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Graft, insecurity stalk Kenyans 51 years into independence

By JACOB NG’ETICH | June 1st 2014

Kenya will be celebrating Madaraka Day — 51 years of self-rule — under the most difficult circumstances.

Kenyans are grappling with a growing wave of insecurity triggered by a series of terror attacks at a time when there is a growing perception that the Jubilee government is losing the war to contain runaway corruption when the shilling is dipping dangerously against the dollar.

Alarm over job losses is perpetuated by unexpected tourist departures, compromising the country’s ability to recover from a potential foreign exchange crunch in the coming months.

Only this week, the government warned that the country could experience a  food shortage in the coming weeks.  Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Felix Koskei warned that going by the current level of stocks, the country was likely to experience a deficit of 720,000 bags of maize by the end of July.

Key role
However, even as he tried to downplay the shortage, the reliance on other players will play a key role in averting the potential crisis.

“The shortfall in maize stocks expected in late July should be met through cross border trade within East Africa, which is expected to pick up from this month,” said Koskei.

But the biggest problem  for Kenyans this year appears to have been sparked by the growing wave of attacks from al-Shabaab terror networks. Last week, observers warned that the inability to provide crime busters with crucial intelligence would continue to undermine the war on  terror.

Urgent pleas
“We have failed to improve and equip security agencies by giving them tools and equipment and more training,” the Director of African Centre for Security and Strategic Studies,  Simiyu Werunga, noted.

As a result, acts of terror and violence meted out by criminal gangs have led to deaths, injuries and loss of property worth billions of shillings.

In a bizarre incident recently, a herder in Kitengela discovered decomposing human remains in a quarry.  Seven other bodies were later discovered from a mass grave nearby. Police are yet to explain the cause of these deaths.

But even as urgent pleas for action on insecurity continue, legislators from the Jubilee and CORD coalitions point to possible mega corruption scandals in government.

Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter first blew the whistle over possible scandal in the awarding of Standard Gauge Railway contract to a Chinese firm.

Critics have accused the government of irregularly and unprocedurally obtaining  Sh327 billion from Chinese interests to construct the railway line at a time the Government’s flagship laptop  project has run into headwinds after courts asked that the supply contract be retendered afresh after probe unearthed irregular dealings because  the Indian firm awarded the tender did not win fairly.

A few months later in May, the government controversially   ordered payment of Sh1.4 billion to  foreign Anglo Leasing companies   without Parliament’s approval in what could emerge as a major scandal in the coming months.

Acting ODM Party Leader Anyang’ Nyong’o told The Standard on Sunday that the Jubilee government had come up short in launching its programmes and had contributed to   spiraling crime, insecurity and corruption.

“Life has become harder for Kenyans. Insecurity is on the rise and corruption mega scandals have become the in-thing. Government officials compete to outshine one another in government mega-deals,” said Prof Nyong’o.

He said the payment to foreign firms  without the approval of Parliament was illegal and the executive should be held responsible to account for what had not been approved.  

“When a section of Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) leaders brought the issue of impeaching President Uhuru Kenyatta, it was not farfetched; he authorised the payment without the authority of Parliament,” he said.

In its defence, the government has come out strongly to accuse previous administrations of  initiating illegal payments to Anglo Leasing and other shadowy firms that were paid for service not rendered or goods not delivered and often the payment costs were inflated.

The biggest challenge to the Jubilee government currently centres around the   tourism sector. Tourism, which is Kenya’s leading foreign exchange earner, is currently facing one of its worst periods with the latest figure indicating that close to 10,000 employees had been laid off in the month of May alone following hotel closures and evacuation of tourists fearful of terror attacks.

The situation was aggravated  by adverse travel advisories from Kenya’s traditional tourist markets of Europe and the US. Recently,  the UK, US, France and Australia issued warnings to their citizens and asked them to avoid visiting parts of the country prone to attacks.

According to the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC) hotels in Mombasa, Malindi and Watamu had closed, rendering thousands of  employees redundant.

Sam Ikwaye, the KAHC Coast branch executive officer, said many hotels had closed down, and those still running were on their knees with bed occupancy  dropping by 20 per cent or more.

In a bid to save jobs and boost the sector, President Uhuru  Kenyatta did not only lift the ban prohibiting civil servants from holding meetings in hotels, but also came up with an incentive to spur local tourism.

He said private companies would be given tax relief on the money they spend on staff holidays. The Government has also embarked on marketing Kenya as tourist destination for visitors from the East, including those from China.

The travel advisories has been criticised by some leaders with Kangema MP Tirus Ngahu dismissing it as an attempt the Western nations to punish Kenya for electing leaders  they could not work with.

“These people are not genuine in their travel advisories. They want to prove a point; otherwise they should also evacuate the British settlers dotted all over the country. Aren’t they also in danger?” asked Ngahu.

However, Mars Group Chief Executive Officer Mwalimu Mati said the problems facing Kenya right now are temporary and can be contained.

“Issues of terrorism, corruption can be arrested and laid to rest. The only thing lacking is the will to slay the corruption dragon and the intelligence to curb cases of terrorism,” said Mati.

Senate Chief Whip Beatrice Elachi said the Jubilee government  had inherited these problems from previous administrations and should be given time to redress them.


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