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Women rights crusader back as Coast Regional Coordinator

 Coast Regional Coordinator Rodah Onyancha in a past function in Taita-Taveta County where she served as the County Commissioner. [Renson Mnyamwezi, Standard]

Her no-nonsense approach to issues as an administrator may have led to Ms Rodah Onyancha being tapped for the post of Coast Regional Coordinator (CRC).

She is no stranger to the region, having served as the County Commissioner in Taita-Taveta County. Ms Onyancha showed her mettle and bravery during her tour of duty in Taita Taveta, especially in a crackdown on gender-based violence (GBV) against women.

The tough-talking administrator dared local men with a misogynistic tendency to try it with her if they were brave enough.

"If they are men worth their salt, let them come and try me. I am a strong Kisii woman who has eaten cassava to effectively deal with men engaging in gender-based violence," she said sternly.

She told them that she is strong enough and any man who tries her will face the wrath of the Kisii woman who has eaten cassava. The heavily built administrator had been angered by men who failed to protect their women and children from the perpetrators of sexual violence in the region.

Ms Onyancha is among the new regional coordinators promoted recently and posted to head regional administrative units. Prior to her promotion, she was the Machakos County Commissioner in the run-up to the last general elections.

Returning to Coast comes at a time when Taita-Taveta is among counties leading in GBV like defilement, rape, incest, and sodomy which the regional boss will struggle to confront and stamp out during her tenure as CRC. As she took over the office formerly held by the former administrator John Elungata, Onyancha is aware of what is ailing the diverse region.

She is aware that money has been exchanging hands between some corrupt administrators and parents of the perpetrators of the sexual violence against vulnerable groups to buy their freedom through Kangaroo courts. Some unscrupulous chiefs and their assistants have been accused of perpetrating the vice by allowing the determination of GBV cases in their areas of jurisdiction instead of supporting the justice delivery system.

"The county is not badly off in other criminal cases. The only crime that is prevalent and disturbing in the region is defilement and rape which have put the county in the country's map," Ms Onyancha earlier told the meeting in the county.

Without giving figures, Ms Onyancha noted the recent national government quarterly report on crime had put the region the worst hit by defilement and rape cases in the country.

"The county is in the map in defilement and rape in the country. We should expose such weird men to the law enforcement officers for action," she noted.

She shocked a public meeting when she said that a 26-year-old unmarried man is still depending on his parents to provide food for him.

"I am wondering why dozens of men in this region are still single and living in their parents' homes. Such men are the ones sexually molesting our girls," stated Ms Onyancha.

She challenged women to rise up and protect themselves and their daughters in the wake of the rising cases of sexual violence against them.

"How do you feel as a man when your wife or daughter is raped in the forest? How do you accept a goat to resolve a case whereby your wife or daughter has been sexually abused? Men should strive to protect their families from such criminal activities instead of engaging in rampant alcoholism," cautioned the administrator.

"The recent figures released by the NCC are baffling. They show that the county is leading in the number of defilement cases in the Coast and the country at large. We need a county conversation with men and other stakeholders about the rising defilement cases.

We need to talk about the vice that is threatening the girl child's education. Drug abuse among the youth also remains a major challenge among the youth in the region," noted the administrator in the past meeting.

Such GBV cases are also rampant in Kilifi, Kwale, Mombasa, Tana River and Lamu counties. In a recent assessment carried out in the region, the rights groups noted that statistics show that up to 20 per cent of the girls in some areas of the county had dropped out of school due to early marriages and teenage pregnancies while 60 per cent of the women had undergone the harmful cultural practice of female genital mutilation (FGM).

Ms Onyancha will now strive to fit in and solve the myriad challenges in Coast left by her predecessor among them insecurity in Coastal counties like Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi and Lamu.

First, the administrator will strive to address early pregnancies and marriages among young girls and the high dropout rate that has badly affected the girl child education, widespread sale and consumption of hard drugs, illicit brews, unresolved land issues, illegal herding in Tsavo, charcoal burning, environmental degradation and the dilapidated forest cover.

Other issues of concern that need her urgency include terrorism and violent extremism in Lamu, Mombasa and Kwale Counties.

Ms Onyancha will also deal with cases of killing of elderly people on suspicion that they are practising witchcraft in Kilifi and Taita-Taveta counties, and endless land conflicts that have led to deaths.

Her posting to the Coast also comes at a time when Taita-Taveta is increasingly becoming the latest destination hub for heroin slowly taking over from other Coastal counties.

Drug dealers and their networks had been infiltrating heroin from Mtwapa in Kilifi County into the county where two drug agents are operating in Voi Central Business District and are believed to be the major distributors of heroin in Wundanyi, Mwatate and Taveta towns.

"The county has become the new drug trafficking route for heroin from Mtwapa in Kilifi County. We are breaking through the drug dealer's network and we will suppress them," said the county commissioner Loyford Kibaara in a recent interview.

He cited the Nairobi-Mombasa-Malindi highway as a notorious conduit point for drug trafficking into the county.

"The highway has become a major transit route for drugs that are believed to be smuggled into the county from Kilifi County," said Kibaara.

Security organs have also termed the Voi-Mwatate-Taveta-Holili international highway, including the vast Tsavo National Park and Challa and Jipe Lakes shared between Kenya and Tanzania, as other major conduit points for contraband goods and drugs. The drug menace has also been compounded by Taita Taveta's county proximity to the Tanzania border and the port of Mombasa.

"We do not want drug traffickers to make the county a destination for heroin among other hard drugs and we are doing everything possible to dismantle the drugs network.

We are also putting on notice drug dealers that the county will not be their hub anymore. This county will not be a new transit point for hard drugs," warned Kibaara.

Intelligence leads indicate that the suspected drug trafficking agent procure the drug from associates in the neighbouring Kilifi county for distribution and sale in major towns including learning institutions of the county.

Other issues of concern to be tackled by Ms Onyancha include the thorny squatter issue, relief food distribution, religious intolerance, endless land disputes, and persistent water and food insecurity.

As the chairperson of the Coast region security committee, the administrator will also strive to tackle illegal herders in Tsavo, widespread environmental degradation, ethnic differences, mining disputes, persistent human-wildlife conflict and the long-standing boundary disputes between Taita-Taveta and its neighbouring Kwale and Makueni Counties.

Yesterday, ODM nominated MCA Patricia Mwashighadi and public servants described the new CRC as hardworking and who is up to the task.

"The soft-spoken administrator is up to the task. She is not corrupt and she is very strict while discharging her duties," said the legislator.

Ms Mwashighadi says the administrator who served in the county for three years had a good working relationship with all elected leaders.

"The administrator is very disciplined. In fact, when she was transferred to Machakos, locals protested because of her good rapport with the people. She likes following the law and respects people irrespective of social status," added the opposition legislator.

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