Kenyan Presidential Aspirant Karua Urges Less Food Imports to Curb Prices

Kenyan presidential hopeful Martha Karua said the government should increase spending on domestic food production to cut import costs that are fueling inflation.

“We must give incentives to farmers to make them grow more food,” Karua said in an interview on Sept. 6 in Nairobi. “Why should we favor farmers from outside Kenya, buying their products at exorbitant prices, when we could buy at reasonable prices from our farmers?”

The worst drought in six decades in the Horn of Africa has led to crop shortages, leaving many as 3.75 million Kenyans requiring food assistance, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

This year there had been an excess of food production in some parts of Kenya, while in other areas hit by drought people went hungry, Karua said. “What the government must facilitate is mopping up of that excess food and making it available where it is needed,” she said.

Kenyan inflation quickened for the 10th consecutive month in August to 16.7 percent, partly driven by soaring costs for imported food and fuel as the shilling weakened to a 17-year low of 95.10 against the dollar on Aug. 9.

“In relation to the shilling, the government is failing in its role as regulator, even the central bank, and it’s something that should worry the minister of finance and the president,” Karua, 53, said. “Any serious government ought to worry about that, because those are the things that brew discontent and bring people out on the streets.”

Appeasement

Kenya has raised the minimum wage by 12.5 percent, cut wheat- and corn-import duties and lowered levies on kerosene, a cooking fuel, and diesel this year, trying to appease citizens who took to the streets demanding lower living costs.

Kenya has not established a date for the next general elections. Accusations of vote-rigging following the last vote in 2007 triggered two months of ethnic violence that left 1,500 people dead and displaced another 300,000. The violence stopped after President Mwai Kibaki signed a power-sharing accord with his political rival Raila Odinga, who was named prime minister.

Last year, the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo began an investigation that identified six people most responsible for the violence, including Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and lawmaker William Ruto, also presidential aspirants.

A public hearing at The Hague began last week to decide whether three of the accused will go to trial and the second case is due to start later this month.

‘Fight Against Impunity’

“I think the lesson with the ICC is it’s a great boost to the fight against impunity,” said Karua, a lawyer. “For the first time, it’s becoming clear to all that even if you are in power and intend to protect yourself or if the system intends to protect suspects, the international community will not sit idle.”

Karua has been a lawmaker since 1992, when she won on the ticket of Kibaki’s Democratic Party of Kenya in the country’s first multi-party elections. She resigned as the minister for justice, national cohesion and constitutional affairs in April 2009, saying the move would enable her to freely comment on government reforms and corruption, and prepare her bid for the presidency.

Karua would capture 5 percent of the vote in presidential elections, trailing the frontrunner Odinga, according to a poll of 2,000 adult Kenyans conducted between June 30 and July 8 by research company Synovate. She is the most admired Kenyan among teenagers, according to a separate study of secondary school students by Synovate.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah McGregor in Nairobi at  smcgregor5@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net.

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