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.

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Monday’s gold raises Kenya’s Olympic hopes

Just moments after the Nairobi Chronicle highlighted the mess in Kenya’s Olympic delegation, our athletes managed to bag several gold medals.

There was ecstatic pride across the country in celebration of Kenya’s victory in the races, as Pamela Jelimo and Brimin Kipruto won Kenya’s first gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.

Kenya is today, the highest placed African nation in 18th place with two gold, three silver and two bronze medals. Ethiopia lies 24th with two gold and one silver while Zimbabwe are 30th on the log with one gold and three silver medals. All of Zimbabwe’s medals were won by swimmer Kirsty Coventry.

More on Kenya’s Olympic victories In the Daily Nation website. >>

Kenya’s athletes have done the country proud but a lot needs to change as far as sports administration is concerned. If anything, the sterling performance is in spite of rather than because of our administrators. Kenya’s athletes are hard working professionals spurred to victory by the desire for national and international fame.

Unless something is done about the National Olympic Committee (NOCK), Athletics Kenya and other bodies, we are likely to witness more of the same mistakes in future.

Kenya’s poor show at Olympic games

Kenyans are awakening to the painful reality that our country’s performance at the Beijing Olympics is far below previous trends.

By today, Kenya only had a few medals, all from the longer races. Instead of scoring victories, Kenya’s delegation is plagued by infighting because of bad decisions. The professional conduct of Kenyan Olympic officials is so blatantly incompetent that it borders on sabotage of our sporting aspirations.

The irony is that Zimbabwe, with all its problems, is fairing much better than Kenya.

In a typical example of the woes afflicting the Kenyan team, last minute changes to the women’s 10,000 metres race resulted in a fiasco. Grace Momanyi was replaced by Peninah Arusei, who went on to grab 18th position in the race. Linet Masai, who was defeated by Momanyi during national trials, was allowed into the race and came out 4th place.

Masai claims that she didn’t know that white people could run so fast. She could have won a bronze medal but was overtaken at the last minute by Shalane Flanagan, an American. Arusei attributed her failure to, “a stitch which caused a sharp pain in my stomach.” With excuses like these, Kenyan sports has a very bleak future indeed.

The decision to replace Momanyi caused an uproar within the Kenyan contingent as officials engaged in damage control. Momanyi was so heartbroken that she cried in public and demanded the next flight back to Kenya. Momanyi could not understand how people she had defeated at the trials could be allowed to represent the country at her expense.

Problems for Kenya’s contingent were evident long before this. Infact, as the Olympic flame was lit at Beijing, dozens of Kenyan athletes were stranded in Nairobi for lack of tickets. Meanwhile, officials of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK) were in Beijing a full week before the games. Even the team’s physiotherapist almost missed a ticket!

Still on last weekend’s drama, the Standard newspaper reports that not all of Kenya’s athletes are staying at the Olympic village. They had to get lodgings in other parts of Beijing with little access to training facilities. The affected athletes have complained of being sidelined.

By now, you must be thinking that our people couldn’t possibly do any worse. Brace yourself.

The International Olympic Committee reprimanded NOCK officials for mistreating the media.  According to the Daily Nation, the granting of day passes to Kenyan journalists was, “as hard to come by as Olympic medals for the Maldives.” Following criticism by the world body, Kenya’s chief of mission, Mr David Okeyo, apologized to the press and promised to facilitate access to the Kenyan team by the media.

In the months leading to the Olympics, there were disagreements over training venues and the use of substitutes. Kenyan athletes based overseas were reluctant to train at home. Maybe it is the conduct of NOCK and Athletics Kenya that discouraged them.

Kenya’s Olympic aspirations join the long list of sporting activities that have been ruined by maladministration, greed and political interference. Kenyan soccer is a basket case. Cricket is mired in controversies driven by racial differences. Volleyball suffered the same fate afflicting athletics, as replacements were made abruptly and with no recourse by aggrieved players. Hockey, handball and rallying are in a shambles. However, rugby seems to be doing quite well with impressive scores in recent months.

Kenya still has some hopes in Jason Dunford, who set a new world record in swimming, albeit for seven minutes. The fact that he is a white Kenyan attracted lots of attention from the international press.