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Punish those who ran down Kenya's sugar millers

COMMENTARY
By Dennis Waweru | September 23rd 2015

NAIROBI: In his column in The Standard on Sunday of September 13, 2015, Kisumu Senator Anyang’ Nyong’o gave his roadmap for revitalising the crumbling sugar industry in Western Kenya.

 

Prof Nyong’o identified, among other challenges, the problem of sugar smugglers and their determination to ensure shortage persists at whatever cost.

However, he did not offer a plausible proposal on how to solve the problem. Instead, he advised the poor cane farmers to desist from investing in the factories under the privatisation scheme, because they are “archaic, mismanaged, expensive to run and money guzzlers”.

He proposed three more years of extended agony for farmers as they wait on Government “to decide what to do with them (factories)”. Three more years, yes! Is the Senator for real?

More intriguing, Senator Nyong’o proposed that county governments in the sugar belt region reach out to foreigners in Australia and Latin America to “set up a modern sugar factory with modern equipment”.

Put differently, he is admitting we cannot run these factories successfully on our own.

We need the magic of foreigners. He is also saying farmers should keep off the processing and business aspect of sugar production.

The senator is a respected man, a long-serving MP, scholar and former minister in charge of several portfolios.

The assumption is that he would go into the core of the matter and not barely scratch the surface of it. But this is exactly what Nyong’o did in his Sunday opinion.

While some of his adventurous suggestions on getting factories back on the profitable path can pass, he decided to play it safe, for reasons best known to him. He literally avoided taking the bull by its horns.

And this is precisely the bane of any public discourse that avoids the question of accountability for past mismanagement; essentially looting of efficiency and raping of good governance in the sugar industry.

The first step towards restoring profitability of our sugar factories must be the punishment of those who, deliberately, and for personal gain, ran down the once vibrant sugar millers.

This brings to mind the question of corruption and impunity. The twin evils have been gnawing at the growth the country from inside and derailing the Kenyan dream.

For the sugar industry, it is a whole gravy train – in the true sense of the phrase – involving a wide range of accomplices. From top managers of sugar firms, local politicians, policy makers who look the other way as the public is fleeced, to conniving law enforcement agents.

This is the sad story behind the deliberate run-down of once profitable sugar firms and impoverishment of diligent cane farmers over the years.

Any take-off that shields or avoids enforcing accountability for these “soldiers of fortune” presents a false start. Besides, it is also unacceptable to millions of long- suffering Kenyans who depend on the sugar sector, largely from Western Kenya.

A school of thought coalescing around beneficiaries of the sordid past, opines that we should “move on”, forge a new start and take a fresh, blind leap into the future.

Not surprising, this narrative is being forced on Government by proponents of “fresh start” who have found solace in Nyong’o’s sentiments.

It is the pick-up line for Opposition politicians, who themselves, had the chance to implement the same ideas they are forcing onto government.

Oppositions the world over and in functioning democracies, unflinchingly push for accountability at all costs.

They demand prosecution and jailing of those stealing from the State and from the poor. They do no shield them.

Here, we find ourselves in a unique situation, where some are functionally relying on “sugar loot” to organise themmselves in a new constitutional order.

That is why CORD luminaries cannot passionately pursue accountability for past mismanagement in the sugar sector because it will stop at their doorsteps. They would be shooting themselves in the foot and biting the hand that feeds them.

This hypocrisy, whether by Jubilee administration or by CORD, will be the end of us. We must agree to break the egg if we want to make the omelette.

The shell of corruption is holding back so much promise for the Kenyan dream.

The looters and “mis-managers” of the sugar millers are scorning at our lack of resolve. They are basking under our collective lack of valour to confront them and deal them an immortal blow.

It is time we put this agony to a stop. We can then implement all those grand ideas after sending a strong message that no one will put their fingers in the till and get away with it.

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