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Arms shipments leaving trail of questions

By | March 16th 2011

The Government must be held to account for the weapons saga involving a ship, Maersk Constellation, and the amateurish manner the State has tried to explain its involvement. It must not be allowed to carry on with the shenanigans it is using to cloak the serious matter of military procurement gone awry.

In light of the latest saga, the manner in which the Government buys weapons for the military needs to be reviewed to prevent the process being abused by unscrupulous individuals.

Our armed forces should be properly equipped to maintain the highest state of readiness in a volatile region, but not through antiquated methods.

Two years ago, when a similar controversy emerged over a ship, MV Faina captured by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, the Government played hide-and-seek.

However, it later emerged that private individuals with links to powerful politicians imported the arms on behalf of the Government of South Sudan (Goss), despite a UN arms embargo on sale of weapons to the war-torn region due to the situation in Darfur.

The explanation given by Minister for Defence Yusuf Haji to the Defence and Foreign Relations Committee of Parliament on Monday is hogwash, and he knows it.

Haji claimed the captain of the ship could not declare the weapons on board the vessel to Angola’s port officials, because of fears pirates would target the shipment.

Fighting secessionists

In any case, knowing the various ports of call for Maersk Constellation, and if indeed it owns the weapons, the Government could have exploited necessary diplomatic channels to ensure Angolan authorities were briefed beforehand, rather than have them stumble upon the weapons. It must also be borne in mind that Angola is fighting secessionists in the enclave of Cabinda and would have been on the lookout for any suspicious arms shipments.

The fact that journalists were thrown out of the room where Haji and Chief of General Staff Jeremiah Kianga were being questioned, only added an element of unnecessary subterfuge to the process. The military has remained in the Dark Ages when it comes to procurement.

It now appears that it is in the interest of some in Government to keep the process of acquiring weapons for the armed forces as mysterious as possible because of reasons not related to "national security".

What is so sensitive about Kenya acquiring a couple of American-type guns, anti-aircraft weapons and other munitions to equip its forces? Kenya is certainly not a military superpower in the region, and in any case lacks the financial wherewithal to spend lavishly on the latest military technology. If indeed the weapons came from America, then the US Embassy in Nairobi should shed more light on the matter.

All the cloak-and-dagger stuff being pulled by the Defence Ministry and the speed with which Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua rushed to ‘explain’ after the shipment was exposed only fuels speculation they may be covering up for special interests within and outside Government.

Are Kenyan merchants involved in the global arms trade using the Ministry of Defence as cover to supply weapons in the region? Are they doing so with the full knowledge of the Cabinet?

Following the MV Faina saga, this matter should not be taken lightly. The Horn of Africa is a powder keg with small conflicts constantly flaring up alongside long running wars.

If certain business people are helping to fuel conflict in the Horn of Africa and beyond, by selling arms to various combatants, then they should be stopped from using the Ministry of Defence as cover.

Why hasn’t the Maersk Constellation docked in Mombasa with its shipment of weapons as scheduled? Or were the munitions offloaded in the high seas to free the ship? Why did the Government only claim ownership of the bullets, but not the anti-aircraft guns on board the vessel, hidden under containers of soya?

Under military seal

Somalia is awash with weapons, some of which are finding their way into Kenya and fuelling armed robberies. Other than Somalia, Kenya also shares borders with Ethiopia and Sudan, countries where vast areas are controlled by warlords.

There is a lot of money to be made by selling weapons across the region, and what better cover than to import them with under seal of the Ministry of Defence? This ensures they come under what is virtually a diplomatic seal that overrides regular Customs procedures. If it were not for the fact that corruption is this Government’s second name and has eaten into its very core, we would take Haji’s and Mutua’s explanations as the final word on the saga.

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