Let’s guard against mortgaging our own country to outsiders

Ever wondered where that tasty tilapia you just bit into came from: Lake Victoria, Indian Ocean or a fish farm in Central? Sorry to disappoint you but chances are that it came from Vietnam, China or elsewhere in the East. Seventy per cent of all tilapia currently consumed in Kenya is imported. 

President Kenyatta announced last month that he was banning the importation of Chinese fish but that decision was quickly reversed or at least put on hold when Chinese diplomats reacted badly to those trade threats. It seemed like a trade war was imminent but truth be told foreign fish will continue to be imported for quite some time since Kenya only harvests 25 per cent or 200,000 metric tons of its required annual demand of 800,000 tons. 

That realisation is sad and shameful when we recall that Kenya has a coastline of 1,400km and a 350 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as well as two of the largest lakes in Africa in Turkana and Victoria. Yet, the fishing industry contributes just 0.54 per cent of the country’s GDP. Just like the maize and sugar industries, a deadly combination of corruption, mismanagement and neglect has left Kenya unable to produce locally even the basic foods that the citizens consume. 

Impoverished and neglected

As Kenya hosts the International Blue Economy Conference, a lot of home truths may have to be digested but opportunities may arise to reverse the current unacceptable demise of the fishing industry. Mr Kenyatta was in the coast this week to launch the Coast Guards and to attend the smaller Blue Economy meet organised by Jumuiya ya Kaunti ya Pwani. Among other declarations and announcements, he ordered the Fisheries Department and the National Land Commission to repossess all public fish landing sites in the Coast and Country. 

This was sweet news to the ears of my colleagues at Haki Yetu who have campaigned for years for the repossession of the fish landing sites and for an increase in the powers and rights of Beach Management Units (BMU) to manage those sites. In our publication, ‘Nowhere to Land’ we showed how 51 landing sites in Mombasa County alone had been grabbed. Fifteen of these were gazetted and the remaining thirty-six were traditional sites that were yet to be gazetted. Traditional fishermen were forced out by hoteliers, beach homes, businesses and night clubs and no one came to their defence. 

Kenyatta announced that one company voluntarily surrendered their ‘title’ to one of these landing sites. We will gladly provide him and the National Land Commission (NLC) with the locations of the other 50 Mombasa sites and the names of the current occupants if they are serious about repossessing all of the sites by March next year as he threatened. The NLC did a much publicised site visit to Kibarani dumpsite earlier this year but they must have seen nearby the two landing sites in Tudor and Shimanzi grabbed by container terminals and private developers. 

The impoverished and neglected fishermen have got little or no support from the county government either although fishing was devolved by the 2010 Constitution. In the CIDP of Mombasa for the period 2013-17, ninety-eight million was budgeted to recover the landing sites and to develop stalls and markets for the fishermen. After executive budget cuts not a shilling went to the fisher folks needs. Construction at Madobini and Mabandini landing sites in Old Town continues right under the noses of the Governor and Nema. 

In 2015, after our advocacy work for the fisher folk the County Government budgeted Sh350 million for the purchase of modern boats and equipment. Once more, nothing materialised. It was only Kenya Commercial Bank, who assisted with the purchase of one well equipped boat.

This makes shocking reading just as the country should be marketing itself with the international guests coming for the Blue Economy Conference. Of course, the real danger is that Kenya just allows overseas trawlers and international companies to open up shop on our shores and create a few jobs for unemployed youth to pack frozen fish for local and foreign markets. That is hardly the investment required. 
The whole food industry is in crisis but that can be addressed without mortgaging or selling the country and its resources to outsiders. The potential is there to invest locally in a clear committed way instead of giving free land in Meru or fishing rights in the Coast to foreigners.

The question is does Jubilee want to benefit from the Blue Economy or do they want their citizens to benefit? 

-Gabriel Dolan [email protected] @GabrielDolan1    

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