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.


Parents scramble for school lunch as famine bites in Pokot

By Kephas Ayiecha (Weekly Citizen)

Trapped between life and death, parents in famine-stricken West Pokot District have invaded local schools scavenging for food.


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

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

The situation has triggered tension in most schools as the parents scramble for food with pupils.

In Chepkobe Boarding Primary School, the effects of hunger are evident as pupils search for wild leaves and fruits to supplement food from the World Food Programme. The school with a population of 400 children suspended lessons to allow pupils trek long distances to fetch water.

The school head teacher Dominic Riangoreng said parents flocked into the institution and forcibly shared lunch and supper with the pupils. “We have tried to chase them away but they are stubborn and distressed by hunger,” Riangoreng told reporters at the school adding that the little food stock had been exhausted following the invasion by the parents and he is contemplating closing the school.

He also said that water shortage has forced pupils to hunt for Cactus plants because they are rich in water and help in preventing dehydration.

A similar scenario was seen in Nasukuta Primary School where parents queued for lunch of boiled maize alongside their children. The parents threatened to cause mayhem if barred from getting the food. “We are starving. We don’t have food at our homes. We are going to die if we are denied food here,” said Grace Longole.

Kapenguria Member of Parliament, Julius Murgor, says the food crisis has affected about 200,000 people in the large West Pokot District. The legislator said two people have died of starvation in his constituency and hundreds are in dire need of food relief.

Speaking to the Weekly Citizen after a tour of the constituency, Murgor explained that food sources have collapsed leaving the locals to rely on wild fruits and leaves for survival. Cattle, the main source of livelihood for majority of the locals, are emaciated due to lack of pasture and water. Murgor said people have migrated to Moroto and Nakapirpirit Districts of eastern Uganda in search of food, pasture and water.

The famine is largely attributable to poor rains in the past year which resulted in below average harvests. Violence that erupted following disputed elections in December 2007 disrupted agricultural activities. Many farmers lost crops and livestock and even land due to ethnic clashes. The affected farmers are still too afraid to return to their farms.

A violent lesson lost to history

After the deaths of over 1,300 people in election violence in early 2008, there was widespread expectation that the brief civil war experience would sober up Kenya’s leadership style.

With the effects of ethnic hatred exposed for all to see, it was assumed that nobody would be foolish enough to play similar games in future. National dialogue would chart a fresh approach to Kenya’s government and management of national resources. Former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said that it would no longer be business as usual in Kenya.

Alas, the world was mistaken. Even Kenyans themselves did not know how far deep our politics had sunk. Hardly had the grand coalition been formed than it became business as usual in terms of corruption, tribalism, nepotism and sleaze.

If anything, we are witnessing today the worst looting frenzy in Kenyan history. Never before have ruling elites sought to enrich themselves so quickly. Perhaps, only Nigeria provides some precedence. The cruel, corrupt leadership in Kenya is fully aware that the country will explode at any time and are busy engorging themselves on the fat of the land as hunger pangs ravage 10 million of their subjects.

Meanwhile, the running of government is marred in leadership squabbles that have rendered it weak and incompetent.

Legislators cannot agree on the simple matter of forming an electoral body. As a result, Kenya today lacks an organization to supervise elections and if a situation were arose necessitating an election, the country would be caught in utter helplessness.

A clearly defined selection process agreed by all parties was disrupted by a politician who nominated his college buddy as head of the Interim Electoral Commission. The nominee, lawyer Cecil Miller, did not submit his name to the nominations panel but still made it to the top of the list. Not surprisingly, the nomination was rejected by parliament but legislators were more upset by Miller’s ethnicity than the manner of his nomination.

The country’s politicians are split on firing the Minister for Agriculture, under whose watch millions of bags of government maize went missing. The minister has refused to resign even after his close allies were implicated in the scam. As a result, maize is in short supply and it’s price becoming unaffordable to the majority.

Instead of looking at the scandal as a criminal case, politicians have tribalized it in a manner that could re-ignite ethnic clashes. Last week, as Parliament debated Agriculture Minister William Ruto, there were reports that his kinsmen were sharpening the knives ready for war. It is said this alone played a major role in “convincing” legislators to vote “wisely.” The other factor is the millions of shillings spent by Ruto in bribing parliamentarians.

Scandal after scandal is wrecking Kenya from within. Apart from the disappearance of maize from government stores, fuel worth billions of shillings is missing from government-owned storage tanks. The Minister for Energy, a close friend of President Mwai Kibaki, has refused to resign.

Politicians cannot agree on the formation of a tribunal to prosecute those who incited, planned and funded the post election violence. The key persons are top politicians close to President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Some have vowed not to go down alone, hence procrastination by the President and Prime Minister. Ironically, the crimes-against-humanity suspects now want to be sent to the International Criminal Court. Why? In their calculation, it will be years before The Hague collects enough evidence against them.

Hundreds of thousands of people displaced by post election violence remain in camps because politicians simply do not want them back. Since the 1990s, Kenyan politicians have used ethnic violence to drive away groups that oppose them. It is ethnic cleansing designed to guarantee friendly votes. None other than Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, has been quoted supporting the ethnic evictions.

Last weekend, in a desperate bid to revive his declining public ratings, Raila revisited the ethnic issue. He reiterated his support for a federal republic of ethnically distinct regions. Anyone familiar with Kenyan politics knows what ethnic federalism portends: evictions, looting, rape and killings.

A plot to help the government of South Sudan break a United Nations arms embargo was exposed when a ship carrying Russian made tanks was hijacked in the Indian Ocean by Somali pirates. Apparently, this was not the first shipment.

Stuck with a grotesque caricature of government, Kenyans are wondering what it will take to bring about a people-friendly and visionary leadership. If the deaths of 1,300 Kenyans could not restore sanity in the country’s governance, what will?

How many people must die from hate speech before Kenya’s rulers are full to the brim in the blood of innocents? How many children must die of hunger before the government can respond? How much must be looted before thieving politicians eat rotten beans in jail?

More importantly, how much more can Kenyans take?

Maize discontent could spark chaos

The Kenyan government’s bungling of the maize crisis is not only a display of sheer incompetence by the national leadership, but is setting the stage for political instability and the eventual collapse of the state.

Agriculture Minister, William Ruto, has worsened maize shortages.

Agriculture Minister, William Ruto, has worsened maize shortages.

Massive discontent is growing among Kenya’s people because the government cannot ensure an affordable supply of maize to the poor. The goverrnment sold most of the maize to speculators.

Intelligence reports indicate that Kenyans are angry with a political class that divides the people along ethnic lines so as to exploit the suffering of the masses. The only reason why a rebel force has not emerged in Kenya is because of ethnic distrust perpetuated by politicians. Most Kenyans are slowly awakening to the tragic consequences of ethnic hatred and regret at having participated in ethnic cleansing last year on behalf of leaders that do not care about their plight.

A bitter election between Kibaki and Raila resulted in violence as both claimed victory. 1,500 died and half a million left homeless between December 2007 and April 2008 in tit-for-tat ethnic warfare between Raila and Kibaki supporters. After the election, the two men formed a coalition that is now the cause of weeping and gnashing of teeth in Kenya. Bitterness with the experience runs so high that people have vowed never to vote again.

Though its been a year since the violence, the economy has not recovered. Majority of the displaced cannot return to their former homes as political leaders continually incite ethnic hatred. However, these politicians are doing nothing to ease the hunger of their own ethnic groups. Instead, the ruling elite is wallowing in group sex orgies. Raila’s first born son is married to a woman from President Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group inspite of Raila mouthing anti-Kikuyu venom whenever he meets his supporters.

Kenyans have become so desperately hungry that families in the countryside are eating wild berries, grass and poisonous tubers. Kenya’s poor are going for three days without eating. Economic productivity has declined as hungry workers prefer staying in bed for lack of energy. Children are dropping out of school to help feed the family. Girls and women are plunging into the murky world of prostitution.

A woman admitted on national television to sending her teenage daughter to have sex in exchange for money to feed the rest of the family. The man of the house is bedridden, too weak to earn a living. The woman sells her daughter for 20 shillings a night (US $0.25). This cannot buy a loaf of bread.

The international community is fully aware of how a greedy political elite is plunging Kenya into destruction. Since 2006, the CIA has warned the US White House that Kenya is becoming a failed state. It was because of CIA intelligence that former US President George W Bush met Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete to discuss the likely effects of Kenya’s implosion on neighbouring states.

It is generally agreed in international circles that Kenya should not be allowed to fail. It is worth noting that Tanzania’s President Kikwete played a leading role in the formation of the Kibaki – Raila coalition ended months of ethnic bloodshed in 2008. With the Tanzania border being close to the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, Kikwete was worried about a huge influx of Kenyan refugees.

Kenya is host to the only United Nations office in a developing country. The United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNON) coordinates relief, refugee, education, healthcare and development programmes not only for Africa but for Asia and Latin America.

Most diplomats posted to Nairobi are also managing their countries’ interests across East and Central Africa due to Nairobi’s central location in the region. Thus, Kenya is a prime location whose stability is vital to international institutions and foreign missions.

However, diplomats should stop living a lie. Unless there is drastic change in Kenya’s leadership, calamity will befall this beautiful East African country. The most optimistic statistics show unemployment hovering at well above 40%. Transport and communication infrastructure is collapsing. Electricity and water supply are erratic. Organized crime is on the increase as gangs affiliated to politicians extort protection fees from business.

The police are engaging in killings, abduction and torture of those challenging the ruling elite.In addition to killing over 1,000 young Kikuyu men, security officers have been implicated in the abduction and beheading of a journalist in Kisii. The journalist was exposing corruption rackets involving local police.

The country’s rulers are milking the national treasury dry with scam after scam. Money is wasted on obscene salaries that make the Kenyan president earn as much as the US President. Whatever remains is squandered in prestige projects that have no value to ordinary people. The Nairobi City Council is spending millions of shillings building water fountains as 60% of of the city lacks clean water. The government is purchasing an office block for Shs700 million (US $9 million) as it launches an international appeal to feed the starving.

To worsen matters, shortages in maize are caused by devious deals by Kenya’s ruling elite. President Mwai Kibaki’s associates, Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s family, Agriculture Minister William Ruto and legislators across political parties have been implicated in buying and holding large stocks of maize in the hope of higher prices. This will give them huge profits which they will use for campaigns in the 2012 general elections. William Ruto is said to have personally authorized the state-owned National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to release maize to prominent individuals.

As a result of these activities, maize prices are rising dramatically. A 2 kilogramme packet of maize flour is now selling at 100 Kenya Shillings (US$1.3). These prices are simply out of reach for a country where more than half the population is surviving on less than a dollar a day.

Ironically, while campaigning for the 2007 General Elections, Prime Minister Raila Odinga had waged war against Kibaki for not controlling rising food prices. Back then, a 2 kilogramme packet of maize flour was selling for Kshs65 ($0.8). Raila vowed that, if elected President, he would reduce the price to Kshs30 ($0.38). Though Raila did not win the polls and had to settle for Prime Minister his inability to do reduce food prices has shaken his core support.

A plan that Raila introduced late last year to provide subsidized maize to the poor has fallen flat on its face. Working with his political ally, William Ruto, Raila proposed two sets of maize flour: a government branded package that would sell cheaply and the usual commercial packaging that millers would sell at market rates.

The subsidy plan was politically driven after the Prime Minister was booed in his strongholds. There was no analysis as to the financial viability of the subsidy plan. With the failure of maize subsidy, the government need not worry about the World Bank and IMF breathing fire down their necks. But what is the fate of the ordinary Kenyan for whom the price of food is out of reach?

Surprise rains hit Nairobi amidst growing hunger

A heavy downpour today surprised the city of Nairobi as the Kenyan government launched an international appeal for food aid to save millions of Kenyans.

Nairobi city seen at dawn. Picture by Tobias Buckell

Nairobi city seen at dawn. Picture by Wikipedia

The rains were welcomed by a populace grappling with water rationing and rising food prices following months of dry weather. Rains were reported in Mombasa as well.

In spite of this reprieve from a harsh summer, the rains come too late to save food crops. Most of the maize has withered in farms across the country, especially east of the Great Rift Valley.

With at least 10 million people in danger of starvation, President Mwai Kibaki today led an international appeal for food aid. Currently, the Government and World Food Programme are feeding 1.4 million people under the emergency operation programme. Another 1 million people are also fed through direct Government interventions.

The government needs 37 billion Kenya Shillings (US$468 million) for emergency food requirements, support to schools and for agricultural and livestock interventions.

Meteorologists warn that this off-season rain is temporary since January and February are normally dry months. Incidentally, it was just a few day ago that meteorologists told Kenyans not to expect rains any time soon.

Kenya is suffering the vagaries of climate change. Weather patterns have become erratic, moving from extremes of drought and flooding. Destruction of the country’s forests has worsened the situation. Forests help attract rain clouds, protect soil from erosion and contribute to the flow of rivers.

Currently, forest cover in Kenya has declined to less than 1.5% of the country’s land mass compared to the minimum 10% recommended by the United Nations.

New Year clouded by famine fears

Kenyans welcomed 2009 with joyous celebrations across the country amidst worries over drought and famine.

Concerns for the country’s political stability took a back bench as fireworks, shouts and song filled the atmosphere. For many, this was the first New Year feast in two years.

Last year began with political and ethnic clashes following disputed electoral results. The violence was to last till March 2008 when a peace agreement was signed between President Mwai Kibaki and his rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Amidst the ups and downs of coalition building, little attention was paid to the failure of seasonal rains. Most parts of Kenya, especially east of the Rift Valley, had very little rain in the second half of 2008. This is expected to worsen food shortages that have widely eroded the ratings of the Giant Coalition of Kibaki and Raila.

Just a few weeks ago, rumblings of discontent forced the government to take the unprecedented step of creating to different types of maize flour: one for the well-to-do and the other for the poor. By offering low-priced maize for the poor, Kenya was effectively getting into the food subsidy business which is currently the preserve of wealthier countries.

With clear signs of drought and the famine that goes with it, the government’s food subsidy bill is bound to rise astronomically. Already, the Treasury has ordered government ministries to shelve construction projects.

In their New Year speeches, President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga vowed to tackle high food prices. It remains to be seen how this will be accomplished without either running a gigantic debt or squeezing the earnings of farmers. The second option – lowering farm gate prices – is already running into problems.

While launching its subsidized brand of maize, the government banned millers from buying directly from farmers. Instead, farmers were to sell maize to the state-owned National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) at a fixed price. Maize farmers oppose the directive while wheat growers accuse the government of favouring maize farmers.

2008 food production was hurt by political violence. When the peace deal was signed in March, it was too late for the 2008 crop. Fertilizer stores had been looted and fresh supplies became extremely expensive. Those farmers not affected by violence could not afford fertilizer either, resulting in poor yields.

2009 food production will be affected by lack of rain and continued insecurity in the highly productive farmlands of the Rift Valley where ethnic clashes continue intermittently. Many farmers have not returned to their farms for fear of future attacks. All it takes is fallout between the president and prime minister before full scale violence resumes.

Meanwhile, the continued destruction of Kenya’s forest cover is negatively impacting food production. Once mighty rivers have become seasonal, many have dried altogether. Rainfall in former forest areas has declined dramatically and when it does rain, massive soil erosion is a consequence due to the lack of protective vegetative cover.

With clear evidence of food shortages, the government must import food but like everything else in Kenya, the importation process is mired in corruption and political intrigues.

It’s far from being a fair, transparent process.

Price controls, subsidies to worsen food supply (previous article)

Land debate in Kenya marred by politics

Debate over a new land policy for Kenya is mired in controversy, fuelled by civil society activists and reflective of the country’s political divide.

A recreational park in Kiambu, just north of Nairobi. The privately-owned park was once a coffee farm.

A recreational park in Kiambu, just north of Nairobi. The privately-owned park was once a coffee farm.

A new national land policy proposes a ceiling on individual land ownership to ensure no single individual owns too much land. The policy proposes the repossession of idle land for the settling of the landless and reduction of colonial era 999 year land leases to 99 years. There will also be a tax on idle land, especially in urban areas. Foreign ownership of land will be restricted in order to give greater opportunities for Kenyans to own land.

If the new land policy is implemented, powers of allocation of land will be devolved to local authorities. Under current laws, the President and the Commissioner for Lands can allocate public land without involving local authorities. In past years, the law was used to reward political cronies of past presidents with public plots. Land set aside for schools, roads, churches and sanitation facilities was literally up for grabs. The result was a growth in unplanned settlements lacking playgrounds, parking areas or space for mains services.

Critics of the new laws say that universal ownership of land is a myth that Kenya is attempting to achieve at the expense of land rights. There is little idle land in the country, says representatives of land owners, and it cannot be enough to settle all the landless in Kenya. The Kenya Land Alliance, a body representing land owners, says the law is a threat to property rights and likely to stifle investment.

Ranchers in Laikipia and Machakos have also come up against the proposed land laws. The ranchers say that most of their land is semi arid and therefore unsuitable for the settlement of subsistence farmers. In Taita Taveta, owners of expansive sisal estates also cite the harsh climate of the area as unsuitable for settling the landless. “If you settle people there, they will be depending on famine relief every year,” a resident of the area told the Nairobi Chronicle.

Land owners have asked the government and civil society activists to observe global trends in land ownership in order to avert a catastrophe. Statistics indicate that though the number of farmers in the United States declined in the 20th Century, American food production went up. By 2006, there were less than 3 million farmers out of a total population of close to 300 million. “It just goes to show that it is not necessary for every Tom, Dick and Harriet to own land,” argue land owners, “politicians are using land as a scapegoat for poverty, because it is easy to blame land owners for the poverty of the majority.”

Tied with the ownership of land in Kenya is the controversy over ancestral land rights. Minister for Lands, Dr James Orengo is quoted as saying that the constitutional provision that gives Kenyans the right to live and work anywhere is, “not right.” According to Dr Orengo, people should only own land within their ethnic homelands. It is this kind of logic that is largely blamed for ethnic and political clashes that have rocked the Kenya intermittently since the 1990s. This year, close to 1,500 people died when disputed elections led to ethnic clashes. Over 350,000 were evicted from their homes on grounds that they were not indigenous to those areas.

Further to the debate on land laws, Dr Orengo, said last week that the government will not renew leasehold titles that are currently expiring. Most urban leaseholds run for 99 years, meaning the leases expiring today were issued in the 1900s. Many parcels of land within the Nairobi city centre were issued back then. The announcement sparked anxiety among property owners, forcing Dr Orengo to clarify that extensions will be given especially if the land had been extensively developed. For instance, said Dr Orengo, if there was a skyscraper on the land, then an extension was likely to be given.

A growing population still clinging to traditional values is exerting pressure on the land. Every household desires to own a piece of land for psychological security and satisfaction. Consequently, forests have been cut down to make way for settlements with drastic results on weather patterns. Encroachment on forest land has resulted in the drying up of rivers and longer dry spells. In other parts of the country, populations are spreading to low-lying drylands where food harvests can never be enough even with good rains. Land parcels, traditionally handed over and divided among sons, have become to small for meaningful agricultural activities.

Politicians in Kenya use land to win over voters, hence the politicization of the land debate. Few politicians have the courage to tell their people that the era of free land is over. Its hardly surprising, then, that politicians are in the fore-front in demanding that the government confiscate land from ranchers, multinational plantations and commercial farmers. Some politicians even threatened to lead “Zimbabwe-style” land invasions to recover what they refer to as ancestral lands.

As the land debate rages, agricultural production in Kenya has been in steady decline. Kenya produces less of most commodities than it did thirty years ago. This includes coffee, tea, milk, wheat, barley, cotton and pyrethrum. From being a net exporter, the Kenya of today is a net importer of food. Even maize has to be imported to satisfy national demand due to a larger population.

The only agricultural sector that has grown in recent years is the export of flowers and french beans, collectively referred to as horticulture. The horticultural industry is wholly private-sector driven. It was began by commercial farmers who used fresh water from Lake Naivasha to irrigate the volcanic flatlands of the Rift Valley floor. Currently, horticulture has become so huge that it earns Kenya more money than tourism.

Lake Naivasha is a unique terrestrial phenomenon: its a fresh water lake without an outlet. But apart from geographical lessons, Kenya’s politicians can take home vital truths on the management of Kenya’s land resources for the ultimate benefit of all its people.