Saturday, May 20, 2006



For many years I have entertained the feeling that Kenya would be capable of turning her arid lands into an oasis of agricultural produce. The collapse of the Kibwezi project proves me wrong. This modest effort at dry farming was, according to reports, bringing in one million shillings a month in profits. It had an annual input of some fifty million shillings in donor support from the Israeli and American governments. When the Israelis were running the project it was a model of what a country can do with whatever nature has given you. They set up the project and for ten years run it profitably alongside Kenyans who were to take over thereafter. No sooner had the foreigners walked out than the indigenous well learned rightful owners took over and turned the project into a cash cow to feed their avarice and greed. They not only looted the profits but also the produce. They milked the cow dry forgetting you need to give it fodder for it to produce more milk. The 12,000 acres of model farming have been turned to acres of shame and failure. Let us not forget that this project is located right in the middle of Kamba land where famine is a perennial phenomenon. Year in year out we are treated to pictures of people queuing for meager hand out of famine relief maize and other dry rations. This project was not only a net employer but also a net producer of edible and nutritious commodities.

One does not need to be a professor of agriculture to know the potential that our dry lands have in transforming the food production capacity of our nation. With planning and management we should be net exporters of agricultural commodities. With the example set by Kibwezi, is it any wonder that we are a perennial begging nation? Simple economic management is all was needed not only to sustain the project but to also expand it and commission other projects in other areas.

The current deluge of floods will definitely be followed by prolonged drought, just like the one that preceded it. All this water will eventually be washed into the ocean and with it much of the fertile alluvial soil from our slopes and rangelands. Other than trapping this water for hydro power generation, we hardly utilize it for anything else. Even in the dry areas there are no simple dams built to hold the water for the livestock for at least a few weeks after the rains subside. We must change our focus and style of management. Unless we learn to conserve the few resources we have we cannot expect the donor community to have faith in our ability to manage the billions we go begging each year. Is it any wonder that we are not warmly received by the donor community? Yes we will wax wild that we can do without them, but what are we doing to ourselves? If we were able to sustain projects like Kibwezi and added others from our own resources, then we can afford to thump our chests. Right now it is empty rhetoric and utter futility at covering our shame and failure in management.

After the highlight of the collapse of the Kibwezi project, I am tempted to expect a commission will be appointed to look at the causes of the failure of the project. The report will be filed somewhere and in the meantime the rot will continue and the culprits will still be enjoying their ill gotten wealth. After some time we will be looking for billions to revive the project. This is the banal nature of Kenyan leadership. Start a project with pomp and gusto, invite the top echelons to launch it, talk about its importance in launching our nation into the technological age and our becoming an industrial nation, then like a phantom disappear until the next donor meeting or elections. Look at the Muhoroni rice project; look at the cotton industry; look at the perennial hunger in northern Kenya; look at the perennial floods in Kano and Budalang’i; not to include the roads that are never maintained but need to be rebuilt every few years; the drainage systems in urban centers that drain only the allocated resources and not the storm waters, the list is endless.

Our professors who were running the Kibwezi project must have taught some students some agricultural management, or even economics and administration. I am sure one such graduate could do a much better job in running the whole enterprise and leave the professor to do what they are best at, teaching in the classroom. The culture of appointing managers on the basis of political correctness or tribal balance goes negative to the principles of management which look at the innate qualities of the manager. We must address the issue of corruption, correct the evils of the past and punish the guilty. We must at the same time look ahead and commission the utilization of the arid lands for agricultural production. We can never rise from abject poverty if we cannot feed ourselves, and we cannot feed ourselves if we cannot manage our production capacity and exploit our full potential. Kibwezi must not be allowed to become a national shame.

Charles Wairia

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