Food, fuel shortages worsen Kenyan life

As though life for the ordinary Kenyan wasn’t hard enough, inefficiencies in government are causing shortages in maize, petrol and LPG gas.

What makes it painful is that the products are in the country but are unable to reach the shops thanks to political interference intended to create lucrative business opportunities for well-connected personalities.

Unreasonable taxation by the Kenya Revenue Authority has impeded the movement of fuel from the Mombasa port into the interior. The harsh measures are intended to increase government revenue and pay high salaries for the President, Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament.

At the moment, President Mwai Kibaki earns almost as much as US President George W. Bush even though Kenya is at the rear end in terms of economic, social and political indicators.

Kenyans will, thus, have to pay more for food and fuel because of an artificial shortage designed to line the pockets of a corrupt ruling elite already wallowing in ill-gotten wealth.

According to the Saturday Nation, maize millers are unable to obtain supplies from the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), which is a state organization. The millers say they are forced to negotiate with brokers, who buy the maize from the NCPB then sell it to millers at 26% commission. The brokers are likely to be people with high level connections.

As a result, consumers are buying a packet of the 2kg Jogoo maize flour at Shs87 (US$1.2). With Christmas holidays just a month away and demand expected to soar, the price of maize flour is bound to break the Shs100 barrier. As always, the poor will be hardest hit. Consumer inflation will exceed the 31% recorded in the middle of this year.

The obvious solution to such a crisis would be to import from regional countries, especially Tanzania and Malawi. However, the Ministry of Agriculture is making it cumbersome to import foodstuffs, arguing that Kenyan farmers need to be protected. The gains of a liberalized market are slowly being reversed for the benefit of a few.

Shortages in LPG gas are inflicting major losses on hotels and restaurants. 5-star restaurants now resemble rural kiosks as they resort to using firewood and charcoal to prepare meals. Of course, the results are nothing to boast about and customers are turning away in droves. The use of firewood and charcoal is extremely expensive on a large scale. The gas shortage has been attributed to inefficiencies at the Changamwe Oil refinery and tax measures.

Interruptions in the supply of petrol have become alarmingly frequent in the past year. A decade ago, Kenya’s oil industry prided itself on its efficient distribution network that made it easier to buy fuel than to find clean water. That is no longer the case. Multinational oil companies, fed up with a short sighted government, are deserting the country.

In a move that only a Kenyan politician can dream of, the government wants to create a new oil monopoly in the form of National Oil Corporation of Kenya (NOCK). The government has 100% shares in NOCK and multinationals leaving the country are being pressured to sell to NOCK. It is feared that, in the next few years, shares in NOCK will be sold to highly placed individuals disguised as “strategic partners.”

At the same time, individuals close to the centre of power have their eye on departing multinationals. They took over the operations of Mobil Kenya by creating a new company called Oil-Libya. The deal was sealed following shuttle diplomacy between Kenya and Libya.

What does this mean for Kenyans? More fuel shortages and higher prices for the little that is available.

In addition to supply shortfalls in food and fuel, Kenya is currently experiencing shortages in electricity and water supply. Utility companies – all owned by the state – have failed to keep pace with a growing population. Industries are worst hit and must maintain expensive fuel-powered generators just to keep going. Now, even their generators may grind to a halt because fuel does not arrive on time.

Amnesty debate splits giant cabinet

Kenya’s giant cabinet is split between prosecuting or forgiving perpetrators of ethnic and political violence that left 1,500 dead early this year.

Cabinet ministers and members of parliament allied to President Mwai Kibaki want the perpetrators, planners and financiers of the violence prosecuted and jailed for the violence that left 350,000 dead. On the other hand, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his allies say that youths arrested for crimes committed during the violence were, “fighting for democracy,” and that police were just as much to blame for the killings.

Politicians from Prime Minister Odinga’s ODM Party say the actions of their youth were responsible for the formation of the giant coalition and therefore the youth should be rewarded rather than punished. During the violence, supporters of President Kibaki and his PNU Party were hounded out of their homes and many were killed. In Western Kenya, roads were blocked, railway lines uprooted, bridges vandalized and entire commercial centres razed to the ground.

Kikuyu politicians say that giving a blanket amnesty to perpetrators of crime would create a bad precedent in the country. “I might as well go to Kamiti Prison and release all the convicts,” said Justice Minister, Martha Karua. Many of the victims of the clashes were Kikuyu. They were evicted from ODM strongholds for voting for Kibaki. The Kikuyu are resented for dominating commerce away from their own ethnic homelands hence the looting and destruction of shops and other businesses.

Communities such as the Luo, Kalenjin, Luhya and the coastal groups that supported ODM are growing increasingly worried about the presence of Kikuyu in their areas. Indeed, the ODM capitalized on this resentment to campaign against President Kibaki who is a Kikuyu.

Kikuyu politicians are under pressure from the displaced to negotiate a return to their property. Therefore politicians from both sides would not want to appear as going against their community interests.

The violence between January and March this year erupted following disputed general elections held in December 2007. It was a head to head presidential contest between Mwai Kibaki of the PNU party and Raila Odinga of ODM. Latent ethnic animosities were whipped up by both sides during the campaigns.

Kibaki was declared as the winner and subsequently inaugurated for a second presidential term, but the ODM claimed the elections were rigged. Its supporters launched violent attacks against the Kikuyu and other Kibaki supporters in western Kenya, Rift Valley, Coast and Nairobi.

By the end of January 2008, the Kikuyu launched their own reprisal attacks in Limuru, Naivasha and Nakuru resulting in the deaths and displacement of Luo, Kalenjin and Luhya groups resident in those areas. ODM says the Kikuyu employed the services of Mungiki, which itself is an illegal organization.

Internationally sponsored talks resulted in the current giant coalition with Kibaki as President and Raila as Prime Minister. However, animosities between their supporters in the countryside run deep. Many of the displaced fear returning to their homes and businesses for fear of attack. In the Rift Valley, Kikuyu who tried to return have come under attack from the Kalenjin. Their former homes have been taken over and farms subdivided and renamed.

One Kalenjin Member of Parliament has said that if the Kikuyu cultivate their former farms in the Rift Valley, the Kalenjin will come to harvest the crop.

Giant Opposition for Giant Cabinet

Raging debate over the formation of a giant opposition in Kenya’s parliament to check the giant cabinet is likely to boil over in coming months.

A group of Members of Parliament (MPs) from President Mwai Kibaki’s PNU party, Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ODM and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s ODM-K want to form a giant opposition. They say that since every major party is in the giant coalition, an opposition force is necessary to, “put checks and balances and to guard against mega scandals of the Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing types.”

The MPs are those that were not appointed to the cabinet, leaving many to doubt the sincerity of their stance.

Prime Minister Odinga is against the formation of a giant opposition. He has urged those intending to form an opposition to join other political parties. Under Kenyan electoral law, an MP who leaves the party that got him elected to parliament must face an election in his/her constituency. This law is likely to discourage many of those calling for an opposition. With only six months after the General Elections, there is little appetite for fresh polls.

President Kibaki has said little either for or against a giant opposition.

The group of MPs is led by Abwabu Namwamba and Isaac Ruto both of ODM. Other leading proponents of a giant opposition include Kiema Kilonzo (ODM-K) and Cyrus Jirongo (KADDU). Mr Jirongo has expressed interest in being leader of the official opposition since, unlike Namwamba, his party is not part of the giant coalition. However, he is the sole MP on the KADDU party!

Many of the MPs fronting for the giant opposition wanted to be appointed as cabinet ministers. They felt they had spent a lot of time and money campaigning for their parties and a cabinet would have been the highest reward. However, with a giant cabinet of 40, there was no more room for them.

The giant cabinet also consists of old-timers in Kenyan politics, many of whom have solid power bases and connections to the wealthy corporate class. In contrast, the group of MPs calling for an opposition is made up of mostly youthful MPs who owe their success to the old-timers.

There are rumors that the proponents of a giant opposition are acting at the behest of political figures within the giant cabinet. This, it is said, is to create a fall back position in case the giant cabinet crumbles. Such rumors are credible since many of those calling for a giant opposition owe their prominence to political godfathers.

Besides, someone like Isaac Ruto, who served ex-President Daniel arap Moi until the very end, can hardly boast of any opposition credentials.

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