Jamhuri Day mass action looming

Fed up with a cruel and corrupt leadership, Kenyans across the social divide are planning to express discontent during Jamhuri Day (Independence) celebrations on December 12th.

A past demonstration along Nairobi's Moi Avenue.

A past demonstration along Nairobi's Moi Avenue.

The plans are as varied as the number of groups in the country. There are those calling for a White Ribbon campaign, where everybody attending Jamhuri Day rallies puts on a black shirt and white ribbon as a silent protest.

Then there are those calling for a total boycott of Jamhuri celebrations so that Kenya’s big-mouth politicians face empty stadiums. Debate is raging on whether to advance the boycott to include shunning voting come the next General Elections.

One thing is certain though: a major showdown looms between the politicians and the concerted power of the people. Indeed, the kind of discontent being witnessed in Kenya today has resulted in the toppling of governments elsewhere in the world.

The Kenyan government can take solace in the fact that a uniting personality, such as South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Russia’s Boris Yeltsin or Poland’s Lech Walesa is yet to emerge into focusing the people’s anger towards tangible action.

The White Ribbon campaign is championed by the Mars Group, an anti-corruption body associated with Mr. Mwalimu Mati. Mars wants peaceful mass action as opposed to revolutionary tactics. Mars Group is urging all Kenyans to attend Jamhuri Day celebrations dressed in black T-shirts and white arm bands as a show of solidarity against a thieving political class.

Kenyan legislators, judges, diplomats and other office holders have flatly refused to pay tax, even as they enjoy exaggerated pay. The President of Kenya earns almost as much as the United States president or the British Prime Minister even though Kenya is at the bottom of the development ranks.

Furthermore, Mars Group is mobilizing Kenyans to boycott paying taxes, considering that 85% of the national budget is used to fund a bloated cabinet, paying entertainment allowances, buying luxury cars and building offices. Only 15% of Kenya’s budget is left for roads, water, electricity and health care systems.

To add to the pain, Kenyan politicians have been implicated in the worsening shortages of maize, wheat and sugar. Prices have risen dramatically in the past couple of weeks after politicians took up all the supplies at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) in order to sell to millers at 26% profit. Prices of maize are getting outside the reach of Kenyan families. Consequently, hunger looms as the Christmas festivities draw nearer.

Here’s an excerpt from the Mars website:

Each month Kenya Shillings 102 million (US$1.3 million) will be spent on household and press services for President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila and Vice President Kalonzo, which is more than the funding for roads nationwide. Kalonzo will get 100 million shillings ($1.2 million) for travel this year while people are starving in Ukambani. Raila’s household funding is more than the money allocated for slum-upgrading.

The Kenyan government is not likely to take the prospects of people power lightly and there’s a strong possibility of riot police being unleashed to cause disruption. Due to these fears, there are voices calling for a total boycott of Jamhuri Day celebrations. According to one blogger, walking into stadiums wearing black T-shirts and white ribbons would mark oneself as a target by riot police, with the prospects for arrest.

A boycott of the celebrations would certainly send a wake-up call to the government to change its ways. Considering that Jamhuri celebrations are usually covered by the international media, the spectacle of an empty stadium will be too embarrassing for the government.

It will show the politicians that Kenyans can chart their own destiny and are no longer willing to be used as sacrificial lambs to advance political careers. As Kenyans have been asking, what was the point the violence witnessed after elections, yet the politicians are quick to unite when oppressing the people?

There is bitterness among the Kikuyu ethnic group with President Kibaki for urging forgiveness for the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing. The Kalenjin are disillusioned with Prime Minister Raila Odinga for not appreciating the community’s role in forcing Kibaki to the negotiating table.

At least 1,000 people died in political and ethnic clashes between January and March this year. Hundreds of thousands of others are still living in refugee camps as its too dangerous to return home. Peace talks that ended the post election violence resulted in the current coalition government with Kibaki retaining the presidency and the new post of Prime Minister created for Raila.

Though Raila enjoys fanatical backing amongst his Luo tribe, many are of the opinion that he is not fulfilling his campaign promises. Last week, residents of Raila’s constituency in Langata ambushed a visiting United Nations delegation to protest rising food prices.

Such is the sense of helplessness among Kenyans that the turnout in the next elections will be the lowest in history. It would be interesting because the voter turnout in the 2007 polls was the highest ever recorded since independence in 1963. However, the 2007 polls were messed up so badly that the actual winner will never be known. For this, the government, the Electoral Commission of Kenya and politicians are to blame. None of the competing parties had any intention of conceding defeat.

One woman who lost her home in election violence told a TV station that she will never vote again. “I exercised my democratic rights but I was punished for electing a leader of my choice. Then what is the point of elections if you cannot vote freely?”

An election boycott would be a sign of frustration with Kenya’s politicians. Whoever becomes President, or Prime Minister, will only manage a few thousand votes.

There’s growing realization that only concerted action by Kenya’s citizens will save the country from destruction. Unless action is taken, the next General Elections scheduled for 2012 could be the end of Kenya as we know it.


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.

Kenyans taxed in police crackdown

The Kenyan government has been criticized for using traffic crackdowns on commuter transport to collect hundreds of millions in the form of road fines.

According to public transport drivers, traffic police are arresting and fining them for such things as dusty windshields, faded bodywork and even frayed shirt collars!

The Kenya Police is in the midst of its notorious, “crackdowns” following public pressure to curb rampant road accidents on Kenyan roads. Road safety in Kenya is seriously compromised by poor enforcement of traffic laws, corruption and a crumbling road network. “Its not as though we don’t have enough traffic laws, but the laws are enforced arbitrarily,” says motoring writer Gavin Bennett. “The police can stop you for not having enough air pressure in your tyres while an overloaded bus belching black smoke is waved past you.”

The crackdowns are worsened by the tendency of the police to have them in the morning, during the commuter rush to work. Its common to find hundreds of passengers stranded at major intersections after being forced out of buses and matatus. Of course, the bus operators rarely refund the remainder of the fare to passengers when their vehicles are arrested. However, the effectiveness of the police crackdowns is in doubt as the “offending” vehicles can be seen back on the road in a matter of hours.

Passengers have been hauled into police cells for not wearing seatbelts in public transport vehicles. On any given day, Kenyan courts will be filled with thousands of commuters who will be fined anything between Kshs300 and Kshs500 (US$4.8 – $8). Just before the court hearings, police prosecutors will “advise” the incarcerated commuters to, plead guilty, pay the fine and go home. If you plead “not guilty,” the case could drag on indefinitely with little possibility of an acquittal.

Traffic crackdowns on commuter transport do not happen in the evenings because Kenyan law does not allow police to detain people over-night for traffic offences. For the same reason, crackdowns are rarely done during weekends or public holidays because courts do not open on those days. However, weekday mornings are ideal because justice can be dispensed by mid-afternoon.

By its own admission, the Kenya government collects almost Kshs500 million each year from minor traffic offences. Public transport operators say its a scam to increase government revenue. And from the conduct of the Kenya police and the judiciary, these allegations may just be correct.

Ongoing police crackdowns on passenger transport vehicles across Kenya is worsening an inefficient commuter transport system, resulting in delays and short tempers.

Bus, truck operators irked by new tax

Theres anger and consternation in the transport sector, as the Kenya government placed harsher taxes in a bid to boost revenues hit by political violence early this year.

Commuters look for buses in Nairobi\'s Tom Mboya street.

Matatus on Nairobi’s Tom Mboya street. A new tax will result in higher inspection fees for matatu and truck owners.

Inspection fees for public transport vehicles and trucks will now be pegged on weight and carrying capacity, according to a report in the East African Standard. Previously, the inspection fee was a standard Shs1,000 (US$16). Now, a 14-seater minivan (or matatu) is expected to pay Shs11,000 ($180) as an annual inspection fee. Trucks will pay Shs1,500 per tonne. This means a 26-wheel truck with a carrying capacity of 40 tonnes will have to pay Shs60,000 ($984).

Majority of matatus are owned by small scale operators living in slums and who cannot pay Shs11,000 at short notice. Commercial truckers will simply pass the costs to their clients, with possible consequences on the prices of consumer goods.

The tax is described as an “advance tax,” meaning it has to be paid before the inspection officer begins to look at your vehicle. Passenger and commercial vehicles in Kenya must be inspected at least once a year.

Matatu and truck owners say they government has ambushed them with the tax. There was little publicity about the changes and most transporters had not budgeted for the new tax.