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Kenyans suffer in silence under jaws of vandalism

By Joe Kiarie | July 13th 2013


In a local pub recently, two men got extremely agitated when a barmaid abruptly cut short the benga tunes they were dancing to and started flipping through the television channels. 

She settled on a news bulletin where an item on the Bill that seeks to ban the export of scrap metal was airing, much to the chagrin of the duo.

“What do I have to do with scrap metal? Si superhighway na reli ni ya serikali? Hata chuma ikiuzwa watanunua ingine. (Doesn’t the superhighway and railway lines belong to the Government? They will replace any metal that has been sold),” one shouted.

Perhaps unknown to them, the wanton vandalism of public utility infrastructure is increasingly having stinging effects on local households, which continue to suffer in silence. Mr Benson Karanja’s ordeal perfectly exemplifies the pain vandals are exposing the public to.

At dusk on July 18 last year, the 73-year-old farmer was walking on a busy street in Nakuru town when he tripped and fell into one of the numerous gaping manholes whose covers are believed to have been vandalised and sold to scrap metal dealers.

Much pain

“I was in so much pain but doctors in Nakuru and Nairobi could not tell the exact problem,” he says. “Four days later, I was flown to India where I was admitted after being diagnosed with a broken kneecap and a ruptured tendon,” recounts Karanja.

By the time he was discharged from the Apollo Hospital a month later, Karanja, who was accompanied by his wife, had spent in excess of Sh1.5 million on medical, accommodation and travel expenses.

“I have also spent over Sh500,000 on medical services since coming back to Kenya. I am still undergoing physiotherapy in the hands of a private doctor,” explains the farmer, who says the incapacitating injury has suppressed his productivity.

Yet, the broken knee just capped his perennial ordeal in the hands of vandals. “I was forced to close down my workshop at Railways in Nakuru’s Industrial Area after they robbed me off metallic property worth millions of shillings in three break-ins. “In one instance, they stole the engine pistons and cylinder heads of my lorry’s engine, which had been dismantled for repair. I am yet to afford the Sh300,000 required to buy a new engine. I have suffered similar fate with another lorry and a Land rover,” he reveals, noting that fellow entrepreneurs in the area have not been spared either.

Ms Sharon Ochanji also recalls tripping into one of the dozens of open manholes in Nairobi’s central business district. “As fate would have it, I later broke my leg after falling into yet another hole on Jogoo Road,” she states.

With vandalism of infrastructure in the transport, energy and telecommunication among other sectors resulting in inestimable losses, focus is now on Parliament, where the battle to pass the Scrap Metal Bill 2013 ensues.

Among other key features, the Bill proposes a 14-day delay before scrap metal is smelted to allow the Government inspector to verify the source of the merchandise. A trader found with illegal scrap metal faces a Sh20 million fine or seven-year jail term.

Enactment of the Bill will also see formation of a council to oversee the running of the sector by for instance vetting all applications for a licence, renewal requests and advise the Cabinet on actions to be taken. Scrap metal dealers will need Sh2 million to get an annual dealing permit and shall also be required to keep a record of the type and sources of the metals.

Prof Karanja Njoroge, the chairman of Public Interest Stakeholders in Scrap Metal Industry, which is agitating for the approval of the Bill, says the proposed law is long overdue in curbing vandalism. “We encourage the use of scrap metal as a resource. But we must have rules and regulations on how one acquires, uses and disposes it.

The proposed fines are acceptable to act as a deterrent to unscrupulous traders,” he states. He says imposing a hefty fee on those acquiring dealing license will reduce the number of dealers and boost accountability. According to the chairman, Kenya is losing over Sh16 billion annually to vandals who target public utilities, with Kenya Power among the top casualties. The company recently said it is incurring a cost of Sh3 billion per year replacing vandalised transformers and cables.

Banned export

The Government banned the export of scrap aluminum, steel as well as copper cables four years ago, with the East African Community banning member states from exporting scrap metal in the region. But export data shows that the trade continues, with scrap metal exports fetching Sh2.8 billion last year, almost triple the Sh1 billion earned in 2011. China remains the leading destination.

Prof Njoroge says Kenya is doing itself a great disservice by exporting metal. “We are exporting raw materials that would help us industrialise. And helping other countries industrialise, when we should be exporting ready-made metal products ourselves,” he says. “We have no nation to build when we encourage scrap metal exports”. He says other countries are readily exploiting Kenya’s naivety and lax laws, much to the detriment of the economy. “We are exporting recently acquired metal, with the involved country re-exporting them back to us weeks later as finished products. This does not make any economic sense to Kenya,” he charges.

The chairman calls on Kenya to borrow a leaf from Japan, which leads in car manufacturing despite not producing any iron ore. “They just make good use of recycled products,” he states.

He notes that while the Government has taken long to react to the vandalism menace, the war won’t be won even if the Bill is approved.

“No law will ever win this war on its own. That is why we are still exporting steel when the law prohibits this. We have to teach our children how to safeguard property, especially public utility assets,” he advises. “Otherwise, scrap metal dealers are very powerful and will ensure the status quo remains”.


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