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.

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Price controls, subsidies to worsen food supply (previous article)
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Kenyans angered by out of touch leaders

As the year 2008 draws to a close, the problems afflicting the Kenyan people continue to mount by the day, resulting in rising anger that could be a danger to stability.

There are alarmingly frequent shortages of basic consumer commodities, such as food, sugar and fuel. Price hikes are the natural result of shortages, further putting pressure on an economy that is still recovering from the post election violence.

The worst thing about the current shortages is that they are caused by politicians, a rapacious taxation regime and lack of co-ordination within government. The commodities are stockpiled in warehouses and depots but they simply cannot get to retail outlets.

Apart from scarcity in essential commodities, Kenyans are still reeling in shock at how they were manipulated by politicians into butchering their neighbours on ethnic grounds. Today, the same politicians are in bed with each other, sometimes in the strictest sense of the term.

A recent road accident involving Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s son and a grandson of founding president Jomo Kenyatta, opened Kenyan’s eyes to the treachery of politicians. While ethnic groups are up in arms against each other, the children of big-shots were busy partying at 3am on a week day.

The mishandling of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has contributed greatly to discontent with the Kenyan government. After the post elections violence and the formation of the Grand Coalition between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, it was generally assumed that all efforts would be made into getting the displaced back to their homes. Unfortunately, divisions within the giant coalition prevent this from happening.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his ODM party is opposed to the return of mostly Kikuyu settlers into the Rift Valley. Whereas most of the Luo, Kalenjin and Luhya who fled the Kikuyu heartland are back to their old jobs, it is still too dangerous for the Kikuyu to return to ODM strongholds. Some have reportedly been killed in the Rift Valley when they went back to their homes. Others gave up and are resettling themselves elsewhere – with little government help.

One IDP committed suicide in Nairobi’s Dagoretti area after his meat hawking business was shut down by the National Environment Management Authority for alleged pollution of the environment. Another IDP took up a taxi business in Kerugoya but was shot by police who mistook him for a criminal. IDP women, frustrated at the government’s apathy, demonstrated in Nairobi and were clobbered by riot police. Many such tragic cases have been reported.

The indecision of the government over implementation of the Waki and Kriegler Reports has proved beyond doubt that Kenya is a ship without a captain. Though legislators are congratulating themselves for ‘sending’ the Electoral Commission of Kenya home, it still took almost a year to accomplish. Besides, serious constitutional challenges lie ahead in the wake of the last minute decision which, in reality, was meant to protect politicians from the International Criminal Court.

Indeed, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka came to ECK’s defence. Could it be because the ECK’s Chair, Samuel Kivuitu, is from the same ethnic group as Kalonzo?

The refusal of government officials to pay tax has surprised both local and international observers, while the Kenya Communications Bill 2008 is an anachronism in the 21st century.

Meanwhile, the government is attacking private corporations for ‘exploiting’ consumers. This is seen as an attempt to deflect public anger over rising prices and shortages in commodities. However, private entreprise is being blamed for conditions not of its own making. Doing business in Kenya is extremely challenging as companies struggle to break even amidst poor infrastructure, corruption and arbitrary laws. It costs more to transport cargo between Nairobi and Mombasa than it costs to ship similar cargo between Japan and Mombasa.

Blaming private enterprise for exploiting Kenyans sounds more and more like the rumblings of a communist-style purge against ‘exploiters.’ Price controls will create worse shortages and spark off the rise of a black market. Unfortunately, Kenyan leaders will be the driving force in a brutal black market that will rival Zimbabwe’s. Members of Parliament have already been implicated in creating maize shortages.

The problems in Kenya, to paraphrase a Nigerian writer, are first and foremost a failure of leadership. Kenya’s leadership is disconnected from its people through the lack of ideology, short-sighted deeds and insulting words. Kenya’s leadership lacks the vision to drive the country forward and instead is regressing towards infantile politics of chest-thumping and group orgies.

The description of Kenya’s leadership used here should not be construed to mean a particular individual. The problems with Kenya’s leadership are bigger than the personalities involved for they all exhibit the same qualities. For instance, replacing President Kibaki with Raila Odinga will not bring about any changes. Removing Kibaki, Raila and Kalonzo then replacing them with Mudavadi, Ruto and Balala will simply be a game of musical chairs. All these people are part of the problem and can never be the solution.

Kenya’s leadership and its government has lost touch with its own people. The government does not know what the aspirations of the people are, it does not know the challenges that ordinary people face in daily life and neither does it care for the future. National leaders seem to think that increasing salaries, creating commissions and sub-dividing districts will placate the anger of Kenyans.

Already, the money for such tactics is running out. What then?

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.”

Root causes of Kenya’s problems

Kibaki at State House, Nairobi.

Kibaki at State House, Nairobi.

While President Mwai Kibaki will be remembered as the man who bungled an election so badly that the winner will never be known, Prime Minister Raila Odinga has the dubious distinction of inciting ethnic cleansing in full view of the media.

The 2007 elections were the first under a Kibaki presidency. The 2002 polls that got him into power were organized under the tenure of former president Daniel arap Moi. The maladministration of the 2007 elections by Kibaki makes former president Moi look like a Swiss democrat – which he is not.

President Kibaki lost his supporters for failing to protect them from marauding ethnic militias. According to the Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence, chaired by Justice Philip Waki, the government knew in advance that ethnic violence would erupt in parts of Kenya regardless of who won the 2007 elections. No action was taken and the result is at least 1,000 dead and hundreds of thousands unable to return home.

But then, this was not the first of Kibaki’s blunders and neither will it be the last. Kibaki won the 2002 elections under the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), a movement uniting most of Kenya’s politicians. Within one year, NARC was dead thanks to his moribund leadership. A politician who turns hope into despair can hardly be described as inspirational.

The disappearances and killings of thousands of Kenyans especially in the past two years is another cause of anger among Kenyans. Thousands of men and women have been grabbed from their homes in Nairobi, Central Province, Mount Elgon, Mandera and the Coast. The youths were tortured, killed and their bodies dumped in the bushes to be devoured by wild animals.

At the coast, Kenyan citizens were abducted from their homes by security forces and secretly flown to Ethiopia allegedly for sponsoring terrorism. Even the Ethiopians admitted that there was no evidence against the Kenyans but it took over a year for the Kenyan government to facilitate their return to the country.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga shares responsibility with Kibaki for Kenya’s woes. His personality-based battle for the presidency directly and indirectly led to the deaths of thousands of Kenyans.

A five year presidential campaign based on agitation against the Kikuyu ethnic group largely contributed to the violence that rocked the country after the 2007 elections. Between 2003 and 2007, Raila blamed the Kikuyu for his problems with President Kibaki. Diplomats, free from the delusion of reform espoused by the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), say the party was mostly an anti-Kikuyu alliance.

At the Coast, Rift Valley and Western provinces, Raila’s and ODM blamed poverty on the presence of Kikuyu settlers and business people. Unfortunately, poor rural youth believed the propaganda and voted for ODM in large numbers expecting to get land, shops, jobs and business opportunities. During the 2007 campaigns, Raila referred to the Kikuyu as ‘the enemy.’

As Raila was busy lighting ethnic fires, his first born son got engaged to a Kikuyu woman. Another son of Raila’s is close to a grandson of the late President Jomo Kenyatta and buddies with the son of a former top detective – all Kikuyu. Raila Odinga has gone into joint business with prominent Kikuyu personalities.

The other characters who comprise Kenya’s ruling elite are not any better. Most of them are linked to corruption scandals and ethnic incitement. Others are afflicted by poor character. Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka supported ODM’s ethnic-based campaign until he left the party a few months to the election. William Ruto has been implicated in ethnic violence and could easily find himself at the International Criminal Court. Musalia Mudavadi is widely viewed as a spineless politician whose claim to glory is his family name.

Uhuru Kenyatta, son of founding president Jomo Kenyatta, has also been blamed for ethnic violence and could end up alongside William Ruto at The Hague.

Politicians who wanted to form an Opposition to challenge President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila have been accused of hoarding millions of bags of maize, thereby driving up prices for the staple food. Incidentally, the politicians got approval from the Agriculture Ministry – headed by William Ruto.

Its not enough for legislators to decide to pay taxes and assume that Kenyans will be happy. The tax issue is a mere manifestation of a much bigger problem of impunity and lack of respect for the people. Even if the politicians succumbed to pressure and paid taxes, they will find another means of exploiting Kenyans.

Kenya does not have credible leaders at the current moment. The nation needs a complete change in leadership. None of the current crop of leaders should ever be allowed to hold any position anywhere in the republic. Kenyan leaders have reached the end of their usefulness: they cannot produce new ideas, but will merely recycle ethnic garbage to divide and conquer Kenyans.

Kenyan leaders are not for the prosperity of the people but are interested in pursuing the status quo of privilege for the few. That explains why government appointments only benefit their family and friends. The President, Prime Minister and cabinet ministers have filled the government with their brothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, cousins and grand children.

Mass action updates – 16 December 2008

Mass action updates as at 17:30hrs Kenyan time.

– Maseno student leader arrested for distributing T-shirts urging MPs to pay tax. President Mwai Kibaki is scheduled to attend the university’s graduation tomorrow.

– Tomorrow’s media demonstration in Nairobi against the Communications Bill 2008 banned by police.

ODM diaspora attacks Kibaki – Raila duopoly

Press release by ODM Scandinavia branch.

Press release by ODM Scandinavia branch.

This year’s Jamhuri day celebrations in Nairobi were marked by bitter protests by Kenyans which saw the arrest of journalists, brutalization of activists by equally brutal security guards and attempts by a section of protesters to disrupt the Jamhuri celebrations altogether as President Kibaki was giving his key-note speech.

At the center of the protests is the controversial passing by Parliament of the draconian Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008, high food prices that have led to starvation of millions of poor Kenyans across Kenya, failure by MPs to pay taxes for their million salaries and misplaced expenditure and looting of the economy by the ruling class as the country continues to beg for hand-outs from agents of Western imperialism represented by the United States, Britain and the European Union.

The Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008 will basically allow the Minister of Internal Security to raid media houses with impunity, seize equipment, arrest journalists at will and disable the Press anytime in Kenya.

When the Coalition took over government with President Mwai Kibaki as Head of State and Raila Odinga as Prime Minister, the general belief of Kenyans was that the government would move along the path of expanding the democratic space that would accord the media greater freedom. In the absence of a political Opposition on the ground, the media remains the public’s trusted watchdog and it is for this reason that any legislation designed to narrow or reduce Press freedom must remain suspect.

With the media bill a few steps away from becoming law, the message the Coalition government is sending to Kenyans is that the new government is ready to violate the rights and freedoms of Kenyans (including Press freedom) which were won with sweat, pain, life and blood in protracted and bitter struggles that have been well documented in history books. This is unacceptable to say the least.

The scandalous attack on The East African Standard by the Kibaki dictatorship is still fresh in the memories of Kenyans. The new media bill being peddled by the Coalition is designed to facilitate such attacks at anytime, at any media house and for any reason. From the position of ODM-Scandinavia, the enactment of the media bill amounts to a roll-back of the democratic gains of the last three decades, a move that should be resisted by all Kenyans and by any means necessary.

Arrests were illegal, draconian, oppressive and heavy handed

We congratulate the gallant Kenyans who took the unprecedented step of confronting the Kibaki-Raila dictatorship head-on with respect to the key issues mentioned.

Apart from struggle, there is no short cut to freedom and liberation of a people suffering under the yoke of oppression, mass poverty, hunger and deprivation in the midst of plenty. As yesterday’s freedom fighters become today’s sell outs, new revolutionaries have to emerge to continue with the people’s struggle while learning from mistakes of the past.

Hungry Wananchi at Jamhuri

The Orange Democratic Movement in Scandinavia (ODM-Scandinavia) condemns, in the strongest terms possible, the arrest and brutalization of Kenyans who were protesting against the new media bill on Jamhuri day together with those who sought to bring to the attention of the government the reality of high food prices that has created mass starvation across the country at a critical time when millions of Kenyans find it difficult to put food on the table.

Most importantly, ODM-Scandinavia is very disturbed with the arrest of activists who wore T-shirts calling for MPs to pay taxes and which advised Kenyans to stop paying taxes if MPs cannot do the same.

There can be no taxation without representation and if MPs who are supposed to represent the taxpayer cannot themselves pay taxes, then there is no justification whatsoever why Kenyans should continue paying taxes which are, nevertheless, looted by the greedy ruling classes.

We have in mind the arrest of Mwalimu Mati, the Chairman of the MARS Group who was taken into custody together with his wife, the arrest and brutalization of Mr. Odhiambo Owuor who has since been admitted to Nairobi Women’s hospital from where he claimed that members of the Presidential security guards tortured him, the arrest of several journalists who were protesting against the media bill and the taking into police custody of several activists who were simply exercising their freedom of expression in independent Kenya by putting on T-shirts with a political message.

By arresting Owuor, the government has proven its primitivity because it should have accepted Owuor’s message to understand what he wanted to tell the President since he was unarmed and of no threat to the President. Instead, he says that he was almost castrated.

The position of ODM-Scandinavia is that in making the illegal arrests, the action of the government was illegal, draconian, oppressive and heavy handed, given that those arrested had not committed any crime. The illegal arrests is further evidence that there is nothing to celebrate on Jamhuri day because Kenyans now have to go back to struggle to defend freedoms that were won decades ago.

ODM-Scandinavia warns the Coalition government that its attempt to revert Kenya back to the days of dictatorship of the Moi type will not be tolerated by Kenyans under any circumstance. We call for the unconditional release of all those arrested with immediate effect.

Martin Ngatia
Vice Chairperson
ODM-Scandinavia

Mass action update – 14th December 2008

Mass action updates as at 16:15 Kenyan time.

  • Kenyan paramilitary police seal off Uhuru Park following reports of planned rallies.
  • Mwalimu Mati and his wife released from Langata Police Station following protests and blockading of Langata Road by civil society activists.
  • Police seal Kariakor roundabout after Mungiki threaten to demonstrate in the city.
  • Demonstrators dispersed from Ufungamano House.
  • Oscar Foundation head arrested.

Reports by Citizen TV, Nation Media and Capital FM.