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A sad envoy, pitiless maize cartels and Israel’s first failure

Sunday September 15 2019

Galana Kulalu

The maize farm at Galana Kulalu in Tana River County on July 24, 2019. The project has not been a success. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

TOM MSHINDI
By TOM MSHINDI
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It is not really news that Kenya’s extraordinary developmental potential has been severely undermined by barons and cartels that have infiltrated the system and snuffed out its capacity to deliver on promises that have been made to the people.

But it still hurts when it is framed the way the immediate former Israeli Ambassador to Kenya did.

Ambassador Noah Gendler, who left Kenya on Friday, requested a recall to Tel Aviv because, in his words, he had failed to add value to this country and therefore saw no reason of staying on after only two years on the job.

“In the history of Israel, no government-to-government development project has ever failed. I am talking about the Galana-Kulalu irrigation project. It is the first ever to fail in the history of Israel,” he told a local newspaper.

Reason? “Farmers in the maize-growing areas and their political representatives. Maize millers who fought and eventually succeeded in getting the maize-milling component from the contract. They did not want the price of a two-kilo packet of maize meal to sell between Sh60-70.”

Other saboteurs were maize importers who thrive on shortages that allow them to import and reap billions, and of course, politicians who did not want the President to succeed.

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EXCUSES

This contradicts the reasons that the National Irrigation Board leadership has given for failure of the 10,000-acre project that was flagged off with much fanfare in November 2014 and was expected to end in March 2017.

The NIB blames Israeli contractor Green Arava for failing to account for payments given to engage experts.

It speaks of disagreements over rates for items required for the project, et cetera.

But some of the NIB examples relate to works necessitated by 2018 floods, in a project that should have ended in March 2017.

The true explanation for the failure of the Galana-Kulalu project lies somewhere in between the two divergent views.

The ambassador’s position aligns with the criticism directed at the government by once-opposition leader Raila Odinga over the project in April 2017.

He described it as another white elephant of the Jubilee government that had not demonstrated any value for money. He saw corruption and incompetence then.

FOUL PLAY

It does not matter that the ‘handshake’ and the embrace of power has suddenly lifted the mist and he can see clearly now that the project has value and that it can be salvaged if he led the way!

It is not impossible that the contractor may have been complicit in derailing the project by demanding more money and not fully accounting for what had been disbursed.

But this is a project funded largely by Israeli cash and these guys have a very high integrity and credibility threshold.

The Bank Leumi that had earmarked US$71 million for the project, and the Israeli government, could have started corruption investigations if they suspected foul play on the part of the contractor.

Instead, it is the Kenya government firing the contractor and handing the project to NIB to run.

It says the project’s infrastructure is 85 per cent complete on infrastructure and 51 per cent in irrigation.

I understand this gibberish to mean that the project is not complete and will therefore not be adding the expected 400,000 90-kilogramme bags of maize annually to the national harvest.

HUNGER

It means the cartels have won yet again and the horror and embarrassment of hunger killing Kenyans remains.

Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa was two weeks ago smilingly setting up a committee to recommend ways in which Kenya can avoid hunger.

How insane can a system be? Clearly insane enough to consider handing over Galana-Kulalu to the counties to run!

Ambassador Gendler was understandably disappointed with the failure of Galana-Kulalu. But there are positive examples of collaboration between Kenya and Israeli.

We see this in security, in specialised training in the medical space, in agriculture, especially improving daily farming, et cetera.

Clearly, all is not lost. But it will be if high impact projects that could directly benefit millions of Kenyans are handled in such a cavalier manner and efforts to resolve challenges frustrated.

The ambassador apparently could not even secure a meeting with the Foreign Affairs CS!

We must shed the mediocrity that sees the possibility of getting two million tourists as a profound achievement; that sets a target of planting five billion trees in five years and mutes it. This is the loser mentality of liars, cartels and hypocrites.

Tom Mshindi is the former editor-in-chief of the Nation Group and is now consulting. [email protected], @tmshindi

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