Kenya on course in fight against biological weapons, says agency

Education CS Prof George Magoha chats with University Education PS Simon Nabukwesi and Lady Justice Margaret Njoki Mwangi on October 18, 2022, during the opening ceremony of the Biological Weapons National Convention at Sarova Whitesands Resort in Mombasa. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Kenya is implementing the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) that prohibits development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling, and use of biological and toxin weapons.

This emerged at the close of a two-day workshop in Mombasa where key government agencies tasked with the responsibility of protecting citizens against harmful organisms and bio-terrorism threats outlined measures already put in place.

The National Biosafety Authority gave an assurance of its continuous regulation of transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms to ensure such activities do not have adverse effects on human health and the environment.

"As a regulator, we are alive to the fact that terrorists can activate an inactive gene to cause harm; so is the possibility of a mild virus being turned into a lethal virus," said Mary Muai from the authority.

The authority's mandate is to exercise general supervision and control over the transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms.

Eastern African states converged in Mombasa to review progress on implementation of BWC amid rising concerns that harmful agents were being weaponised.

Apart from the peer review, the conference organised by United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) in collaboration with Kenya's National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) also sought to boost preparedness and response to deliberate biological threats.

Moses Sang, assistant director in the Office of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), said they had launched a curriculum on countering proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as well as developing guidelines for prosecution of violators.

"The war on biological threats cannot be won by the ODPP alone; it requires a multi-agency approach. Sharing of relevant evidence and date is important in strengthening prosecution against stockpiling and movement of harmful weapons," said Sang.

The eight signatory countries to BWC are Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Comoros, Djibouti, Somalia and South Sudan are yet to join the convention.

The workshop identified several challenges on the slow pace of implementation of BWC, among them being competing priorities, lack of resources, lack of institutional arrangement, lack of awareness particularly at the policy level, unclear communication channels, gaps in the national legal framework and Covid-19 pandemic that prevented some states from implementing planned activities.

"But amid some of these challenges, Kenya has taken the lead and on course towards implementing the convention," said Prof Walter Oyawa, the NACOSTI director general.

Earlier, there was a call for the countries to involve experts and professionals to develop policies aligned to the convention.

State department for University Education and Research Principal Secretary Simon Nabukwesi said biological weapons remain a threat to mankind and environment.