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NGWIRI: Multinationals must prepare to cede some land to the very poor

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By MAGESHA NGWIRI
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As young secondary school students in Thika town, my friends and I were always mesmerised by the rows upon rows of ripening pineapples in the vast plantation just across the valley. This mouth-watering vista was, of course, out of reach to anyone but the workers in the then Kenya Canners Ltd, the vicious security guards and their murderous dogs who ran the place, and so we contented ourselves with stealing sugar-cane growing in the valley below, which I now suspect must have been fertilised with sludge from the town’s sewerage works.

Today, Kenya Canners is known as Del Monte Ltd, but little else has changed; the pineapple plantation straddles kilometre upon kilometre of fertile well-watered land that is at once a delight to the eye and a subject of covetous debate in Murang’a and Kiambu counties. Nobody seems to be quite sure just how much land the fruit-growing and processing multinational owns in that region, but everyone agrees it is way too much in an area that has too little land and too many people.

It is estimated that Del Monte owns 22,000 acres while others say the land is actually more than 45,000 acres. However, the matter should be laid to rest when a survey ordered by the National Land Commission identifies just how much land is being utilised so that the rest can be surrendered to the respective counties. Whatever the case, it is doubtful the company can continue owning so much land in perpetuity when the surrounding areas are bursting at the seams with a burgeoning, landless population.

This whole issue of historical land injustices and how they should be rectified erupted a few years ago when it was realised that there was a chance some multinational companies could be forced to cede land in Murang’a, Kiambu, Kericho, Nandi, Laikipia, Taita Taveta and Machakos counties. The foreigners were granted the land under 999-year leases by the colonial governments, ostensibly because it was unoccupied. However, with the enactment of the 2010 Constitution, the leases were reduced to 99 years — retroactively — which meant they would expire from this year.

On the whole, the vast swathes of land were not acquired legally. In fact, such acquisitions were coloured by violence and forcible displacement. Although the atrocities may be difficult to prove in court today, it is clear they took place. Indeed, they are precisely the reason why our forefathers took to the bush, mainly in the central regions as well as areas previously occupied by the Nandi, Kipsigis, and Ogieks in Rift Valley.

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But the leadership in Murang’a and Kiambu seem to have settled on a different accommodation. They are, seemingly, looking at the issue in terms of high unemployment, rampant insecurity, substance abuse among youth, as well as a high incidence of slums. In connection with the lease that has ostensibly been agreed upon by Del Monte and the Kiambu County Government, a number of questions arise: What is the precise duration of the current lease?

What is the exact area occupied by Del Monte and is it similar to what is provided for in the lease? What other conditions are attached to the current lease? These negotiations seem to have been carried out without consultations, which is why there is a dearth of pertinent information. It is not quite clear whether this renewal is legally binding, and it would not be surprising if the matter was taken to court.

Experts opine that there are three options available. The first one is to renew all the land claimed by Del Monte. This is the easiest, or laziest, way forward because there will not be any court action, and some people will demand and receive their cut for making the work easy. The downside, however, is that the dreams of poor and landless, who for the last 40 years have been nursing hopes of getting a piece of the Del Monte land, will be shattered once they realise they will have to wait for another 100 years.

The second option is to renew the lease for only part of the land under use by Del Monte. For instance, out of the 22,000 acres the company claims, only 10,000 are under pineapple; the rest could be used to settle the landless. As long as the admirable agricultural infrastructure built by the company remains in place, there is no reason why they cannot engage in productive activities as outgrowers supplying the company. This will assist them to eventually own land on which to build shelter for their families.

The third, and probably most undesirable, option is the total takeover of all the land except where the company’s processing factory is situated. This Zimbabwe-type land-grab has few redeeming features. The problem with it is that ownership will merely change hands from foreign owners to local tycoons. However, with careful planning, this option may eventually become the only one available. In the past, Kenyans fought the colonialists over land, and given no other choice, their descendants may do the same thing, a recipe for bloody chaos and which may precipitate investor flight.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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