. (Do you see a recurring trend here …?)

This time, the economic situation will be worsened by the highest government expenditure in Kenya’s history. President Mwai Kibaki has created hundreds of districts for political reasons, each requiring administrators, offices and staff. The gigantic cabinet of 42 is straining the economy, what with astronomic salaries, bodyguards and fuel guzzling SUVs.

As political temperatures rise towards the 2012 elections, Kibaki will be under pressure to embark on massive development spending to boost economic growth. Nobody knows where the money will come from. The only source of funds currently open to the government is taxation but any increases in taxes will alienate industrialists and the professional classes.

A shrinking economy will cause greater hardships for the average Kenyan. It will spark political instability as elements of the ruling elite fight it out for diminishing national resources needed to buy support. Industries will relocate from Kenya or close all-together. Job losses are inevitable, and the stability of the country will be tested once more.

Mombasa’s anxiety about Lamu plans

There’s growing worry in Mombasa about the plans to transform Lamu island into a mega-port serving Sudan and Ethiopia.

lamu_port_railway_graphic

Diversion of shipping and transport from Mombasa will mark the death of this 1,000 year old city whose ideallic location on East Africa’s coast has been its economic mainstay.

The construction of new roads and railways linking Lamu with the interior is viewed as an example of misplaced priorities considering the dilapidated state of the existing railway line after decades of neglect.

If the Lamu plan becomes a reality, highway towns such as Mariakani, Maungu, Voi, Mtito Andei, Makindu, Mlolongo and Athi River will wither as vehicles get diverted into the bushlands of northern Kenya. Nairobi will also suffer from the loss of business generated by transit traffic.

Meanwhile, transportation experts argue that its cheaper to rehabilitate the Mombasa port, roads and railway links than building new ones in remote areas. In any case, the experts argue, new infrastructure will still have to be maintained.

The economy of Mombasa is completely dependent on both the old and new harbours. The Old Port of Mombasa is the original Arab port. It still handles small vessels plying traditional routes to Zanzibar, Pemba, Somalia and the Middle East.

Kilindini harbour was developed by British colonial authorities in the 19th century to handle large steamships. This is the point where the first plates of the Kenya – Uganda Railway were laid in 1895. The railway was meant to link Mombasa with the Buganda Kingdom, which had allied itself with the British.

Since then, the Kenya – Uganda Railway contributed to the building of the modern Kenya and Uganda states. It opened the interior to trade and settlement. By the 1950s, Kenya had the largest number of European settlers outside Southern Africa. Growing trade resulted in the railway spreading out to Nyeri, Nyahururu, Rongai, Magadi, Eldoret and Butere.

A parallel road transport industry developed over the years, especially after the highway from Mombasa was tarmacked in the 1960s by the government of President Jomo Kenyatta. Today, road transport handles at least 90% of the cargo between Mombasa and the interior due to corruption and mismanagement of the railway.

Regardless of the means of transport in use, the people of Mombasa have turned the port into their honey well. More than 70% of employment in Mombasa is totally dependent on the port. This includes transport companies, clearing agents, travel agents, hotels, manufacturing industries, the service sector, electricity and water supply, the oil industry and local government tax collections.

The tourism industry, which makes up the remaining portion of Mombasa’s economy, is also dependent on the port of Mombasa. Numerous cruise liners and naval vessels that arrive at Kilindini bring into Mombasa thousands of visitors willing to spend wads of foreign currency. The extensive road and railway links from the interior also feeds into this traffic, resulting in the flow of tourists from the Maasai Mara, Mount Kilimanjaro and Nairobi.

There’s no doubt that the port of Kilindini is in urgent need of expansion. Congestion causes delays, which pushes up costs and makes imported goods more expensive. Sometimes, there is so much congestion at Kilindini that ships have to drop anchor in the high seas while waiting for space to become available. Congestion at Kilindini has been attributed to poor management.

Since the early 1980s, there have been plans to expand the port into neighbouring areas. Unfortunately, the plans have never been implemented even as the Kenya Ports Authority makes billions in profits. Instead, the government has tried to de-congest the port through administrative measures that have only worsened the problem and created channels of corruption.

The enactment of container freight stations (CFS) is shrouded in mystery as prominent personalities monopolize the lucrative business. The chances of an ordinary person being awarded a CFS contract is next to impossible.

As political influences paralyze the port, Kilindini harbour is rapidly being overtaken by trends in ship construction. Kilindini cannot handle modern-day giant ships. The sea bed at Kilindini was last dug up by the British in the early 1960s. Since then, the flow of garbage from Mombasa Island and Likoni are filling up the harbour, making it difficult for ships to navigate through the coral reef.

Mombasa only requires dedicated management to reclaim its lost glory as the leading port of East Africa. Mombasa residents are therefore surprised to hear that the government wants to spend colossal amounts of money in building another port hundreds of kilometres away.

If the Lamu project comes into fruition, there will be massive business losses in Mombasa. Employment opportunities will decline and the city’s economy will collapse. Many of the thriving industries that contribute to the coastal economy will cease funtioning.

In short, the port of Mombasa will die out. People will leave in droves seeking better opportunities elsewhere, perhaps at the new Lamu port. What will become of Mombasa? It will be left as a ghost town of deserted buildings, rotting factories and empty hotels. Drugs and crime will be the natural consequence to this sad state of affairs.

Mombasa has survived 1,000 years of Arab, Swahili, Portuguese and British rule. Mombasa has survived floods and droughts, opulence and poverty. Mombasa has risen from the ashes after invasions from both land and sea.

Marauding African tribes, Arab swords and Portuguese cannons have all contributed into what Mombasa has become today: a thriving, multi-cultural phenomenon that has won the admiration of the entire world. Its no wonder that people from across the world want to settle in Mombasa.

It will be unfortunate if an independent African government kills Mombasa. Let us hope that common sense prevails.

Fuel crisis sign of failed government

Corruption, negligence, poor management and harsh taxes are to blame for the ongoing fuel crisis, say oil industry workers.

Public transport vehicles (matatus) at a Nairobi fuel station.

Public transport vehicles (matatus) at a Nairobi fuel station.

For many years, there was little expansion of storage and oil transmission networks. At Kipevu oil terminal in Mombasa, storage tanks built more than 20 years ago have not been extended.

Over the past five years, heavy demand from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo has stretched storage capacity to its limits.

Oil shortages have become so bad that unless remedial action is taken, flights at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport will soon be grounded.

The oil pipeline from Mombasa to Nairobi, managed by the state-owned Kenya Pipeline Corporation (KPC), was recently upgraded at a cost of billions of shillings. The upgrade was supposed to enhance capacity from 440,000 cubic metres to 880,000 cubic metres. President Kibaki himself commissioned the upgraded system just weeks ago.

Its now been revealed that in spite of the billions spent on the upgrade, KPC only manages 550,000 cubic metres on a good day. Rampant power blackouts, system breakdown and vandalism of the pipeline means that the maximum 880,000 cubic metres flow is unlikely to be achieved.

A section of oil workers who talked to the Nairobi Chronicle say that the statutory requirement that oil companies process crude oil at the Changamwe Oil Refinery is a major contributor to fuel shortages. The colonial era facility is so derelict that major oil companies have pulled out, leaving their stake to the government. Changamwe is prone to breakdowns, and it cannot process unleaded petrol and low-sulphur diesel.

“Kenyans don’t know that they are buying leaded fuel mixed with imported unleaded fuel because our refinery cannot produce unleaded,” discloses an oil worker. And because Changamwe produces diesel with high sulphur content, its product has to be ‘blended’ with imported diesel in order bring down sulphur to acceptable levels.

“This refinery should be shut down and a new one built from scratch,” concludes the oil worker.

But the government insists that Changamwe is viable and has invited Libyan investors to rehabilitate the refinery. Apparently, the government lacks the massive funds needed for upgrading.

The oil industry says the imposition of advance tax by the Kenya Revenue Authority has worsened a bad situation. KRA introduced advance tax as a means of curbing the dumping of duty free fuel meant for export into the local market. With this measure, KRA collects taxes at the port of Mombasa before fuel is distributed to consumers.

In effect oil companies must pay billions of shillings to the KRA before they are allowed to sell. Consequently, they must borrow to pay the tax. When advance tax was introduced, the price of fuel immediately shot up by Shs3 a litre due to interest payments for tax loans. In a global financial environment where credit is hard to come by, oil companies will find it challenging to borrow to pay advance tax. Already, one oil company – Triton Petroleum – fell into receivership this December.

Incidentally, Triton is said to have hogged up more than half the storage capacity at Kipevu even though the company has a meagre 4% market share. The hogging of space has denied other oil companies storage, forcing oil-laden ships arriving at Kilindini to drop anchor in the high seas while waiting for the Kipevu tanks to be emptied. Of course, the shipping companies impose delay surcharges on oil companies and this cost is passed to consumers in the form of high fuel prices.

Arbitrary enforcement of standards by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and the KRA are adding to the woes afflicting the oil industry. In November, KEBS turned away a gas ship claiming that the gas was, “below standard.” The move, which caught importing oil companies unaware, resulted in a month long shortage of LPG in the country. Industries cut production as households turned to charcoal for their cooking needs.

“Nobody knows which standards KEBS and KRA are imposing,” says an oil industry insider, “the rules change everyday. What is legal today may become illegal tomorrow without any communication or consultation. Its a very unpredictable working environment.”

Corruption is a major cause of the worsening oil shortages. Like everything else at the port of Mombasa, shady deals are common during the import clearing process.

The management of KPC is influenced by political horse-trading, meaning that top executives at the corporation may not be fully conversant with the dynamics of the international oil market. As the industry struggles with shortages, KPC is busy investing in offices and gymnasiums.

The fact that importation of oil is managed by a committee in the Ministry of Energy doesn’t make matters any better. A fully, liberalized environment perhaps would improve efficiency instead of the current regimen of a half-liberalized, half state-controlled industry. As though that were not enough, some major oil companies are owned by politicians.

In spite of the bad situation, the government plans to micro-manage the oil industry. From January 2009, price controls may be imposed to “protect consumers from exploitation by multi-nationals.” The government is also encouraging state-owned National Oil Corporation of Kenya (NOCK) to expand its operations in retailing and distribution of fuel though its prices are the same as those of multinationals.

As Kenya’s oil industry gets chaotic, multinationals are deciding to leave. The ruling elite are reportedly salivating at the prospects of grabbing huge chunks of the lucrative oil market but it is the ordinary consumers who will pay through the nose for scarce fuel.

Indeed, as Kenya’s second president used to say, “bad politics equals bad life.”