Increased Food Insecurity and Misuse of Resources Under President Kibaki
Some say that under President Kibaki, the Kenyan economy has improved. Has it really, and for whom?
By 1978 when Mzee Kenyatta (Kenya’s first president) died, the cost of a 2kg packet of maize flour was Kenya Shillng (Kshs.) 2.80. On December 27, 2002 the cost of maize flour was Kshs. 27. During 24 years of former President Moi’s rule, the price of Unga (maize flour) had increased by Kshs. 24, an average of 1 shilling per year. In 2003 the cost of Unga increased to Kshs. 54; it doubled. In only one year, the current Narc government had increased the price of Unga by Kshs. 27, more than Moi’s government had increased in 24 years. On December 27, 2002, one kilo of sugar cost Kshs. 27, today a kilo of sugar costs Kshs. 85. When Narc assumed office, a litre of paraffin cost Kshs. 22; today it costs 60/=. Under the Narc government, the cost of transport has doubled. In fact, the cost of all basic products has risen by over 100%.
As a result, we the ordinary citizens continue to struggle just to survive from one day to the other. We welcome free primary education; our children are not required to pay school fees. However, with the rising cost of food, children either go to school hungry, or even stay at home. The reason is simple- food is too expensive. In fact, during the Moi era many of us were able to afford both fees and food. Today most of us cannot afford food, even though we are not paying fees.
It is true that the Narc government has made improvements. Farmers are being paid for their produce. Coffee, sugar, tea, milk, maize and many products are better paid today than during the Moi era. Why, then, does the Kenyan farmer continue to struggle? Because the cost of all farm inputs – seeds, fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides – have doubled or tripled. The money the farmers are getting is quickly taken back through these exorbitant prices. Today, 3 out of 5 Kenyans are either starving or on the brink of starvation. In a nation of 30 million, that means around 18 million Kenyans cannot afford to feed themselves every day. Many of us live on one meal a day, and on some days that meal is not available and our hungry children cry until they sleep. Is it because we do not work? Ordinary Kenyans work every day. We till the land, work in factories, flower farms and EPZ (Export Processing Zones). We dig ditches, chip and carry stones from quarries, hawk products on the streets, and run kiosks. Most of us are casual laborers, cleaning homes for the rich, doing clerical work in their companies, mixing concrete in their construction sites. The average casual laborer is paid only 100/= per day to do extremely hard work. 100/= is no longer enough to buy food for a family; unga is 54/=. Paraffin, sukuma wiki (kale), cooking oil, water and rent are supposed to come from the remaining 46/=. That is why we are sleeping on empty stomachs even after working hard.
Where are our MPs?
Since independence, Kenya has never missed a scheduled election. Every 5 years ordinary citizens elect MPs (members of parliament). Their only job (MPs) is to give voice to the people’s needs. Why are they so quiet when food prices increase? During the Kenyatta and partly during Moi’s era, like ordinary Kenyans, MPs’ earned less than 20,000/= per month. Some MPs were rich, but many were ordinary citizens who understood the struggles of ordinary citizens. Today an MP earns over Kshs.600,000 every month. Each month an MP can afford to buy over 10,000 packets of unga, enough to feed his family for 30 years! That is why MPs say nothing about the high cost of food. And, this includes all our MPs (Opposition), not just government MPs. When it comes to voting for their needs, there is usually no difference between our MPs.
Why are Kenyans unable to afford food?
Every year, starving Kenyans are given dry maize because they have no food. The government blames this on lack of rain. It is true that it has not rained in some areas for a long time. But it is also true that all year round, Kenya exports vegetables like French beans to Europe. Kenya is the top exporter of flowers in the world. If there is enough water to irrigate flowers and French beans for Europeans, why not use the same water to grow food for Kenyans? Because the government does not care whether Kenyans live or die.
Kenyans are paid very little salaries for making products that earn billions for foreigners. The government has poor planning, leading to poor policies which have contributed to joblessness; poor remuneration; mismanagement of national resources like water (e.g. a government water project delivers water to a minister’s farm in Kajiado, leaving the rest of the district dry); unexploited talent (educated and trained Kenyans are either unemployed or retrenched); high taxation of citizens (many foreigners who invest in Kenya don’t pay taxes for 10 years while citizens are taxed heavily from the first day); bad politics (if MPs could spend heavily on the 2005 referendum campaigns, why not use the same energy to help starving Kenyans?). Improper, imbalanced education due to poor education policy (the rich have well-equipped private schools, the poor still learn under trees); lack of research on food; etc. The most serious reason, however, is the inequitable distribution of resources.
The gap between the richest and the poorest people in Kenya is one of the highest in the world; we are a nation of a few billionaires and 30 million beggars. 75% of our resources, including land, are controlled by Western world foreigners. As a result, we remain essentially enslaved; nearly all of us work for foreign interests. At the same time, 90 % of all income generated in Kenya is owned by only 10%, meaning that 27 million Kenyans have to fight for only 10% of the income. Sadly, there is no truly selfless leader in Kenya. Poor leadership means that people with selfless nationalism like the former late Nyandarua MP JM Kariuki, are quickly killed, leaving us with selfish and corrupt leaders.
Can food be made affordable?
The government can easily ensure that no Kenyan will ever go hungry. First, foreigners can be taxed and a fund created that would provide Kenyan farmers with interest-free loans. Money leaving the country should be limited, so that money earned in Kenya develops Kenya. We can use existing resources like the military and the National Youth Service to drill boreholes, make water furrows, and construct water reservoirs to harvest rainwater, improve roads and distribute food. Drilling boreholes makes more sense than constructing dams, which are dependent on rains. Education can be improved so that Kenyans are given appropriate training (e.g. teach carpentry, brick making, etc. to all Kenyans, not just prisoners). Kenyans can be encouraged to grow indigenous crops by having an extra tax imposed on all foreign food imports. Kenyans should be allowed to transport food freely from any part of the country, without requiring licenses or paying any fees.
Like other countries, the government must be forced to subsidize the cost of basic food products. If we go by the history of the Moi era, the cost of Unga should increase by 1/= each year. Since in 2002 it was 27/=, the cost of Unga should not exceed 30/=. At the same time, the government should subsidize the cost of kerosene/paraffin which ordinary citizens use. Bunge la Mwananchi (People’s Parliament) believes that there is enough money for the government of Kenya to subsidize Unga and paraffin. By removing taxes on Unga and paraffin, the prices should drop. Further, the government should find money to subsidize basic food products. Kenyans need affordable food, NOT relief food. Queuing for dry maize with our children undermines our dignity and is not a sustainable solution. If food prices are reduced, no Kenyan will go hungry. We are willing to work for our food, as long as the prices are affordable.
Where will the money come from?
The government has plenty of money, it just misuses it. We demand that the salaries of MPs are reduced to no more than 200,000 per month, and like everyone else, the MPs should pay taxes and contribute to the national pension schemes of NSSF (National Social Security Fund) and PAYE (Pay As You Earn). The pension scheme for MPs and health insurance to private hospitals should be scrapped. MPs should join the NHIF (National Hospital Insurance Fund) scheme and go to government hospitals like other Kenyans. The over Kshs. 1 billion set aside in the budget for renovating the MPs’ offices and parliament should be used to subsidize food or establish a fund for capital investment in small businesses for Kenyans. That will generate income and provide employment. The Kshs. 100 million budgeted for building the VP’s (Vice President’s) house and the Kshs. 400 million for renovating State House, should be used for building low cost houses for Kenyans. Like Rwanda, Kenya should sell all expensive government vehicles and replace them with simple/cheaper vehicles, which should only be used during government business and not for taking Ministers’ girlfriends shopping.
If President Kibaki is serious about reducing expenses in government, he should start by firing all cabinet ministers who have refused to give back the extra cars. No public officer should ever have more than one vehicle assigned to him/her. The money saved can be used to improve transport for ordinary Kenyans. All presidential commissions should be immediately abolished; they consume billions and deliver nothing. Spending Kshs. 300 million on Mutava Musyimi’s Anti-Corruption Commission or paying Justice Ringera Kshs 2.5 million per month to fight corruption, is itself corruption. That money can be used in a better way. Government Spokesperson Alfred Mutua should be sacked. Kenya has no need for a spokesman telling us about homesick hyenas in Thailand at a cost of Kshs1.5 million per month. Retreats for MPs should be banned; meetings should be in Parliament not in 5-star hotels in Mombasa. Funding for MPs’ offices in their constituencies should be scrapped; those offices can be run by volunteers at no cost. Pension for retired presidents should not be more than Kshs. 300,000. Imports of locally available products should be heavily taxed. No public funds should ever be used to fund funerals or help individual families unless similar priviledges are extended to all Kenyans.
What can we do?
We have started a campaign to force the government to reduce the cost of Unga to 30/=. We demand that MPs move and pass a motion to remove VAT (Value Added Taxes) on all basic foodstuffs; it is not too much to ask considering that MPs were able to remove taxes on their salaries and vehicles. Before coming to us for votes this year, we the people, want to remind our politicians that we will agitate for reforms that suit us, not “minimum reforms” to ensure that they are re-elected. We will also have peaceful protests nationwide. Support us by giving this message to as many people as possible and joining our organized demonstrations.
By PEOPLE’S PARLIAMENT (Jeevanjee Gardens, Moi Avenue, Nairobi-Kenya; TEL: +254 733 248 301). Other info: http://www.cadtm.org/article.php3?id_article=2438
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