politics interlude . . . (of course the image of a worker on a tea plantation can be politically freighted . . .)
Not to distract from the “news”, the big events like a second Nairobi Carrefour coming to Karen and competing with Nakumatt. . . but for anyone who is interested in Kenya and
has not actually lived there in recent years, I highly recommend David Ndii’s latest Friday column from Daily Nation, “On hunger, and a nation in need of a conscience“:
Hunger stalks this land. One third of the respondents to Ipsos Synovate’s latest opinion poll answered yes to the question whether they or other members of their households ever sleep hungry.
The facts are much worse that the poll’s finding.
The most comprehensive information on our food situation is in a report published by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics in 2008 titled Food Insecurity Assessment in Kenya.
It shows that over half of Kenyans, 51 percent, consume less than what they require on a daily basis. They consume an average of 1,261 calories per day, against a requirement of 1,683 calories — a shortfall of 422 calories or 25 percent of the daily requirement.
Simply put, half of the country suffers from chronic hunger. . . .
Swiss trader looks up and says, “You must be here to save Kenya’s small family farmers!”
“Could Rwanda’s Kagame get thrown out of the ‘smoke filled room’?” AfriCommons, 13 March 2014
“East Africa Exchange Formally Launched” BizTech Africa, 4 July 2014
“Carter Center release; Initial observations on the ‘Frazer v. Carson’ controversy” AfriCommons, 21 Feb. 2013
“Beth Mugo Admits Kenyatta Family Owns Huge Tracts of Land, But Defends Uhuru” Mwakilishi, 12 Feb. 2013
“How Kosgei pulled strings to block U.S. from endorsing Kibaki presidency” Daily Nation, 13 July 2012
“Kenyan PM Odinga Speaks Out on Election, ‘Dubious’ Role of Jendayi Frazer and Ambassador” AfriCommons, 4 March 2010
As Kenyans and Kenya watchers in the U.S. are recognizing the increasing number of challenges in the political system in preparing for next year’s critical transition election, another key driver of frustration and instability among the wananchi has been high inflation at a time of slower growth. There is some positive news in that inflation has continued to arc downward after peaking at over 20% last November. From The Standard, “Cost of living eases as inflation falls to 5.3%”:
But even as the economy continues to paint a grim outlook, the cost of living dropped with the overall month-on-month inflation falling to 5.32 per cent in September from 6.09 per cent in August.
According to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), the economy expanded by 3.3 per cent compared to a growth of 3.5 per cent in a similar period last year.
Agriculture and forestry slowed substantially growing by 1.6 per cent compared to a growth of 4.2 per cent in the second quarter of last year.
The decline in performance of agriculture was mainly an outcome of a decrease in exports of cut flowers, fruits, vegetables and tea.
Although job prospects for young Kenyans will remain extremely problematic, some relief from the escalation of staple food prices in particular, if it continues, will help reduce pressure on the poor.
Meanwhile, Members of Parliament took care of themselves by amending the Elections Act to allow “party hopping” as reported by The Star:
The MPs approved the Election (Amendment) (No 2) Bill and effectively changed Section 34(8) of the Elections Act which required that a member should be in the party list on which to contest the election three months before the list is submitted to the Registrar of Political Parties.
Now the parties are required to submit their lists not later than January 4. Only those on these lists will be allowed to vie or be nominated to the National Assembly or Senate. Those vying as independent candidates however are guided by a different regulation.
The original Act required that members belong to the party through which they will vie for seats by yesterday, which was three months to January 4.
The changes made yesterday mean that the over 100 MPs who want to leave parties which sponsored them to Parliament will serve their full term without any legal challenge.
According to this story from IRIN, the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture reports that 90% of the food consumed in Kenya comes from smallholder farms. The number of smallholders practicing irrigation has increased from 400,000 to an estimated 700,000 over the past two years, according to the Ministry. Stil just 1.7 percent of the country’s arable land is irrigated, while the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates it has 300,000 hectares with irrigation potential.
On the healthcare front, doctors in Kenya’s public hospitals agreed to end their strike in it’s third week as reported by Capital FM from allafrica.com:
Nairobi — The Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) on Thursday called off its three-week strike after the government pledged to address all the grievances that had been raised by the medics.
After talks with the union officials, Medical Services Minister Anyang’ Nyong’o announced that he had revoked all disciplinary measures that the government had taken on the medics for taking part in the strike.
At a joint press conference with union officials at Afya House on Thursday evening, Nyong’o said the government would also release the salaries that had been withheld from the striking doctors.
The meeting agreed to set up a committee that would address the doctors’ grievances, which included demands for fastracking of a return-to-work formula that had been signed to end a similar strike late last year. . . .
While Parliament had continued to fail to prepare to implement the legislative “gender sharing” requirements of the new constitution for the next Parliament, the National Council of Churches of Kenya has selected its first female chairman:
Canon Rosemary Mbogo, the Provincial Secretary of the Anglican Church of Kenya has been elected the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) Chair.
The position is significant as the Rev. Rosemary is the first woman chair person elected in that capacity since the history of NCCK. Rev. Rosemary will serve in the post for three years. Archbishop TImothy Ndambuki of Africa Brotherhood Church was elected as the Vice Chair. The elections took place during the 61st General Assembly at the Jumuia Conference and Beach Resort, Kanamai in Mombasa. Hundred of delegates from all over the country represented their respective member churches. Currently, NCCK has 26 member churches, among them Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church of East Africa, Africa Brotherhood Church, Episcopal Church of Africa and Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya.
- UK court rules Kenyan torture victims can sue – Houston Chronicle (chron.com)
- Kenyans tortured by colonial regime can sue UK (worldnews.nbcnews.com)
- Lawyer accuses UK of plot to bar Kenyatta (capitalfm.co.ke)
A “must read” this morning on culture, trade and agriculture in the Horn of Africa, from Phillip Hedemann in Die Welt translated at Worldcrunch–read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts:
For many Africans khat is a stimulant drug that also stills hunger pangs. But the world’s biggest seller of khat doesn’t fit the typical profile of a drug dealer.
In Somaliland, not a lot works. Somaliland is a republic in the north of Somalia, which, although it declared itself a sovereign state, is not internationally recognized as such. But one thing you can count on here: Suhura Ismail’s trucks, driven at breakneck speed, arriving as regular as clockwork every night on the unpaved roads. The trucks are delivering khat, a drug that is mostly forbidden in Europe.
In Somaliland, on the other hand, the business is legal – and booming. Up to 80% of all men in the tiny country in the Horn of Africa are addicted to khat. Suhura Ismail says she herself has never tried chewing the bitter leaves. But it has made her rich, and in her homeland, Ethiopia, she is a highly respected entrepreneur.
“I was just voted Businesswoman of the Year,” she says. “And then I got a bill for back taxes amounting to 48 million Birr (1.9 million euros.) But we’ll figure something out. I have good connections with the Prime Minister.”
The 49-year-old mother of ten is the biggest khat dealer in the world. And although she does have a flashy gold tooth, there is none of the usual baggage about her that usually attends international dealers: no body guards, no fake names, no fear of other drug cartels or the police — though the tax man is a bit of a bother.
Then again, this Ethiopian woman would not describe herself as a drug dealer. The devout Muslim sees herself simply as an entrepreneur. Her family business sells between 30,000 and 40,000 kilos of khat each day.
In the 1990s, when coffee prices fell, many farmers in Ethiopia switched to growing khat. Since then, the drug has become one of the country’s major export goods – and the government of the world’s 12th poorest country wants its share. Ismail brings in foreign currency, or at least she does when she pays what she owes the state, which is 30% of her profits.
. . . .
The girl who used to hawk khat from a roadside stand is now an entrepreneur with more than 1,000 employees, as well as her own airline, Suhura Airways. “In the world khat trade, Suhura is uncontestably numero uno,” says Ephrem Tesema, who wrote a thesis at Basel University on the production, distribution and use of khat. “And in Ethiopia she is thought to control over 50% of the market.”
Ultimately, Ismail’s great breakthrough was in removing the stigma associated with the drug. “She did a lot of PR, so in Ethiopia now the leaves are just another commercial product,” says Tesema.
Suhura Ismail says she would like to expand into Europe, and is hoping that the continent’s biggest market, Germany, will legalize the drug. It’s a country she’s familiar with. When her husband started having trouble with his teeth she flew with him to Frankfurt for dental work. Now, back home, his teeth are again in good shape, and he can return to chewing his daily consumption of the green leaves.
Eastern Africa is baking under a merciless sun; the last two rainy seasons have brought no precipitation at all. It is said to be the worst drought since 1950. And hunger comes at its the heels. In Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Uganda, people are suffering like they haven’t in a long while. The UN estimates that some 12 million people are already faced with hunger. And that is likely just the beginning.
There are many indications that the situation will only worsen in the coming weeks. For the moment, many of the regions in eastern Africa are classified by the UNHCR as “emergency” areas. But on Wednesday, the UNHCR declared famine in two regions in southern Somalia and said that it could spread unless enough donors can be found to help those in need. “If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months,” said Mark Bowden, humanitarian coordinator for Somalia.
It is a catastrophe that has been a long time in coming. Experts have been warning of the approaching famine for months and the causes are clear. They also know that the current disaster won’t be the last. As a result of climate change, it has become increasingly the case that rainy seasons fail to materialize in the region. Adding to the problem, the population in the countries currently suffering has quadrupled in recent decades, from 41 million to 167 million. Plus, aid organizations tend to budget most of their money for emergency situations, leaving little left over for wells, fertilizer, seeds and efforts to teach farmers how to make the most from their plots of land — all measures that could forestall the next disaster.
Somalia has been especially hard hit because the Islamists from the al-Shabab militia, who are fighting against the country’s government, have chased almost all aid organizations out of the country. . . .
. . . .
Despite the difficulties, the WFP has managed to more or less rebuild the harbor in recent years. Warships from the European Union anti-piracy mission Atalanta guide freighters full of aid supplies through the pirate infested waters and into the harbor. . . .
. . . .
An equally large problem is the phenomenon known in aid circles as “donor fatigue.” People around the world are becoming tired of sending money to Africa, where nothing ever seems to change. Just last year, the WFP asked rich countries for $500 million to combat hunger on the Horn of Africa. They were unable to raise even half of that. And that despite the fact that the scientists working for the US-based Famine Early Warning System have long been warning that first the crops, then the animals and finally the people themselves would begin dying should the rainy season fail to materialize.
From a USAID press release, “USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah Announces 20 Feed the Future Initiative Focus Countries“:
In 2008, the Lancet identified just 36 countries that are home to 90 percent of all children whose growth was stunted for lack of adequate food. Based on this global burden of undernutrition and other criteria that examined the prevalence and dynamics of poverty, country commitment, and opportunities for agriculture-led growth, the 20 Feed the Future focus countries are: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia in Africa; Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, Tajikistan in Asia; and Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, and, Nicaragua in Latin America.
These countries experience chronic hunger and poverty in rural areas and are particularly vulnerable to food price shocks. At the same time, they demonstrate potential for rapid and sustainable agriculture-led growth, good governance, and opportunities for regional coordination through trade and other mechanisms. USAID will work with strategic partners Brazil, India, Nigeria, and South Africa to harness the power of regional coordination and influence in these focus countries.
Certainly it is encouraging that USAID finds Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda to present potential for rapid improvement–and perhaps the potential of the EAC itself is significant to this. The listing is also a good reminder for Kenya that in spite of its significantly higher level of aggregate and per capita GDP, and overall growth, rural hunger remains all too common. While this seems a constructive approach for USAID, I am skeptical that donors will change the situation dramatically in Kenya until Kenya’s leaders share the priority to a greater extent than they have seemed to in recent years.
Today, 35 per cent of US corn goes into biofuel,” the Nestlé chairman told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York yesterday. “From an environmental point of view this is a nonsense, but more so when we are running out of food in the rest of the world.
“It is absolutely immoral to push hundreds of millions of people into hunger and into extreme poverty because of such a policy, so I think – I insist – no food for fuel.”
Corn prices almost doubled in the year to February, though they have fallen from their peak in the past few weeks. Anger at rising food prices contributed to protests across the Middle East, and rising commodities costs were among the factors pushing UK inflation to 4.4 per cent in February, according to figures out yesterday.
US exports account for about 60 per cent of the world’s corn supply. Demand has surged as more people join the middle classes in emerging economies such as China and India, not just because these new consumers demand more food made from corn, but also because demand for meat has increased and livestock farmers need to buy more feed.
Nestlé, the company behind Shredded Wheat, Nescafé and Aero chocolate bars, has been lobbying European regulators and governments around the world against setting high targets for biofuel use, even though many countries see the production of ethanol as a means of meeting obligations to cut carbon fuel emissions.
The lobbying has fallen on deaf ears in the US, however. Ethanol production from corn is heavily subsidised, with output running at more than 13.5 billion gallons annually. Policies to promote its production are “absurd”, Mr Brabeck-Letmathe claimed yesterday, and meeting a mooted global target of having 20 per cent of fuel demand with biofuels would involve increasing production by one third.
“What is the result? Prices are going up. It’s not very complicated,” he said. “This question is now the number one priority for the G20 meeting in Nice, and the main thing we are going to do is fight against speculation. We are concentrating on the irrelevant.”
Speaking to farmers earlier this month, the Obama administration’s agriculture secretary said he found arguments from the like of Nestlé “irritating”. Mr Vilsack said: “The folks advancing this argument either do not understand or do not accept the notion that our farmers are as productive and smart and innovative and creative enough to meet the needs of food and fuel and feed and export.” . . . .
There are a number of recent biofuel projects at various stages in Kenya. Obviously this is controversial, but without the subsidies so far as I know these projects involve non-food crops, UPDATE: Here is a story this week in AFP about opposition to plans to grow jatropha on 50,000 hectares near Malindi on the Kenyan coast for the European ethanol market.
A few months before I moved to Kenya I helped teach a church seminar on globalization. Mississippi was a pioneer in the state lawsuits against tobacco companies for smoking-related costs and had education programs funded from the proceeds, so it was especially striking to me in preparing to teach to read materials about U.S. advocacy for tobacco exports in negotiating a number of trade agreements. I had also just returned from a trip to Japan where I couldn’t help but notice how ubiquitous “the Marlboro Man” still was. Back in 1999 when I was preparing to teach a program for IRI in Mongolia I saw statistics about the huge increase in smoking during that first post-communist decade and saw very small children peddling cigarettes on the street.
It was in this context that I was especially interested to see a recent post by Thomas Bollyky on the Center for Global Development’s Global Health Policy blog, “Ten Years On, America has Dropped the Ball on the Global Tobacco Epidemic”:
We want to stop American kids from smoking; why don’t we have the same concern for Asian or African kids? Senator John McCain asked that question on the floor of the U.S. Senate fifteen years ago. And, this week, on the ten-year anniversary of President Bill Clinton’s executive order instructing U.S. agencies to take “strong action to address the potential global epidemic of diseases caused by tobacco use,” that same question is still being asked about U.S. policy.
“Smoke and Mirrors: It’s time for Washington to stop giving cigarette makers an open door to developing countries” by Thomas J. Bollyky in Foreign Policy:
Smoking-control efforts in developing countries are stalling in the face of fierce industry opposition. Tobacco industry promotional investments dwarf expenditures on tobacco control in these countries. In 2009, the WHO reported that less than 10 percent of the world’s population is covered by any of the WHO-recommended measures to reduce demand for tobacco and regulate tobacco-industry marketing.
Some policymakers in Washington make the argument that American jobs depend on tobacco companies’ free access to developing countries. But that’s a false choice: Doing more for international tobacco control would not put U.S. jobs at risk. The United States currently exports significant volumes of high-quality tobacco leaf and premium cigarettes to Japan, Europe, and affluent Middle Eastern countries, but hardly anything at all to cost-sensitive developing-country markets. Moreover, cigarette production has largely shifted to overseas factories. With domestic consumption declining, the tobacco industry now provides less than 2 percent of the jobs in the six southeastern U.S. states most associated with tobacco growing and product manufacturing.
In fact, taking the lead on international tobacco control would clearly be in the national interest of the United States. . . .
The battle between pro- and anti-tobacco groups in Kenya ratchets up as market indicators and a ‘fact-finding mission’ has led to a call for the abandonment of the historical cash crop in the Kuria District and beyond. Diminishing tobacco prices, environmental damage and questionable corporate contracts with local farmers have been used as fuel for a quickly expanding political and economic fire. Vested interests on either side have launched campaigns in support of their respective causes while concerns continue over the eventual consequence for Kenya’s fertile ground; particularly given the land’s potential capacity for food production.
Due to the high number of deaths and costs associated with tobacco consumption, the Kenyan government has initiated a programme to alternate tobacco with other crops. “Since the alternation process began more than a year ago, we have managed to introduce several food cash crops to farmers and they are making more money than they would from tobacco,” explains Dr William Maina, who heads the communicable diseases department in the Ministry of Health. Farmers have been provided with loans to help them grow alternative crops, including sugarcane, cotton, oranges, pineapples, bananas, cassava and maize.
The crop alternation process has been influenced by the Tobacco Control Bill, signed by Kenya’s president, Mwai Kibaki, in 2007. While the Bill does not outlaw the cultivation of tobacco, the regulation does call for the promotion of economically viable alternative crops. “The US$300 million we generate in revenue from tobacco is very little considering that we are spending well over US$1 billion treating tobacco related diseases each year,” Dr Maina adds. Government representatives have said that tobacco also threatens food security and has resulted in higher food import costs.
Alternative crops are now being grown on about 40 per cent of the land that was previously under tobacco cultivation. . . .
Kenya on Thursday took a hard stance against tobacco, according to officials attending the WHO FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) Conference of Parties in Uruguay.
The delegation supported the proposed guidelines in articles 9 and 10 of the FCTC calling for a ban of tobacco ingredients in blended cigarettes. Basically, the proposals prohibit use of ingredients to enhance or sweeten cigarette taste.
This stance is at variance with the positions taken by Comesa and African Union countries. The delegation said countries growing the crop were “suffering under tobacco slavery and needing help from Western countries”.
Countries whose economies are heavily dependent on the crop and fearing damages to their economies are said to be heavily aggrieved by the position.
Following the Comesa Heads of states conference, members were urged to oppose the recommended ban on ingredients in tobacco products to preserve the trading bloc’s economies.
Kenyan farmers grow the crop in Western and Eastern parts of the country and cigarettes have become a major trade commodity for British American Tobacco, which exports 60 per cent of its production, and Mastermind Tobacco. . . .
Another drought, more famine. One of the early and formative conversations I had shortly after arriving to work in Kenya was with a judge who encouraged me to take note of the living conditions of the people that he saw in the pastoralist regions when he traveled to remote courts: “it is hard to believe that they are Kenyans” and yet lived in such difficult circumstances.
During the last drought in 2008-09 we had the infamous Maize Scandal, the first big new scandal for the Grand Coalition, and as yet unresolved. How will the Government of Kenya respond this time, or is this just an issue between the outside humanitarians and the locals and not worth notice in Nairobi?
Kenya can best mitigate the devastating effects of recurrent drought by strengthening the livestock sector so that it becomes a viable money-based economy, and improving pastoral food and water security, say aid officials.
“Responding to drought has largely remained a reactive mechanism over the years,” Enrico Eminae, Action Aid Kenya’s Northeast Regional Coordinator, told IRIN. “There is also a lack of a coordinated approach by CSOs [civil society organizations] and government in addressing drought-related issues at all levels.”
According to the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) Secretary-General, Abbas Gullet, drought mitigation should focus on addressing vulnerability factors through activities such as dam construction and investments in irrigated farming in marginal areas.
. . . .
“The story of drought and famine is almost becoming a cliché in Kenya,” noted Damaris Mateche, environmental security analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in Nairobi. “Despite the existing drought early warning systems in the country, drought disaster response mechanisms and coping strategies remain miserably wanting. More often, drought and famine situations degenerate into dire humanitarian crises before the government takes substantial action.” (emphasis added)