Category Archives: In the News

Penniless KEMRI

It is official. The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) is broke and the Daily Nation has reported the same.

The research agency is so broke that it cannot replenish Covid-19 testing materials, protective gear and the much-needed reagents

The folks at KEMRI do a good job and even the Africa CDC recognises their dedication. It is a pity that the government of Kenya does not see value in them.

The institute has also been nominated by Africa CDC as a centre of excellence in evaluation of Covid-19 diagnostics in the continent

The Ksh 158 Mn Covid-19 funds that the government had allocated to KEMRI has run out. What a time to run out! The institute has now requested Ksh 950 Mn to hire personnel, buy equipment and fund other programmes. Of this amount Ksh 540 Mn will be used to buy coronavirus reagents and screening materials. Ksh 100Mn will be used to hire 62 more scientists.

It is now close to 2 months since Covid-19 was detected in Kenya and close to 6 months since the first case was detected in Wuhan. This was more than adequate warning for Uhuru Kenyatta and his team to get their act together. Yet, with all that time, the government of Kenya has not seen a need to ensure uninterrupted funding to an agency that is on the frontline of fighting this crisis. However, there has been time to take tea and snacks worth $40,000 in one month.

This is a country that has a new Minister of Health who spends his time in front of the cameras because he loves the spotlight but he cannot be bothered to ensure there is a proper program of response in the backend. Is it for this sparse funding that a top scientist at KEMRI who had stood firm in asking for funding, was demoted? He is surely vindicated by this turn of events.

If anything, this shows what value the government attaches to the lives of Kenyans – 0.

IMF Help- more money for looting

The IMF has approved a Ksh 78.4 Bn loan for Kenya to fight Covid-19. IMF deputy managing director Tao Zhang said:

Emergency financing under the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) will deliver liquidity support to help Kenya cover its balance of payments gap this year

Being a Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) The terms are quite favourable:

Financing under the RCF carries a zero interest rate, has a grace period of five and a half years, and a final maturity of 10 years, according to the IMF concessional lending terms

Knowing the pilferage that is the lasting legacy of the Jubilee government, I am not holding my breath that this money will be put to good use.

We can expect the government to devise all manner of ways to loot. Soon we will hear claims that the government is taking care of 15,000 people in quarantine at a cost of Ksh 5000 per person per day. For a 14-day quarantine window, that is Ksh 1.05Bn meaning Ksh 2.1Bn per month.

A microbe to fight malaria

The Covid-19 pandemic is top of the mind for everybody and it is easy to forget that the medical community is also continuing research in other areas. Malaria, for example, kills 400,000 people annually and efforts to tackle this problem have not borne fruit so far.

However BBC reports that a microbe that can block malaria, Microsporidia MB, has recently been discovered by studying mosquitoes on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. The microbe lives in the gut and genitals of the insects. The discovery may open a new direction in the fight against Malaria.

The researchers could not find a single mosquito carrying the Microsporidia that was harbouring the malaria parasite. And lab experiments, published in Nature Communications, confirmed the microbe gave the mosquitoes protection.

Further research is needed but the plan, going forward, appears simple enough- find a way to infect as many of the mosquitoes as possible with this microbe. Two methods are being considered. The first one involves releasing Microsporidia form spores en masse to infect mosquitoes.

Alternatively, it should be possible to infect male mosquitoes in the lab and release them into the wild so that they, in turn, can infect female mosquitoes. It sounds like all we need is to give these suckers an epidemic of their own.

Bonus point: infecting mosquitoes with this microbe will not kill them. They will live, so that they can be eaten by organisms which depend on them in the environment. They just won’t be able to harbour and transmit the pathogen that causes malaria.

The bigger pandemic

The Ministry of Health in Kenya has released a breakdown of how it spent Ksh 1 Bn ( USD 1Mn). It makes for interesting reading.

  • Ksh 610 Mn to Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) for procurement of laboratory equipment and kits: This funding is sorely needed but it comes at a time of uncertainty. Last week’s demotion of Dr Joel Lutomiah, the lead scientist in charge of Covid-19 research did not help. It was reported that he was demoted based on instructions from Minister Mutahi Kagwe because “he delayed the announcement of daily testing results”. That reason had a strong whiff of cow dung. His colleagues claimed that he was fired because he has stood firm in demanding funding so that his team can carry out their tasks properly. Specifically, his colleagues said Dr Lutomiah was in trouble largely because he championed the rights of the institution’s workers in regards to protective gear. Was this funding released before or after? It is not uncommon in Kenya for a principled person to be removed from his post so that he can be replaced with more pliable person, in preparation for looting in future.
  • Ksh 70 Mn for advertising: Without revealing the length of the advertising contracts signed, this does not tell us much. However, one wonders if the government did pursue the option of asking media houses to donate slots for mass outreach. Knowing Kenyan government, that would not be the preferable option.
  • Ksh 42 Mn to lease  15 ambulances: It starts looking murky at this point. That is Ksh 2.8 Mn per ambulance. One certainly hopes this is a lease with a good term. Actually, one dare not hope that.
  • Ksh14.4 Mn to maintain and fuel 30 vehicles: Even murkier. This has traditionally been an area of wastage of public funds.
  •  KSh13.5 Mn to accommodate 30 health care workers over a period of three months: More murk. That is Ksh 150,000 per worker per month. Government already has facilities that could be used for this purpose at a fraction of the cost.
  • Ksh11.8 Mn to set up call centres: These call centres have a history of not attending to calls and when they attend calls, information given is questionable at best. Fully working with telecom companies to host this service would have worked just fine. The additional cost in space and headcount would probably have been reasonable in the long term and telcos which are donating cash (that is used in dubious ways) would rather donate in kind. Again, one can guess that option would not be first on the list for the Kenya government because itchy fingers would not have a place to be dipped in.
  • Ksh 9 Mn printing of quarantine and travellers’ forms and discharge forms: This is pure wastage and even on the rough number of the quarantined people, something funny has happened here. Cabinet Secretary should answer.
  • Ksh 6.5 Mn for stationery: Yet more wastage and deforestation
  • Ksh 4 Mn for tea and snacks: It is our time to snack. That is a lot of tea, scones and mandazi for one month. It is just shameful.
  • Ksh 2 Mn for prepaid phones airtime: I find it hard to believe that Safaricom and Airtel could not have provided a special tariff (Closed User Group) for the government employees involved in Covid-19 program. Then again, that is not how our government reasons.

Kenya has the Covid-19 pandemic but the bigger pandemic is wastage of public funds. The only thing our public never wastes is a chance to loot. More than anything else, that is what will kill Kenyans. If and when we finally hire a new Auditor General, a review of Covid-19 funds management will confirm what Kenyans always expected: the leaders have no iota of shame and a global pandemic is a welcome opportunity for them to fleece the country.

Kenyans Facing Tough Times in China

The Daily Nation newspaper reports that Kenyans are among Africans facing difficulties in China.

As China eases limits on the movement of people, a dark side is emerging from its numerous cities, where residents of African descent have been kicked out of apartments on accusations of spreading the virus.

When the Wuhan lockdown happened, the Kenyan government took little action to help the Kenyans who were affected. Even at this point, as the suffering continues, we see less and less concern from the government.

This website reports that the Ambassador is even requesting to be removed from the WhatsApp group that Kenyans have been using to share their frustrations.

Ambassador Sarah Serem has requested me to remove her, but I have been informing her about the needs spelt out in this group. If she offers any assistance, I will communicate promptly

There is a reason Kenyans travel to foreign lands. They seek a better life, better education, more business opportunities – things that are hard to come by. Some of them form run a vital supply chain delivering goods to Kenya. To abandon the same Kenyans at their time of need is needlessly callous.

However, it is precisely what we have come to expect from the Kenyan government.

AU Rallies Behind WHO’s Tedros

The African Union (AU) is rallying behind WHO boss, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Never mind that the AU is not really a bastion of excellence. One wonders if the support is because Tedros, an Ethiopian, is African or because he is good at what he does.

WHO handled the covid-19 crisis in a haphazard manner and it is only fair that people question the man at helm of this organization. Perhaps, even more important, we need to question the need for these UN bodies and whether they actually provide much improvement in our lives, given all the funds that they gobble.

The Virus Thrives in our Mentality

As Kenya fights COVID-19, an opportunity has presented itself for our police service to display it’s callousness in all its gory glory. Scenes of policemen beating hapless Kenyans have been captured in the media. Some people have also been arrested for not wearing masks – wonder of wonders, the police themselves do not wear masks. When the people are arrested, they are also lumped together in the back of police vans or made to sit by the roadside – a perfect way to spread the virus.

The situation unfolding should not surprise us. From pre-independence days, the police have been trained to act as protectors of the ruling elite. The idea of serving poor Kenyans on the fringes of power has never pervaded the police force either in thought or in deed.