National Super Alliance (Nasa) presidential candidate Raila Odinga has blamed President Kenyatta and the Jubilee administration for the prevailing hunger in the country.
Mr Odinga on Wednesday accused the government of ignoring warning signs from various experts about a looming maize shortage in order to create a national crisis and enable cartels to profit from the situation.
Addressing a press conference at his Capitol Hill offices in Upper Hill, Nairobi, Mr Odinga spoke of a conspiracy between the Jubilee administration and cartels to import maize from faraway Mexico when it could easily buy the commodity from neighbouring Ethiopia, which registered a bumper harvest of four million metric tonnes.
“This has been a deliberate deception by the government with the intention of assisting famine-brokers make a killing from the drought situation,” he said.
“This is clear from the way the government has handled the issue of importation of maize from Ethiopia.”
The statement comes in the middle of biting hunger occasioned by a severe shortage of maize in the country that has forced the government to import the cereal from Mexico.
Speaking in Nakuru County last Saturday, President Kenyatta warned that the government would prosecute traders who were hoarding cheap maize flour in a bid to rake in millions.
“It has come to my attention that unscrupulous traders are hoarding the cheap maize flour that the government introduced last month,” he said.
“Let them know that the government has powers to prosecute them.”
He said the government’s Sh6.5 billion maize subsidy programme, which has seen a two-kilogramme packet retail at Sh90, would go on until the situation improves.
Mr Odinga accused the government of deliberately frustrating any efforts to import maize from Ethiopia to create room for cartels to make big profits by importing the commodity from Mexico.
He asked Mr Kenyatta to lobby the Ethiopia government to sell the cereal to Kenya in order to address the situation.
“It will be cheaper and it will get here faster,” he said.
“When the President was faced by the ICC matter, he continuously lobbied Ethiopia for their support against the charges he faced. Why is he finding it inconveniencing to go to Ethiopia and lobby them for the sake of hungry Kenyans?”
He also called for the immediate sacking of the Cabinet secretaries Willy Bett (Agriculture) and Mwangi Kiunjuri (Devolution) for deliberately misleading Kenyans on the famine situation.
Mr Odinga cited the government’s refusal to remove the Common External Tariff to enable maize from Ethiopia to enter Kenya since it is not a member of the East African Community.
He added that it was not until mid-April that duty was lifted on maize coming to Kenya.
“This appears to have been a deliberate move to profit some people,” he said.
“The timing coincided with the purchase of maize from Mexico. The government appears to have been intent on ensuring that the importers from Mexico do not get any competition from the Ethiopian importers.”
Mr Odinga noted that despite the government’s move to remove duty on Ethiopian maize, imports from the neighbouring country continue to be charged tariffs at the common border.
“To date, the government has only bought 50,000 metric tonnes of Ethiopian maize, of which only 25,000 metric tonnes have arrived in Kenya,” he said.
“We are receiving more maize from Mexico, which is 45 days away by sea on the other end of the world, than from neighbour Ethiopia, which is only one day away by road.”
He noted that as a result of the government’s actions, the “man-made” hunger is getting worse.
“Supermarkets have ran out of not just the subsidised unga but all sorts of unga. This hunger is clearly manufactured. It is a Jubilee famine created and maintained by the regime’s incompetence, corruption and politics,” he noted.
Mr Odinga hit out at the Jubilee Party for using the Sh90 unga as a campaign tool to win votes, saying people who did not support the government were being denied food.
“This in an antique Kanu method of politics in the election period,” he said.
“We have come from an era where relief food was used to manipulate voters. We are seeing a resumption of this old-style politics.”