Kenya: MPs want famine declared a national disaster

Mugo Njeru, Bernard Namunane, David Mugonyi, Michael Mugwang'a, Stephen Munyiri, Zeddy Sambu, Kitavi Mutua, and KNA

December 29, 2005 - Nairobi: MPs yesterday asked President Kibaki to declare the famine in various parts of the country a national disaster.

They also want the Head of State to recall Parliament to discuss the hunger in North Eastern Province and other regions.

Several MPs from different political parties who spoke to the Nation said the country's plea for external support to battle hunger would be greatly boosted if the President declared the famine a national disaster.

And Parliament, as the seat of the country's power, was most suited to provide solutions at a moment of national need, the MPs said.

They were Kanu shadow attorney-general Mutula Kilonzo, one of the party's vice-chairmen Chris Okemo, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr Andrew Ligale and Mr Omingo Magara.

The MPs said the august House would, for example, allow the Government to withdraw additional emergency funds from the Consolidated Fund and buy food for the hungry.

Said Mr Musyoka, the Mwingi North MP: "We now need to put everything aside (political differences) and deal with this disaster because it is major."

He announced he had also launched the Kalonzo Musyoka Foundation "that would supplement what the government is doing" through which well-wishers could donate to the famine stricken Kenyans.

The former Environment minister said the famine problem was severe, "and must not wait until March for MPs to reconvene."

Parliament was set to resume last month, but its recess was extended by President Kibaki after he dismissed the entire Cabinet following the defeat of the Government in the November 21 constitutional referendum.

The earliest time MPs are expected to return to the House is March.

Yesterday, the suggestion to recall Parliament was opposed by Wildlife assistant minister Kalembe Ndile and MPs Paul Muite and Alfred Nderitu, arguing that the effects of famine needed urgent action but not talks.

Mr Muite challenged each MP to "walk the talk" by contributing Sh50,000 towards famine relief.

"I will be the first one to contribute to such a kitty," the Safina leader added.

Mr Nderitu asked President Kibaki to convene a meeting with MPs from hunger-stricken areas to agree on how to assist the victims.

"Parliament is not the solution. A simple meeting with leaders from affected areas would do the trick. Why should MPs come to Nairobi to talk when people are dying out there?" he asked.

Opposing calls for recalling Parliament, Mr Ndile suggested that MPs from the affected areas be allowed to use a part of their Constituency Development Funds to feed their people.

"There is no food in Parliament. We MPs from affected areas should be allowed to use part of CDF to feed our people and be refunded later," he said.

As the MPs spoke, the chairman of the Parliamentary committee on Agriculture, Mr Franklin Bett, said his team would summon Cabinet ministers Kipruto Kirwa (Agriculture) and John Munyes (Special Projects) to explain the slow flow of maize and other relief supplies to areas affected by famine.

Mr Bett blamed the two ministers for the gravity of hunger in Northern, Eastern and parts of Rift Valley provinces.

Poor planning

"People are dying in those regions because of the complacency and poor planning of the two ministers. We are going to summon them in the new year," he said on the phone.

At the same time, the Kenya Primary School Headteachers Association raised fears that thousands of pupils might not report to schools on January 9 if food did not reach the needy areas.

The association asked the Government to expand the provision of relief assistance to more than the current 22 districts, saying the problem was widespread.

On Tuesday, President Kibaki made a whirlwind tour of Wajir and Mandera districts to monitor the situation.

He said the Government will spend Sh300 million to buy livestock from the affected areas to cushion the farmers from losses, and that two boreholes would be drilled in each of the 10 constituencies in North Eastern Province.

Yesterday, some MPs said it was time such gestures were augmented by Parliament.

Vihiga MP Andrew Ligale said there was need to declare the famine a national disaster, "and this can be put in place very fast if Parliament debates it."

He was supported by Kanu vice chairman Chris Okemo: "This approach can very well be agreed on by Parliament and get the Government to enforce it.