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)
*************************************

Advertisements

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.

Price controls, subsidies to worsen food supply

It’s a slippery path that many governments have taken to their ever-lasting regret. It usually starts off as a temporary measure to tackle rising prices for food, fuel and other basic commodities.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his Agriculture Minister, William Ruto, did not say it openly but the Kenyan government is now subsidizing foodstuffs.

Subsidies and price controls are used to calm a restive population from engaging in food riots. In some countries, food riots have toppled governments, hence the Kenyan leadership’s rush to re-introduce price controls and food subsidies.

Economists say that subsidizing food is the worst decision any government can make. It is not sustainable because food prices always rise as a growing population demands more food.

The Kenya government has announced two different prices for maize: one for the poor, the other for the middle class. The government will sell ‘government branded maize meal’ to the poor using a chain of government regulated retail outlets.

If there ever was a way of creating Zimbabwe-style shortages, this is it.

It gets worse: The government has instructed the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to buy maize at Kshs1,950 (US$25) a bag from farmers then sell to millers at lower rates. This means the government has to pay NCPB the difference. The decision was made after maize millers argued that they could not lower prices due to tight margins. With annual consumption of maize in Kenya in the millions of bags, the treasury must find hundreds of millions of dollars for the new subsidy.

The Kenyan government’s intervention will distort the food market to such an extent that the poor will be the biggest losers. There is no guarantee that only the poor will by the cheap, ‘government-branded’ maize. The nature of economics is such that entrepreneurs will strive to obtain the cheap maize at Shs52, then supply it to upper-income retail outlets at Shs72, thereby making a huge profit.

The poor will eventually realize that, while their shops are empty, the supermarkets of the upperclasses will be fully stocked. This is exactly the case in Zimbabwe, where government price controls have twisted the market into epic proportions. It is not that goods are not available in Zimbabwe, but nobody is willing to sell at the state-sanctioned rates. The black market has pushed inflation to world record levels.

With time, the Kenya government will find it impossible to sustain food subsidies. The millers will find it difficult to operate in a restricted market. Yesterday, the government banned millers from buying directly from farmers. Several millers may close shop under such a stifling business environment.

The supply of maize will get worse because a government-controlled distribution chain inevitably breeds corruption. Unlike a free market situation which is dictated by forces of supply and demand, a state-controlled supply chain will create opportunities for kickbacks, horse trading and extortion.

Creating two sets of prices for the same commodity is ill-informed decision making. Why should a supplier sell maize to the poor at Shs52 yet the same commodity can fetch Shs72 a couple of hundred meters away?

The government’s plans to launch ‘branded’ packets of cheap maize are likely to draw the wrath of the World Bank and IMF. In the early 1990s, the Kenyan government implemented the two institution’s recommendations to open up the economy following rampant inflation, shortages and corruption by officials who were supposed to supply the commodities. Since then, supply has been constant even though prices have risen.

In the 1980s, Kenyans had to walk long distances looking for maize, wheat and milk because price controls encouraged hoarding. A similar situation is in store for a population already used to the abundance of liberalization.

There are fears that a black market in maize and other food stuffs may emerge. A black market will fuel inflation and put food prices outside the reach of the majority.

Black markets are controlled by criminal organizations and groups like Mungiki will have a new source of income. At the same time, black markets are not subjected to quality standards and consumers will be exposed to poor quality and dangerous food stuffs.

Discontent on the rise as greedy politicians steal state maize

Kenyan politicians have lost all shame as they out-do each other in squeezing the last drop of blood from the country’s long-suffering citizens.

It is now emerging that politicians and their allies are putting pressure on the state-owned National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to stop selling staple grains to milling companies.

Instead, the NCPB is forced to sell to the politicians at low prices so that they can demand hefty profit margins from millers.

As a result, consumer prices for maize meal have risen from Kshs85 (US1.1) to Kshs120 ($1.5) within a week. The price increase is disastrous in a country where more than half the population is surviving on less than $1 per day.

Kenya’s supermarket shelves are empty, an eerie resemblance to the situation in Zimbabwe. As a result of this unprecedented state of affairs, massive discontent is brewing among the Kenyan populace, as a greedy ruling elite plots the next orgy of rape, murder and ethnic cleansing.

In recent weeks, Kenyan legislators and judges have resisted paying taxes even as manual labourers earning a few dollars a day bear the burden of financing a bloated 42 member cabinet.

*******************************

Below are excerpts of the story from the Daily Nation (click here for the full story).
*******************************

A racket involving senior politicians and businessmen has been blamed for the artificial shortage of maize and maize flour that has hit many parts of the country.

Investigations by the Nation indicate that the politicians have been buying maize from the cereals board and selling it to millers at exorbitant prices.

Letters from the Ministry of Agriculture are being used by the cartel to authorize the purchase of maize from the National Cereals and Produce Board. The cartel later resells the maize to millers at a higher price.

The shortage of maize has seen the price of the staple maize meal shoot from an average Sh85 a week ago to Sh120 for the two-kg packet.

Sources have revealed that those in the cartel, including a number of MPs, have made millions of shillings from the dubious deals.

On Monday, Prime Minister Raila Odinga held a crisis meeting with a Cabinet sub-committee on food security where they decided that middlemen be pushed out of the maize business.

Fears are also emerging that the cartel has been engaging in similar dealings for sugar and fertiliser, whose prices have been on the increase since the beginning of the year.

The politicians and businessmen are said to be buying a 90-kg bag of maize at Sh1,700 ($21.8) and selling it to the millers at between Sh2,200 and Sh2,700 ($28.2 – $34.6).

It is, however, believed that the politicians are not using their money in the shady deals. Instead, they have been acting as brokers. According to one reliable source, several associates of the politicians showed up three weeks ago at the cereals board depots with letters authorizing them to buy 25,000 bags of maize each.

After the dubious deal, each of the politicians earned between Sh12.5 million and Sh25 million ($160,000 – $320,000) depending on the price at which they sold the maize.

The price of maize flour has shot up by up to 50 per cent in the recent past to retail at Sh120. Millers have warned of an acute shortage of the product that was selling at between Sh80 and Sh85 only a week ago.

*******************************

What are your comments regarding the conduct of leadership in Kenya?

Giant cabinet fails over Waki Report

Kenya’s giant 42-member cabinet failed this week to discuss a judicial report implicating its members in violence that killed 1,500 people.

A Cabinet meeting called by President Mwai Kibaki on Thursday was widely expected to decide a government position regarding the report. Currently, the coalition parties – Kibaki’s PNU, Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ODM and the Vice President’s ODM-K – are split on what to do about Judge Philip Waki’s recommendations.

The Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence (CIPEV) was formed as part of the peace agreement between Kibaki and Raila following disputed elections in December 2007. Violence between their supporters resulted in 1,500 dead and close to half a million homeless.

CIPEV has implicated at least six close allies of the President and Prime Minister in the violence, which involved lynchings, hackings, gang rapes and mutilation.

The suspected ethnic warlords in the cabinet have denounced the Waki Report. So strong was the backlash in ODM that a split was imminent after party leader Prime Minister Raila Odinga, supported prosecution for planners of violence. In this, the Prime Minister was seen as pre-occupied with the Naivasha violence where people from his Luo ethnic group were attacked. Apparently, Raila did not realize that in calling for prosecution for Naivasha violence, he would inevitably open the door for ODM supporters elsewhere to face justice over crimes against humanity.

ODM Members of Parliament openly defied their leader as they closed ranks to protect their own. Meanwhile, PNU initially dismissed the report for recommending trials for supporters of President Kibaki. The Waki Report says that a meeting was held at State House to plot the Naivasha attacks but PNU and Kibaki deny such a meeting took place. As PNU puts it, the chaos at Naivasha and Nakuru was retaliation by the Kikuyu for similar violence targetting their kinsfolk in ODM strongholds.

As so many of Kenya’s politicians are implicated in the post election violence, its beginning to appear that a government-led prosecution will be difficult to commence. In effect, the government would be prosecuting itself.

However, the Waki Report has a self-activating mechanism: Should the Kenyan government fail to act by December, the task of prosecuting Kenya’s cruel and corrupt leaders will automatically fall under the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. Already, media reports quote the ICC’s chief prosecutor saying he is ready for the work.

Many of the displaced are yet to return to their former homes as ethnic tension persists in the countryside. Its not only the victims of violence that want justice. There are fears that without punishment for inciters of ethnic cleansing, worse troubles are in store for the country. The next General Election is due in 2012 and presidential campaigns have already began along ethnic lines.

Kenya’s politicians are reportedly having sleepless nights as they await what is described as the “Hague Express.”

Media reprieve for Kenyan politicians

With saturation coverage of Barack Obama’s victory in the US presidential election, Kenyan politicians must be breathing easy as attention is focused away from them.

And with unfolding events in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the media has moved its focus from the 33 tanks held by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. Clearly, General Laurent Nkunda is a much more flamboyant character than the faceless pirates of Somalia.

For sure, the past one week was a godsend for Kenyan personalities whose names feature in the Waki Report. It was no longer necessary to hold press conferences and rallies to defend their names as the media – and Kenyans at large – were simply not interested as Obamania swept the world.

As excitement with Obama’s victory recedes, Kenyans will refocus their attention on their quasi-leaders. The approaching tsunami sparked by the Waki Report is producing aftershocks as civil society and religious leaders call for its full implementation. Diplomats from the United States and Europe have also supported the recommendations of the Waki Report.

Politicians led by President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga have stated that they will not implement the Waki Report. Why? Because they and their supporters will find themselves in jail for the rest of their lives after answering charges for murder, rape, incitement to violence, arson and genocide. At the very least, Kenya’s rulers fear being shunted out of the mainstream as a new crop of clean leaders emerge to fill the inevitable void carved out by the Waki recommendations.

Waki proposed that the perpetrators of violence that rocked Kenya early this year be brought to face the wheels of justice. According to Waki, violence in Kenya is a consequence of years of impunity where people commit crimes and walk around freely.

The most blatant cases of impunity were those related to ethnic clashes between 1992 and 1997 and whose deaths have never been documented for fear of antagonizing perpetrators, most of whom were in powerful government posts.

Out of political sensitivity, Waki declined to name the principle suspects in the violence. He handed a secret list of ten names to former United Nations Secretary General Koffi Annan. It is this secret list that has gotten Kenyan politicians breaking into a cold sweat.

Politicians who just a few months ago were urging Western nations to intervene in Kenya’s politics are now playing the sovereignty card. President Mwai Kibaki, who supported prosecution has changed his mind after his ethnic and business partners were linked to the chaos. People who, in January, dismissed the Kenyan judiciary as incapable of delivering justice now say that there is no need for an international tribunal because our courts are competent enough.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga has made several flip-flops of his own. Initially, he was opposed to prosecution but after the Waki Report was released, Raila supported trials for perpetrators of violence. In his statements, Raila recalled the Naivasha attacks where members of his Luo tribe were attacked by the Kikuyu ethnic group, which supported Kibaki. However, Raila eventually realized that the formation of a political crimes tribunal would affect his own supporters in the Rift Valley province.

Rift Valley MPs, many of whom were implicated in violence, say that they were responding to Raila’s urging for country wide protests and that Raila should also face prosecution as ODM leader.

The drama gets more intriguing because the terms governing the Waki Report state that if the Kenyan government fails to conduct trials, the matter will automatically move to the International Court at the Hague. Kenyan politicians will have no say over the international court’s proceedings unlike those of local courts.

Judge Philip Waki led a Commission of Inquiry to investigate violence that followed disputed elections in December 2007. Supporters of Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his ODM party clashed with security forces and ethnic groups loyal to President Mwai Kibaki. Over 1,000 people died in the clashes. Half a million were evicted from their homes by gangs linked to politicians.

Reformers in Kenya believe that implementing the Waki Report is the best way of peacefully getting rid of a political class that has run the country into the ground. The alternative would be bloody revolt by a citizenry pushed to the limits.

Kenya could be Obama’s downfall

Short of some cataclysmic event, the victory of Illinois Senator Barack Obama in the US Presidential election is almost guaranteed.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

Senator Obama is viewed as having great potential to transform the United States presidency, after the ire it attracted in eight years of President George W. Bush. There’s lots of excitement in Kenya as well, because Obama’s father was a Kenyan. Barack Obama Senior went to the United States as a student, where he met Obama’s mother – a descendant of Irish immigrants.

Amidst all the optimism about Obama, little mention is being made of the fact that Kenya could be Obama’s weakest point. Like the proverbial Greek mythology of Achilles, whose weak point was his heel, Kenya is likely to turn into Obama’s Achilles heel.

By coincidence, the General Election of 2012 will coincide with the next American presidential election. Whatever happens in Kenya between now and 2012 will determine whether or not Obama wins a second term of office.

During the presidential campaigns, Obama’s opponents in the Republican Party made a huge deal about the Senator’s relationship with Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga and the ODM Party. Raila comes from the Luo tribe of Obama’s father and has told the media that he is Obama’s cousin.

Now, problems arise out of ODM’s involvement in post election violence that rocked Kenya in early 2008 resulting in the deaths of over 1,000 people. At least 500,000 were rendered homeless when Raila and ODM rejected election results that gave President Mwai Kibaki a second term in the presidency.

The Commission of Inquiry into Post Election violence, chaired by Justice Philip Waki has blamed most of the top leaders of ODM for organizing violence against rival ethnic groups, or at the very least, condoning it. So heavily implicated was ODM that the party rejected calls for ethnic warlords to face a criminal tribunal on grounds that the tribunal would provoke violence from supporters of the suspected leaders.

To be fair, the Waki Report did implicate President Mwai Kibaki for holding meetings in State House that plotted retaliatory attacks against pro-ODM ethnic groups.

But the challenge for Senator Obama is on how he will interact with Kenyan leaders who have been associated with ethnic cleansing, corruption and electoral malpractices. By choosing to work closely with the leaders, Obama will be viewed as being complacent with their actions. In Kenya, years of impunity have numbed the populace into accepting whatever their leaders do or say. In the United States, any association with masterminds of ethnic warfare will spell doom for any politician regardless of his / her abilities.

That is the dilemma for Obama. Obviously, he is aware of the expectations of Kenyans that, as president of the United States, will play a positive role in influencing events. On the other hand, Obama’s opponents in the United States will be waiting for the slightest hint of co-operating with Kenya’s cruel and corrupt leaders. In other words, Obama can choose to ignore Kenya in order to save his presidency or alternatively, get involved with Kenya and risk everything he is working to achieve.

Kenya is far from being at peace. Ethnic tension is increasing as groups view each other with suspicion thanks to incitement by short-sighted leaders. Operation Rudi Nyumbani (Operation Go Home) launched in May to close refugee camps is mired in failure. Just a couple of days ago, villagers who had returned to their homes in the Rift Valley were attacked and threatened by rival tribes who want them to leave for good.

In Mandera, along Kenya’s border with Somalia and Ethiopia, fighting between rival Somali clans drew the wrath of the military into tormenting civilians instead of bringing culprits to book.

As the economy falters amidst decayed roads, erratic power supplies and water shortages, Kenya’s leaders award themselves huge pay perks that rival those of legislators in advanced countries. The President of Kenya earns almost as much as the President of the United States, yet the American economy is thousands of times bigger than Kenya’s output. Indeed, there are more police officers fighting crime in the city of New York than are employed by the entire Kenyan police force.

The money to pay huge salaries for politicians is obtained from a punitive taxation structure that has driven corporations into bankruptcy. The number of companies which were engaged in actual trading that have collapsed in the past ten years speaks volumes about Kenya’s business climate. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s offices are inundated with applications for new companies whose main activities are speculation while soliciting government contracts.

The political leaders behind the miasma of filth in Kenya are lobbying for amnesty from political, financial and war crimes. They have rejected the Waki Report and its recommendations for prosecution. They rejected the Kriegler Commission when it accused political parties of violent nominations and rigging in their respective strongholds.

Kenya is not out of the dark woods yet, and its clear that major violence is likely to erupt at any moment between now and the year 2012. The way Obama handles the Kenya situation will play a major role in how he is remembered as an American president.

Obama is well advised to be wary of Kenya’s political hyenas for they can bring him down just as easily as they have brought down their own people.