conspired to steal

Kenya: Unfit for consumption, government officials to blame for sale of tainted sugar to public

By Victor Abuso

Posted on May 23, 2023 12:33

Kenyan authorities have suspended 27 government officials, accusing them of releasing into the market around 1,000tn of brown sugar worth KSh20m ($145,000) that had been declared unfit for human consumption.

Eight of those charged were under the supervision of the former Managing Director Bernard Njiraini of the Kenya Bureau of Standards, the agency that examines and certifies products.

On Monday (22 May), they were charged in a Nairobi court and freed on a cash bail of KSh400,000 each, ahead of the pretrial scheduled for 6 June.

Last week, President William Ruto’s chief of staff Felix Koskei said in a statement that the 20,000 bags of sugar that had been imported in 2018 from Zimbabwe were deemed unfit and were either re-shipped or destroyed.

 “The release of the unfit sugar to the market was an irregular and a criminal act,” Koskei said.

However, it later emerged that government officials from various authorisation bodies conspired to steal the condemned sugar from a store in Thika, north of Nairobi, to flood the market for public consumption.

It is not clear if the government will recall the poisonous sugar from the market.

This is not the first time Kenya has dealt with illegal sugar.

In 2018, contraband sugar was seized at Mombasa Port due to suspicions of high copper and lead content after a portion of it had already entered the market.

Consumers worried

With reports that a Cabinet Secretary and a Member of Parliament are also being investigated by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations over allegations of colluding to sell the poisonous sugar, citizens are questioning why such sugar was even sold, to begin with.

Anthony Aroshee, a resident of Mombasa county, says he uses sugar at least three times a day in his tea.

“Why do they want to kill us? It is inhumane to sell poison to us,” he tells The Africa Report.

The country is currently facing a high cost of living characterised by rising prices of essential commodities like sugar. In past months, sugar prices have increased from KSh300 to KSh400 for a 2kg bag.

Aroshee says he cannot afford honey, and so opts for sugar. But to minimise any possible risk, he now plans to reduce his tea consumption to avoid the potentially contaminated sugar.

For families struggling to feed their children, other options are not possible. Prisca Bulimo, a mother of two living in Nairobi, tells The Africa Report that her children take porridge and tea every morning before leaving for school.

“Yes I’m worried, but there is nothing I can do. I hope I haven’t consumed the poisonous sugar,” she tells The Africa Report.

Will justice prevail?

Pigbin Odimwengu, a human rights activist and 2022 Presidential aspirant, tells The Africa Report that corruption inside the past and the current government is to blame for the poisonous sugar getting to the market.

“What has happened shows the Ruto regime has no goodwill to fight corruption,” he says, despite the President’s sentiments that he will not condone graft in his administration.

Odimwengu says Kenyans will only regain trust with the authorities if the culprits are arrested and charged in court. He adds that official claims that 27 officials have been suspended are simply a ‘human shield tactic to protect the real suspects.

“I don’t expect to see any major arrests.”

Edwin Kegoli, a political and governance analyst, says this particular case of endangering the lives of Kenyans falls squarely on the shoulders of Ruto’s government.

“This has exposed Ruto’s appointees negatively. Kenyans are losing trust,” Kegoli tells The Africa Report.

To put an end to this crisis, Kegoli says Ruto must reevaluate his entourage. “Ruto should always appoint officials based on competence and integrity“.

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