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Kenya: a crucial Referendum 0

Kenya hold a referendum on a draft constitution today, seen as important to avoid a repeat of the post-election tribal bloodletting, which took east Africa’s largest economy to the brink of anarchy in 2008.  Justus Mochache Monda, Deputy Chairman of the Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers and Chairman of Pyrethrum Growers Association of Kenya, hopes “yes” will win.

Kenyans have been waiting decades for a new constitution to replace one dating back to independence from Britain in 1963 that critics say has exacerbated corruption and tribalism.

Unlike in 2005 where all opinion polls showed that the country would reject the proposed Constitution, this time the government-led side supporting the new law has consistently stayed in the lead.

The proposed Constitution is part of reforms outlined in Agenda Four of the national accord that formed the grand coalition government and ended the post-election violence in 2008.

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga are the key players in the ‘Yes’ campaign while Higher Education minister William Ruto, former President Arap Moi and a number of key church leaders are driving the ‘No’ campaign.

Kenya has tried to change its Constitution unsuccessfully for two decades. The quest for a new constitution has been motivated by the fact that the current one concentrates a lot of power in the presidency. The new constitution provides for a land commission and repossession of land illegally acquired. These are crucial issues for Justus Mochache Monda, Deputy Chairman of the Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers and Chairman of Pyrethrum Growers Association of Kenya (PGA). “The cardinal opportunity that this referendum will bring to the people of Kenya, especially the rural population, is the devolution of all the government resources from the central government to local assemblies” says Monda, who was asking to present his organisation and the challenges of Kenyan rural areas, especially the Rift Valley, “epicenter of all the political animosity that the country periodically experiences”.

The Pyrethrum Growers Association of Kenya

The PGA is a Business Membership Organization registered under the Societies Act with headquarters in Molo, Western Kenya. Established in 2001, it represents the interests of small scale pyrethrum growers. The creation of PGA was prompted by the decline in pyrethrum production and the farmers’ desire to voice their problems and grievances to the government and other stakeholders. Currently, PGA has 6,000 registered members spread across 20 districts; in each of which PGA has a contact person. The pyrethrum industry, which involves flower growing and oil extraction is governed by the Pyrethrum Act 1963 (CAP 340).  The Pyrethrum Board of Kenya is the sole monopoly purchaser of flowers, processor and marketer of extract.

The structures and governance of the Association are based on a grass roots model with elections of the officials taking place according to the Association’s Constitution. The highest governing council of the organization is the congress. The congress meets every four years after the national elections. The other key officials are the Secretary, Assistant secretary, and Treasurer.

What are the main goals of your organization?

There are several objectives, from protecting farmers’ interests and rights by changing the current law Cap 340 of Kenyan constitution, which is outdated and oppressive, to bringing pyrethrum farmers together to form common interest groups (CIGs). We also try to improve production of pyrethrum, to monitor and evaluate the agricultural sector development activities at all levels, national and international, and to support the district committees, liaise with the district representatives and assist them in finding solutions to their problems.

What are the challenges?

The association has performed dismally in these key objectives because it is facing a number of challenges, including lack of capacity (both human and financial), inadequate organizational infrastructure, low membership base, low participation of women and youth in the association  and a very low production of pyrethrum. Other challenges are those that emanate from the poor government implementation of the pro farmer policies, International Agreements especially those that are related to trade regimes and competitiveness in the access to markets.

What has been the impact of the political crisis in Kenya on rural activities?

Kenya inherited its independence from the British colony in the early sixties. The overall economy did well, with an average growth GDP of about 10% per year. The economy faced a serious decline at the turn of the century, from 1990 to 2006. The main reasons for this poor performance were the Structural Adjustment programs (SAPs) and the International Monetary Fund (Imf) and World Bank conditionality which tied development aid and open democracy. Poor political leadership under one man dictatorship compounded with limited freedom of expression made the already bad situation worse by further oppression with massive state looting and protected impunity. Fortunately, the situation is improving due the involvement of the non state actors like civil society organizations.

From food security crisis in 2008, the International donors decided to replace agricultural sector on the top of their political agendas. From your point of view, have you seen some changes on the ground or at a political level? Why?

The situation has not improved. In part this is because of climate change too much rain and prolonged drought; no control of the agricultural inputs but control of the Agriculture productions; poor post harvest technology; unilateral agreements between the developed countries and the developing countries and poor political goodwill when it comes to market access especially to the small scale producers who have a low capacity to Marshall the markets hence left at the whims of the middlemen who at times have the capacity to import  cheep inputs and seeds.

What kind of campaigns or lobby activities do you promote in Nairobi and Rift Valley area in order to mobilize political leadership?

The rift valley is the Grain basket of Kenya in terms of food production. It supports the country and the food deficit regions (arid and semi arid areas.) The predominant activities include food production, dairy, and horticulture.  It is again the Rift valley that is the epicenter of all the political animosity that the country periodically experiences. Therefore our main campaigns revolves around land policy and ownership and overall policy change in the Agriculture sector; peace building around different communities within the province; X-cutting issues especially climate and adaptation; chronic diseases especially HIV/AIDS; Malaria and other related illness; gender mainstreaming in the agriculture sector.

In Africa medias do not cover rural stories. What can we say about Kenya? What are the reasons of this lack of interest?

This is absolutely true and due to a number of factors. Among them I would mentioned three important reasons: the poor rural infrastructure including poor roads, rural electrification, low uptake and usage of ICT, low education access especially in some communities therefore communication is impaired; then lack of government support to all the institutions that provide the adequate up-to-date information and bureaucracy in the reporting system; finally, the ownership of both to the print and electronic media is individuals who tend to concentrate their focus in urban areas as opposed to rural activities. Much of the coverage is given to commercial advertisings and rural issues are not very attractive.

Kenyans attend a referendum vote. What are the interests of this vote for rural people?

The cardinal opportunity that this referendum will bring to the people of Kenya especially the rural population is the devolution of all the government resources from the central government to local assemblies. The mechanism in place is such that it will give majority of the rural population to be part of the planning and execution of the major decisions. Two there will be a wide sense of ownership and accountability on the resource allocations. A yes vote will unlock all the potentials of rural development.

By Joshua Massarenti –

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