The presidential vote on August 8 is increasingly becoming a question of conscience. It is no longer a simple matter of political affiliation and preference. The voter’s choice easily finds itself on the weighing scales of conscience, making it a moral question. The voter is invited to reflect on the uprightness of the candidates on offer.
Moral foundations are, of course, supposed to be weak in politics. That is why we have been told politics is a dirty game. And so I have watched and listened to government with shock and disbelief on the matter of maize imports “from Mexico.”
Let me give you the context, if you are visiting our country. Kenya is in the throes of an acute food shortage. Prices have gone through the roof. Maize being the staple food, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary, Willy Bett, published a gazette notice on Friday 12 May, lifting duty on maize, milk and sugar. The other two foods are also a challenge.
Two days after the notice, a ship carrying 450,000 bags of maize docked in Mombasa. The CS said it was from Mexico. To believe this you need to operate on refrigerated porridge where other people operate on brains. According to the Sea Travelers Organisation, Cedros Island – which would be the port of departure in Mexico – is 11,964 nautical miles from Mombasa.
Travelling at the speed of 10 knots per hour, a ship requires 49 days and 20 hours to make it from Mexico to Mombasa. If it came from Salina Cruz, it would take 55 days and 15 hours. The very least would be 40 days, 12 hours from Veracruz.
Government tells us the maize ship took only three days. Never mind that there would be need to find the supplier. You would need to negotiate and agree on the terms. Then there would be the processing of papers, inspections and the lot. There would be loading. There would be...Good grief! The Mexico story is a cruel joke.
Realising they had been caught with their pants down, they swiftly changed the story. The maize now came from South Africa. So, let’s see. Cape Town is 2,509 nautical miles from Mombasa. A ship will take 10 days and 11 hours to travel from the Cape to Kilindini Habour. And so the story had to change again. Now another state official said the maize was discovered in the high seas.
Our very caring government just lifted the levies and presto! Someone bumped into some people, idling about with 450,000 bags of maize. They were gallivanting in the high seas, sipping rum, looking for anybody willing to buy their maize.
Believe this, you will believe anything. Soon the story changes to “What the heck! Does it matter where the maize came from? Is it not enough that we are a caring government and that we have brought maize?” Consider a live interview that DP William Ruto gave on TV on Tuesday.
Ann Kiguta: Where is the maize from?
Ruto: We are being trivial. It does not matter where the maize came from.
Kiguta: This is an accountability issue. I will ask again. Where did the maize come from? And I need an answer.
Ruto: I think this is a very unfair question. What’s important is that the maize is here.
I have a hypothesis. But first, let us agree that it is the duty of the government to know where imports of whatever description come from. It is also their duty to know that the imports have proper papers and that they have been inspected and meet national and international standards, before shipment.
When state officers come up with conflicting cock and bull stories, you know what is happening. What is my hypothesis? This maize has the hand of some very senior person in government. The maize was mopped up from the local market and hoarded somewhere in the high seas.
It has been shipped back in the wake of an artificial shortage, to make the government look good, 10 weeks to the polls. This way, the people can vote for this government. Conversely, someone is making huge monies out of it. Hence the subsidies. It is all about elections. That is why Ruto does not want to talk about the source. He says it is “a most unfair question.”
Thanks to the belief that they have pliable ethnic crowds that will vote for them anyway, the top brass in government flounders in arrogance, impunity and unbridled lack of accountability. To ask for accountability is to be “trivial” and to pose “unfair questions.”
This maize story is a disgrace, the scenario distressing. First, someone supplies bad subsidised seed and fertilisers to farmers. Farmers lose tens of thousands of acres of maize to a strange disease. To date, nobody has told the nation the name of that strange disease that hit parts of Uasin Gishu, Nandi and Trans Nzoia last year. Then comes an acute shortage.
The same people who supplied the bad seed and fertilisers bring in government-subsidised maize. It is worse than disgraceful that someone still finds a mouth with which to justify these goings on. While I don’t speak for the political Opposition, I find it reprehensible that this government is in the race for a second five-year term. If this is how it superintends when the incumbent still needs a second term, what will it do when he no longer needs an extra term? I agree with the wag who said that African democracy is about counting heads and not counting what is inside them.
—The writer is a publishing editor, consultant and advisor on public and media relations. [email protected]