How one man attempted to save Kenyans from poisonous maize
NTV on Sunday aired an explosive exposé dubbed ‘White Alert’ which highlighted how millions of Kenyans consumed toxic food products as parliament watched silently.
In the 90-minute investigative documentary, former Member of Parliament for Naivasha Constituency, John Mututho, brought to light how former Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) Managing Director the late Dr Kioko Mang’eli tried to stop poisonous maize from being released into the market.
In a sworn affidavit, which was tabled in Parliament in May 2009, the former Kebs boss accused the Prime Minister and officials in his office of putting pressure on him to authorize the maize in dispute.
The affidavit also revealed that officials of the National Cereals and Produce Board were pushing Mang’eli to approve the releasing of the maize into the market.
Mang’eli wrote to the then Managing Director at the National Cereals & Produce Board (NCPB) Gideon Misoi, highlighting the potential hazards that would arise if the general population was exposed to the poisonous maize.
“From past experiences, maize with moisture contents of more than 13.5 percent have resulted in the development of molds that produce aflatoxins that have adverse effects on both animals and human beings,” reads an excerpt from the late Mang’eli’s letter.
The same letter was sent to Prof John Lonyangapuo who was serving as the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Industrialization at the time.
The information was passed to Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), who suspiciously gave the maize consignment a clean bill of health, despite the state agency lacking the equipment necessary for aflatoxin testing.
“Currently the machines for testing aflatoxins are out of order though being repaired, they are using SGS laboratories (subcontracting) for such test and others,” read a section of a KEPHIS internal memo.
In 2009 the then Prime Minister Raila Odinga was put on the spot in Parliament over the controversial 6,000 metric tonnes of contaminated maize held in Mombasa, with MPs insisting that it was illegally off-loaded and released to the public.
Odinga denied the allegations, saying it was the MPs who were playing politics.
While appearing before Departmental Committee on Agriculture, which was chaired by Mututho, Mang’eli said he had been threatened by powerful personalities for protecting Kenya from Aflatoxin laced products and indicated he was under extreme pressure psychologically.
Mututho also claimed to have personally witnessed legislators receiving cash from within parliament premises to quash the Report on Food Security Status and the Maize Shortage in the Country that was tabled at the national assembly in April 2009.
“In fact, they received bribes inside the parliament itself and when I was debating that evening I could see one gentleman with a big bag up there in the Speaker’s gallery dishing out cash,” Mututho claimed.
“Eventually I was alone debating against the likes of Orengo, the like of Raila, the likes of Ntimama, and all the others, 72 of them against me, all the other legislators needed to pass a vote had simply disappeared,” he added.
Ndaragwa MP, Jeremiah Kioni, on his part said that the MPs received as much as Sh18 million per head from powerful lobbyists to just walk out of Parliament when the report was being tabled to kill the motion from the onset.
After frustration from the government Mang’eli was replaced that same year as Kabs Managing Director.
On September 8, a confidential letter from then Head of Public, Francis Muthaura, to Prof Lonyangapuo said Dr Mang’eli had been relieved of his duties “in the public interest.”
Mang’eli would then blame his downfall on Odinga whom he accused of vendetta and tribalism.
“My exit is both political and tribal. I have been forced out by people who lost in the maize import saga. The maize saga was a war not a battle and those who lost have come back to fight us,” Mang’eli was quoted by Nation then.
Mang’eli passed away on March 14, 2019, from pressure-related illnesses.