Since the 2007 election debacle, pervasive hunger has continued to grow in Kenya, while China and the United States promote and backstop the power of leaders who do not care enough

The population of Kenya has grown roughly 25% since my year “promoting democracy” in 2007-08, from around 40 million to around 50 million. These are loose numbers because they do not reflect anything that is of the highest priority for Kenya’s leaders (and thus those outsiders who promote and underwrite Kenya’s leaders).

Kenya is to conduct a census this year, but the process is politically contentious and corruption makes it hard to carry off undertakings of this nature (another area where the United States seems to be moving toward convergence with Kenya recently). And there is always a new gambit, like “Huduma Namba” that comes along, with the help of Kenya’s politically-connected corporates and foreign corporate foundations, to get in the way of the core functions of the Government of Kenya, like conducting the census.

Unfortunately, although the size of the economy has continued to grow hunger has increased and Kenya remains a “middle income” country where the majority of citizens are inadequately fed. Agricultural performance has actually declined rather than merely grown at an insufficient pace as experienced in many other sectors.

Please take time to read this report from the Daily Nation’ Newsplex: Poor planning and inaction to blame for food insecurity” There are a lot of important facts and figures, but here is a key summary of where things stand:

But despite the decline in the undernourishment rate, which is, however, higher than Africa’s 20 percent, the prevalence of severely food-insecure Kenyans jumped four percentage-points from 32 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2017, resulting in Kenya’s ranking as the eighth-worst on the indicator globally.

Yes, Kenya continues to have a problem with employment as a whole and the failure of the various power generation schemes over the years has been one factor for Kenya’s reliance on imports rather than it’s own manufacturing. But the decline of agriculture is the more immediate and inexcusable problem–and would be much easier to address if it were prioritized–as opposed to yet another questionable power generation scheme.

Kenyan politics: food prices to rise; more stories from 2008

There is lots of daily “news” in the Kenyan presidential race, naturally.  What of this will matter six months from now?  Obviously it is hard to know, but one current headline that is more likely to impact the day to day lives of most Kenyans is the drought in the United States and the accompanying huge drop in the U.S. corn/maize crop.  From the Financial Times, “Food crisis fears as U.S. corn soars”:

.  .  .  The US is crucial to supplying the world with food: the country is the largest exporter of corn, soyabeans and wheat, accounting for one in every three tonnes of the staple grains traded on the global market.

Prices for this year’s corn crop, deliverable in December, have jumped 44 per cent in a month, wheat has rallied 45 per cent, and soyabeans 17 per cent.

The rise in grain prices has inspired comparisons with 2007-08, when a price surge triggered a wave of food riots in more than 30 countries from Bangladesh to Haiti, and 2010, when Russia banned grain exports, setting off a price jump that some have argued helped to cause unrest across the Arab world last year. . . .

For the immediate present, the Kenyan headlines dwell on former Raila Odinga aide Miguna Miguna’s book launch, of Peeling Back the Maskwith sections being serialized in The Nation.  The basic notion seems to be the argument that at this stage of his career Raila is just another Kenyan politician who is not any more careful than the usual suspects about the company he keeps or the people he brings into public positions.  A large point may be that the book, published in London, was launched this weekend in Kenya itself.  This means that Kenya has come a long way on free speech in campaigns; it also means that the Prime Minister does not in fact have equal clout in government or chose not to use it if one compares the treatment of this book to others in recent years.

Initial serialization does include an interesting story of how ODM reached over Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer’s head to appeal to Secretary of State Rice through Sally Kosgei when Frazer was said to recommend formalizing a “qualified endorsement” of Kibaki’s claim to a second term in January 2008.  This is reportedly the background of Rice’s direct intervention to further push the “power sharing” negotiations in February 2008. Those in Nairobi at the time will remember that Ambassador Ranneberger was immediately advocating “power sharing” once the initial U.S. congratulations on Kibaki’s “victory” were withdrawn.

Kenya shilling continues to fall after hitting record low; food prices continue to rise

Economic conditions remain far more challenging in Kenya in the pre-election period than they were in 2006-2007, as policy makers struggle to respond to another 20 percent decline in the Kenya Shilling versus the dollar this year.  Business Daily reports “Kenya shilling falls to 97.20 against dollar”:

At an emergency meeting last week, the Central Bank of Kenya said it would defend the shilling. But some traders said its
absence from the market on Tuesday when the shilling fell through 96.0 for the first time showed its resolve was weak.

“The central bank needs to back up its words,” said another trader. “The trend has been talk big, don’t act.”

Some market players said, however, that if the bank simply offloaded hard currency the reprieve could be short.

“If central bank comes in (to sell hard currency), you may see a reprieve, the shilling may come off its all-time low, but
it’s not sustainable. The shilling will just slip back,” the trader said. “The shilling is on its own.”

Double-digit inflation, deteriorating balance of payments and a crisis of confidence in Kenya’s monetary policy-making
have battered the shilling this year.

Kennedy Butiko, deputy Treasurer at Bank of Africa, said the central bank might not intervene because the shilling’s demise was driven by strong demand for the dollar both at home and abroad.

Another example of the bite of food inflation, also from the Business Daily:

Kenyan households are paying the highest price for breakfast in two years after this week’s double digits rise in the cost of milk.

Leading processors of fresh milk on Monday announced a 10 per cent increase in prices, adding weight to last month’s doubling in the price of sugar and a steep rise in the cost of energy needed to prepare breakfast – the day’s most important meal.

KCC, Brookside and Limuru effected the price changes citing acute supply shortages, and the steep rise in the cost of transportation and packaging.

A half-litre packet of KCC Fresh milk, Ilara and Fresha now sells at Sh33, adding pressure to household budgets – especially at the bottom end of the income bracket.

Museveni defends Gaddafi while inflation soars in Uganda

Museveni reiterated his defense of Gaddafi this week in The Daily Monitor:

President Museveni has reiterated his criticism of the West and attacked Nato for disorganising a friend, whose 42-year rule faces a humbling end.

Speaking at the annual Muslims Iftar dinner at State House, Entebbe on Saturday, Mr Museveni addressed himself on two fundamental issues: The economic crisis at home and the battle for Libya. He accused the West of greed and defended Col. Gaddafi’s mistakes even though, he said, the Libyan leader attempted to go behind his back to hijack his chiefs in Kampala.

“Gaddafi had his own mistakes, he came here and organised my chiefs without telling me. We cancelled that meeting and I warned chiefs because it was wrong,” Mr Museveni said. “But Gaddafi built a mosque for us and as a leader, he had his mistakes, but those Europeans have more mistakes and problems. They think the rest of us are fools except themselves. When there are riots in Africa, they call them pro-democracy and in London, they call them, criminals.”

While inflation in Uganda has hit a 20-year high of 21.4%:

Ugandans will be bracing themselves for even harder times ahead as the continued depreciation of the local currency, rising prices for fuel, essential commodities and food combined to push inflation to a new 20-year high, further threatening the economy’s growth.The Consumer Price Index (CPI) released by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics yesterday indicates that inflation rose from a revised rate of 18.8 per cent in July to 21.4 per cent in August.

This represents a 2.6 percentage point rise, which, though lower than the 3.1 percentage point increase registered in July, still dragged the battered economy over another double digit threshold.

The Director for Macro-Economics Statistics at Ubos, Dr Chris Ndatira Mukiza, said food inflation, which rose to 42.9 per cent from 40.7 per cent, remains the main driver of inflation.

Back in May when Museveni was sworn in for another five year term after 25 years in power, Think Africa Press noted “For the first time in decades, inflation has hit the two digit mark to settle at 11%,” and asked “President Museveni:  Africa’s Marie Antoinette?

One is reminded of Marie-Antoinette of France. Are these leaders in touch with reality? Do they understand the condition of ordinary people of Uganda? And how many Ugandans really depend on land, and how productive is that land? What percentage of farmers are producing for the market? Even for those who have access to land, can they get all that they need from that land? In any case, the root of this inflation can be traced to the colossal amount of money poured into the country during the recent election campaigns. And this was largely by President Museveni himself.

Let them eat cake . . .

From the “Corridors of Power” feature in Nairobi’s The Star:

Caddies at Muthaiga Golf Club have reportedly appealed to the club management to rescind their decision to suspend Ugali from the menu. Our mole tells us that the attendants who carry golf clubs for players have been begging to have the staple food reinstated on the menu at least once a week. The golfers banned the meal a few weeks ago when Kenyans under the banner “Unga Revolution” took to the streets to protest high food prices. …

Sorry, but you don’t have to be at all politically to the “left” in the way that would be understood in the United States (or in France today for that matter) to recognize that Kenya has a problem with the divide between the lingering neo-colonial elite and the other, say 99% of Kenyans.  Skyrocketing food prices have continued to be one of the major factors that prevents the typical hard-working, entrepreneurial Kenyan from being able to make it into the new “middle class”.  Poor performance in government over years by officials who, by virtue of their political power have great resources at their personal disposal (and use those resources to perpetuate that power) is a big part of the reason access to affordable food is so unreliable relative to Kenya’s agricultural potential–and in fact, relative to Kenya’s actual agricultural output.  The Muthaiga Club is one of the places these officials like to separate themselves from their constituents.

Does KSh4,500 for a bag of maize approach a “tipping point”?

There are a lot of good things happening in Kenya that are helping to lay the groundwork for a positive future.   Right now, however, the combination of the plummeting shilling and high inflation focused especially on basic food items and other household necessities, along with an especially severe regional drought is causing suffering and raises questions for the intermediate future as we head into another election year.

Increasing numbers of refugees are flowing to Kenya from Somalia due to drought aside from the fighting, in a situation in which Kenya is already well beyond current capacity under existing refugee arrangements.

The basic situation of high and inflating cost of food staples, drought and refugees is “the usual crisis” in Kenya–its not less severe because it doesn’t get solved but we all somewhat get used to it as “background” and pay more attention to “the next new thing”.  Now however, it is getting worse.  Will Kenyan politicians continue to see this as a challenge primarily for Western donors while focusing on the election?  Is there a “tipping point” where this moves out of the background and disrupts the usual course of things in Nairobi, for better or worse?

“Severe food crisis hits region”, IRIN Global

In Kenya, rising inflation rates have also adversely affected poor households’ ability to buy food. Prices of the main staple, maize, have tripled from about 1,300 shillings (US$14.4) in January to 4,500 ($50) for a 90kg bag.

Recently, the government announced the removal of tax on imported maize in a bid to cushion consumers. But millers say rising global maize prices mean the measure will have little impact on the commodity’s prices locally.

“The problem has been compounded by the fact that the Kenyan shilling has been on a free-fall, trading at an all-time low [about 90 shillings to the US dollar] not experienced in the country for almost two decades. I do not see the cost of maize dropping any time soon,” said a miller who requested anonymity.

The recent March to May “long rains” in Kenya were poor for the second or third successive season in most rangelands and cropping lowlands, with many of these areas receiving 10-50 percent of normal rains, noted the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET).

The consequences include declining water and pasture, and subsequent livestock deaths. In the predominantly pastoralist north, a low milk supply has contributed to malnutrition levels soaring above 35 percent. The GAM rate in northwestern Turkana has hit 37.4 percent, the highest ever in the district.

Nationally, at least 3.2 million people are currently food insecure – up from a projection of 2.4 and 1.6 million in April and January, respectively.

Even in Kenya’s coastal region, thousands are food insecure, says the Kenya Red Cross Society’s (KRCS) region manager, Gerald Bombe.

“There is a need to import maize and distribute food and water to the hardest hit areas,” added Kevin Lunani, a local leader in the coastal Kisauni region.

Figures I read recently would place Kenya as the largest recipient of U.S. aid outside the greater Middle East/North Africa and Afghanistan/Pakistan–in other words greater than any other country in Latin America, Sub Saharan Africa or elsewhere in Asia, for the 2008-2011 period.  I don’t have time to dive into the numbers for serious comparisons, but accepting the general point that Kenya is a particular favorite as a major target of aid for the U.S. we need to ask whether we are accomplishing what we want to accomplish.

Nestle Chairman Says U.S. Biofuel Policy Causes Starvation at Time of Food Crisis

Interestingly, the head of Nestlé lashed out at U.S. ethanol policy yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations as reported in The Independent:

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.






The Cigarette Trade: Kenya moves toward switch from tobacco to food; U.S. should “get right” on this issue

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. . . .

“Kenya:  Tobacco farmers at the crossroads” from AfricaFiles

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.

“Farmers replacing tobacco with food crops in Kenya”  in the New Agriculturalist

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: Delegation takes a hard stance against tobacco”

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. . . .

AFRICOM and the “Whale of Government” Approach? [Updated]

Ok, maybe it’s tilapia instead of whale, but I thought this blog post from AFRICOM public affairs was worth a look:

By Dace Mahanay, Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University graduate student

Note: Dace Mahanay is currently interning with the Borlaug Institute on an AFRICOM agriculture project in Kisangani, DRC. He is sending periodic blogs detailing the project’s progress.

At Camp Base, just outside of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture continues to work with Agriculture Company (AgCo), a company of Congolese soldiers (Forces Armes de la Republique Democratique du Congo, widely known as FARDC), in an effort to provide sustainable methods of food production for the training center and U.S.-trained light infantry battalion. From fish farming to the cultivation of cassava, the needs of soldiers are being met in a sustainable way that is positive for the future of Camp Base and the community of Kisangani as a whole.

The last few weeks have been an exciting time for the agricultural project. A fish farming expert from the U.S. visited the project and provided valuable recommendations for increased production of tilapia and African catfish. The first batch of harvestable tilapia will be ready in the next couple of months and will be an excellent source of protein for FARDC soldiers.

The President’s new development policy invokes a “whole of government” approach, and I did learn last week about some encouraging specifics in coordination, such as the fact that the MCC has, for the first time, executed an actual Memorandum of Understanding with USAID. Nonetheless, if AFRICOM as a military combatant command, is going to be leading agricultural projects in places where we are not openly militarily engaged except in “permanent” and ongoing training and related activities, what are the lines between civilian and military? Between defense/security/diplomacy and development/agriculture assistance?

It sounds like a great program from an agricultural standpoint. Also sounds like it gets into areas that could involve unintended consequences if all the local circumstances are not well understood.

Update: Here is a story raising the issue of reports of rape and murder by the Congolese army:

Government troops are raping, killing and robbing civilians in the same area of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where militias carried out mass rapes more than two months ago, a top United Nations envoy said.

Margot Wallstrom, who is responsible for UN efforts to combat sexual violence in conflict, told the Security Council that UN peacekeepers have received reports of rapes, killings and looting by government soldiers.

“The possibility that the same communities who were brutalised in July and August by FDLR and Mai Mai elements are now also suffering [at the hands of the army] is unimaginable and unacceptable,” she said, referring to the Rwandan-led rebels from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda.

Corruption: Kenya’s Cancer

This is a Sunday dose of impassioned moralism. It may not be to your taste.

AFRICOG has come out with a December report on the Maize Scandal. The Star reports that the Public Education Scandal is about to explode, indicating that the amount of directly missing funds is roughly Sh5.5B, with millions taken each year of the program during the whole course of the program! We are talking here about the rich and powerful exploiting hunger and the poverty of children to line their pockets that much more thickly.

This is not a traffic policeman shaking down a middle class driver for lunch money or petty bureaucratic clerk in a postal service. I don’t claim to be an expert on the world–and I am not arguing abstract development theory. Even if people like Ha-Joon Chang, and to a lesser extent Jeffrey Sachs, are right that Westerners from developed nations tend to overemphasize the importance and explanatory role of corruption in overall economic analysis, I think it is still clear that in Kenya today corruption is a metastasizing cancer that will be the death of meaningful democracy if left untreated. The fact that there is no defined “cure” does not mean that we shouldn’t do our best to treat it.

It is a fool’s errand to have high expectations of the kind of people who steal bread from the hungriest and school funds for the poorest–the bottom line is that they just don’t really care about anyone other than themselves. They can be counted on to be immoral or amoral at best and are not going to be actually subject to moral suasion as opposing to pretending. They might on some occasions for whatever reason do things that are desirable–they may have traits like physical courage or resoluteness or articulation skills that prove useful. But they can never be trusted. Likewise, people that steal elections are not democrats–and as the insightful quote in Michaela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat points out, stealing an election is pretty much the ultimate form of corruption in a democracy: it takes away the very sovereignty of the voting public and steals the most from those who have no other form of power other than the vote.

So what is the treatment? It’s not Tweets, nor, for that matter, blog posts. “Name and shame” doesn’t work where there is no shame. What is required is accountability which means prosecutions and asset seizures. If non-Kenyan actors and institutions want to help they will stop playing Hamlet and decide to consistently be in favor, and act in favor, of this type of actual accountability. The policy of my country, the United States, has been over a period of years, so inconsistent as to be incomprehensible. Likewise the British. France has become a big donor to Kenya for whatever reason–and has spoken some good words, but I haven’t picked up on much in terms of action.

We have arrived now at one of those times when both the US and the UK have shifted some in the direction of expressing dissatisfaction with part of the Kenyan political class in government. We have been here before and they have always in the past “gotten over it” before anyone went to jail or lost his or her ill gotten wealth. Before there was always a distraction or excuse that arose. Some other priority involving some neighboring country perhaps. I certainly hope that those lessons have now been learned. The patient is obviously sick and candy or sugar pills will not take the place of medicine.