Charcoal trade turning into battle of counties
When Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu gave a directive outlawing charcoal trade in her county, her intentions were to conserve the environment by stopping the felling of trees, a thing that has been attributed to the current harsh weather trends.
However, what followed her directive is what has not only put her on a collision course with the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) and sparked fury among charcoal dealers who are determined to do anything to have her arrested and their business continue as usual.
This is after one of their lorries, which was ferrying charcoal within Kitui, was burnt by people, who the dealers claim were reacting to her orders, and were led by county government officials. The burning of the lorry belonging to Mr David Kariuki took place at Kanyonyoo in Kitui on February 8. Transporters have blamed Ms Ngilu.
The transporters, mainly from Limuru in Kiambu County, have been demanding that the governor be not only arrested but also compelled to compensate the owner for the lorry and the charcoal that was burnt.
On Monday last week, the transporters, who have staged three previous protests to demand Ms Ngilu’s arrest, organised protesters who deflated the tyres of more than 100 vehicles in Limuru, paralysing transport between Nairobi and Nakuru for hours.
The protest started at around 7am. Motorists using the Ruaka-Limuru Road, Nairobi-Nakuru highway and Maai-Mahiu road were affected.
Mr Joseph Kariuki, the driver of the lorry that was burnt, said he was arrested and detained on Ms Ngilu’s order, and it was while in custody that he received information that the lorry had been torched.
“When I met her (on the way), she ordered that I be taken to the police station. They took over the lorry but they were unable to drive it. Later I was told that, at round 8pm, some county officers with the backing on the residents poured petrol in the lorry’s cabin and lit fire and left,” he said.
According to him, the charcoal he was ferrying was not from Kitui.
But what has irked the transporters is a short video that was circulated on social media, in which Ms Ngilu is alleged to be telling Kitui people to burn all vehicles ferrying charcoal.
In the 20-second video, in which the governor is speaking in vernacular, she allegedly tells a crowd to burn lorries ferrying charcoal in the county.
“…and those lorries, if you want to burn them do so and call me. If someone is coming to kill you, kill them first. These people are out to kill us, we shall kill them before they do it. Their lorries, their charcoal will be left here, are we in agreement”? Ms Ngilu is heard saying.
The governor, who appeared before the Francis Kaparo-led NCIC commission on Monday last week has denied any incitement and claims the video was edited to misinterpret her position.
“This is the kind of misinformation and propaganda that criminal cartels use in order to discredit leaders and institutions that dare to stand up on them,” she said, adding her efforts are not targeting any community.
Meanwhile, the county assemblies of Kitui and Makueni have unanimously passed Motions asking authorities to speed up investigation and prosecution of the composers of the song portraying the local community in bad light.
The video is the latest political twist to the charcoal ban imposed by Governor Ngilu in January. Local leaders have been piling pressure on the government to act on the composers of the song containing inflammatory lyrics.
The two Houses set aside their routine businesses to debate the Motions on Wednesday afternoon with members given over an hour to ventilate.
Speakers George Ndotto (Kitui) and Douglas Mbilu (Makueni) presided over the stormy sessions in their respective assemblies. Members condemned the producers as hate mongers hellbent on creating inter-ethnic animosity.
In the two assemblies, the Motion was moved by the respective Majority Leaders who are both members of the Wiper Party, and approved by MCAs drawn from both sides of the House.
The MCAs urged both the National Cohesion and Integration Commission and the police to speed up investigations into the video.
“Action must be taken against the two musicians” said Mr Kasee Musya, the Kitui Deputy Speaker.
The passing of the Motions does not by law compel any authority to act.
The NCIC launched investigations into the provocative song after Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Junior and other local leaders demanded action against the composers.