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Why should Mombasa be forced to pay the biggest price for SGR?

COMMENTARY
By Maina Kiai | October 13th 2019
Police clash with transporters during last week’s protest against the government's decision to transport all imported containers through the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) to Nairobi's Inland Container Deport. [Gideon Maundu, Standard]

It did not take too long for the UhuRuto regime to revert to its default position of using force and violence in dealing with dissent.

After three consecutive Mondays of peaceful demonstrations in Mombasa by frustrated, angry and hungry citizens over the illegal order to essentially move the port from Mombasa to Nairobi, the regime brought out the police force to disperse a legal protest and violently arrested some protestors.

I hope someone will take the police to court, in their personal capacities, for this flagrant abuse of the law. Perhaps when police officers understand that there could be a personal cost to obeying or issuing out illegal orders, some change may come.

Given the way this regime operates, the police violence was not surprising, and the protesters were ready.

But they persisted because what is at stake is massive for them. For the state has willy-nilly decided to punish Mombasa for its mistakes around the loan for the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).

Some have been criticising the people of Mombasa for protesting against the illegal directive to force all cargo onto the SGR, asserting that the port is a “Kenyan” resource to be enjoyed by all Kenyans, and that the SGR is for the benefit of Kenyans.

That is nonsense. The issues are about the cost of the SGR and why this regime rejected a much less expensive and workable plan approved and signed by the Coalition government, that would have rehabilitated the old railway from Mombasa to Kisumu at about a third of the cost of the loan for the new SGR.

Coming immediately after the expensive 2013 elections, it is not unreasonable to believe that there is a link between the perverse SGR loan and huge campaign expenses.

Worse, we who are paying for the loan have never seen the loan agreement. For some reason, this is treated as a state secret. Which one of us would ever accept a similar situation in our own villages, chamas or families?

Second, why should Mombasa pay the biggest price for this railway and by force? The impact of the SGR directive has been to hollow out Mombasa’s economy.

The city is shrinking and shops, kiosks, lodgings and businesses are suffering. It would be different if these losses were due to market forces because the SGR was cheaper than road transport. But the truth is that the SGR is more expensive, which is why importers are being forced to use it. Were it not for that, the white elephant that is the SGR would have been clearer long ago.

It is important to note that no one in Mombasa was consulted or participated in the decision to build the SGR or about the effective transfer of a port from the sea to inland Nairobi and later Naivasha.

The constitutional provision on public participation was included precisely to avoid situations such as these, which can lead to trouble and chaos, as well as a loss of tax-payers’ resources.  

If the regime wants to pay for the SGR, perhaps it should simply force coffee, tea and milk farmers in the Rift Valley and Mt Kenya regions to transport their raw products for processing in Mombasa on the SGR at a more expensive rate. Or order that only the new KCC will process milk from farmers and avoid the dominant Brookside monopoly.

This regime was warned, complete with graphs, graphics and statistics, by economist David Ndii that this was a white elephant, but I guess interests other than national were more important. It may not happen soon, but one day the truth will come out.

One of the more worrying side effects of this saga is the reporting being done by the mainstream media. First, they gleefully but falsely reported that last Monday’s protest was violent.

I have spoken to protesters who were there, scanned videos done by bystanders and read social media.

And the only violence that is clear is from the police. Note, there is nothing like a “violent protest.”

There could be “violent protesters” but the fact that one or two, or even 10 people in a protest resort to violence does not make that a “violent protest.”

This “violent protest” terminology is one favoured by dictators and illegitimate authorities in seeking to weaken the exercise of rights.

Second, there are recent reports suggesting that the port is now using trucks and that the regime’s “suspension” of the illegal directive has been effected. (Note that illegalities are revoked, not suspended).

Again, reports from the ground, by transporters who would be reveling if this were true, report that only bulk grains and fertilisers are being offloaded onto trucks, which has been the case even before the “suspension” of the illegal order.

Either the reporters and editors of these mainstream media are too lazy to do their job and verify their reportage, or worse, they have been compromised to report news in a certain way, in the well-known brown envelope culture.

Either way, these inaccurate reports only serve to increase anger and frustration, laying the foundation for more chaos. 

- The writer is former KNCHR chair. [email protected]

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