• At the heart of this ‘rigged system’ are cartels involved in all manner of criminal and corrupt activities. The BBI team proposed, inter alia, an action plan to dismantle cartels and severely punish the culprits.
One of the notable findings in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) task force report is that Kenyans are concerned about what they view as a ‘rigged system’ favoring the corrupt while punishing hard work and productivity. This, according to the report, undermines the country’s political stability.
The BBI report notes: “The growing public perception of Kenya having a rigged system that rewards cronyism and corruption, as opposed to the productive and hardworking, is the greatest risk to Kenya’s cohesion and security.”
At the heart of this ‘rigged system’ are cartels involved in all manner of criminal and corrupt activities. The BBI team proposed, inter alia, an action plan to dismantle cartels and severely punish the culprits.
This will certainly not be an easy task. Cartels engaged in corruption and other nefarious criminal activities have the tendency to fight back viciously to protect their interests. As they say, corruption fights back.
A great deal of political goodwill and public support will be needed to win the war on cartels and other nefarious corruption and criminal networks. The BBI process presents a good opportunity to decisively deal with such elements.
Sadly, public debate on the BBI report has been dominated by competing political narratives. Yet the country continues to face a grave threat posed by the vast network of cartels permeating every sector of our society. The devastating economic and social impact wrought by such cartels has been flagged by the ongoing crackdown on corruption.
The BBI process should therefore accord priority to eradication of cartels especially in the agriculture sector. Millions of Kenyans, directly or indirectly involved in some form of agricultural activity, bear the brunt of the activities of such cartels manipulating production, processing, marketing and distribution of agricultural produce.
The gravity of the situation was highlighted by the directive in January by President Uhuru Kenyatta to the country’s security agencies to rein in cartels fleecing farmers. The directive was not only timely but gave political impetus at the highest level to the war against cartels.
Time is ripe to rid the country of the endemic problem of rigged markets and a flawed regulatory environment which allows middlemen and cartels to thrive at the expense of the farmer.
Indeed, agriculture CS Peter Munya recently fired a stark warning at cartels and lobbies in the agriculture sector. Mr. Munya should move decisively against ruthless middlemen and brokers operating across the sector value chain. They have infiltrated the coffee, tea, maize, pyrethrum, sugar, cotton and sunflower sub-sectors causing stagnation and collapse. Elimination of cartels in the agriculture sector is long overdue.
First, they undermine the country’s quest for food security, one of the pillars of the Big 4 Agenda. We cannot be a food sufficient country if cartels are permitted to manipulate food production, processing and marketing. Their presence and activities discourage investment in the agriculture sector.
Second, cartels hamper efforts to enhance value addition thus denying farmers the opportunity to boost their incomes. The Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy is heavy on value addition as one of the value chain interventions to enhance farmer income. This includes supporting farmer-facing small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to engage in food processing and input manufacture.
Cartels tend to crowd out SMEs by engaging in anti-competitive processes such price fixing and market rigging, thus hampering investment and entrepreneurship required to increase production and bring new ideas through innovation. They also deny farmers direct access to markets.
Third, cartels flood the market with sub-standard inputs thus lowering output and quality. The agriculture sector has not been spared the proliferation of counterfeits including seeds, fertilizer and farm implements. Use of toxic chemicals in crop production endangers farmers’ lives and damages the environment.
Fourth, cartels perpetuate the culture of food imports by hording food commodities to create artificial shortages. Procurement of food imports during such times is riddled with corruption and is a playground for well-heeled cartels that make a killing out of dumping cheap agricultural products in the local market, hurting local farmers.
Fifth, as CS Munya noted, cartels and errant trade associations frustrate reforms in the sector. The coffee sub-sector is a good illustration of the extent to which cartels will go to ensure the market remains rigged in their favor. They are also involved in tax evasion and other malpractices.
Improving transparency and accountability in the agriculture sector will not only make the country food secure but also improve output and quality while boosting farmers’ income. The sustainability of the agriculture sector is vital for the country’s overall economic and social well-being.
The relevant security agencies should expedite the presidential directive to map out and uproot cartels fleecing farmers in Kenya. in addition, farmers should demand the full implementation of the BBI proposal to eliminate cartels and other elements exploiting Kenyans.
All said, focus should be on creating a just and equitable society thus ensuring a stable and progressive nation of shared prosperity. Dismantling cartels is the first step in that direction.
Mr Choto is a lawyer and public affairs specialist. [email protected]