We can manage scrap metal trade better and avert sabotage

President Uhuru Kenyatta in January imposed a ban on exports and dealings in scrap metal until there are regulations in place to guide the business. April 4, 2022. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Sisyphus. This name aptly reflects the current state of our economy. Sisyphus was a Greek man punished in a most cruel manner. The Greek god Zeus punished him to roll a large rock up a hill for eternity.

Every time he arrived at the hilltop, the rock would roll back to the base and he would have to roll it up again. This was an exercise in futility.

Sometimes it feels like our economy is doomed to this scenario. After the unprecedented economic growth under former President Mwai Kibaki’s first term, our economy was plunged into the dungeons by the post-election violence. Since then, it has gone through innumerable twists and turns. Some national factors that seem to be sabotaging the economy silently and incrementally include widespread vandalism. 

On January 20th this year, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued a moratorium on the export, buying and selling of scrap metal. The President explained that the goal was to curb increasing vandalism of key installations. This vandalism had adversely affected road barriers, guardrails, utility infrastructure, conductors, cables, copper wire, railway gauge blocks and rails, transformers and other materials.

He even referred to vandalism of such critical installations as ‘nothing less than economic sabotage, which is treasonous.’ Economic sabotage is an act that deliberately undermines a country’s economy. Just as was the case with Sisyphus, economic sabotage keeps pulling down an economy, even when it grows.

Last year on November 22, a train from Mombasa was delayed due to vandalism of the SGR railway line. Such are the seemingly small acts that have the domino effect of sabotaging an economy.

For years, Kenya has been experiencing extensive vandalism on power transmission lines all over the country. This has resulted in economically costly power outages. This came into sharp focus in January this year when the Kiambere-Embakasi high voltage transmission line collapsed, leading to power outage all over Kenya.

It has been verified by Kenya Power that criminals often vandalise the power infrastructure so that they can earn illegally by selling scrap metal or connecting electricity illegally. Indeed, Kenya Power has already incurred losses amounting to more than Sh5.5 million in Murang’a alone due to such vandalism.

In Central Rift, Kenya Power is losing over Sh200 million every month in revenue because of similar challenges. Indeed, Kenya loses billions of shillings annually to the vandalism menace leading to high cost of living, accidents and unnecessary deaths. To add salt to injury, the Kenya Power transformer at former President Kibaki’s home was stolen soon after his burial, not to mention the number of vehicles regularly stolen from innocent Kenyans only to end up in scrap metal yards.

Of course, the current ban was met with protests by a section of politicians citing losses to business community. Nevertheless, the current efforts by the Industrialisation ministry and various stakeholders including the scrap metal council, to review guidelines and rules in the sector, is a welcome move. Vetting and licensing of players by a multi-agency team at the county level is a good suggested addition to the regulations.

The fact that a mandatory record keeping has been introduced and that critical national infrastructure must be sold to Numerical Machining Complex and Kenya Shipyard is a welcome proposed security move. Above all it is ingenious that the team has proposed a self-regulated sector through an association.

In this charged political season, it will be increasingly hard for sane voices to be heard through the political noise. All the more reason why these voices must speak out more. A nation can only be as successful as its leader’s commitment to tackle effects of climate change and foregoing economic disruption.

Have you ever seen a father or mother who undermines the ability of their own households to earn revenue and place food on the table? Kenyans are vigilantly watching to see leaders who will behave in such a manner by condoning economic sabotage. Think green, act green!