Kenya: Crisis Ripple Effects Felt Across the Region

Post-election violence in Kenya has pitted rival groups against each other. (Photo: Julius Mwelu / IRIN)

Unrest in Kenya threatens humanitarian and commercial operations throughout the Great Lakes region, potentially affecting more than 100 million lives, according to analysts.

Southern Sudan, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have experienced shortages of fuel and other essential supplies because of insecurity along the Kenyan section of the Northern Corridor, one of the most important transport routes in Africa. It runs from the Kenyan port of Mombasa westwards through Uganda and the Great Lakes.

Among aid agencies, the United Nations World Food Program faces the greatest challenge, feeding seven million vulnerable people in East Africa and the Great Lakes.

"W.F.P. is extremely concerned because Kenya is not just supplying Kenya. It's supplying much of east and central Africa, both with commercial trade and food and also humanitarian assistance. It's a very worrying problem," W.F.P. spokesman Peter Smerdon told IRIN

"We need to feed seven million people every month and that includes 250,000 [internally displaced by the post-election violence] in Kenya on top of our normal caseload. We need a continuous supply line.

"If the roads are closed for a week or two weeks, then we get into real problems. We might have to start postponing food distributions. You could see people [going] hungry if the road network is knocked out for weeks," he said.

Covering more than 1,400 kilometers, the Northern Corridor is the largest in Africa, used by 4,000 light vehicles, 1,250 trucks, and 400 buses per day. It carries more than 10 million tons of cargo a year.

W.F.P. moves more than 1,000 tons of food out of Mombasa every day of the year, according to Alistair Cook, the logistics coordinator. "W.F.P. has to keep the corridor in operation or else we will lose hundreds of thousands of refugees through starvation," he said.

Alternative Supply Routes

Cook had been investigating alternative routes, trucking supplies from Mombasa to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. From here, goods travel 980 kilometers by rail to Isaka, near Mwanza in northwestern Tanzania, where W.F.P. has storage facilities and milling plants.

Supplies can then be taken north by boat across Lake Victoria to Port Bell in Uganda, from where they can be trucked to Southern Sudan and Congo. Alternatively, they can be driven west from Isaka to the Rwandan border crossing of Rusomo. From here, there is road access to Burundi and Congo.

"There are measures being put in place to strengthen components of this alternative corridor. It's complicated and takes a great deal of coordination but it's workable," Cook said.

Because rail transport is cheaper than road, Cook said these alternative routes would not be much more expensive for W.F.P.

The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has redirected some of its supplies through Uganda, rather than waiting for security to improve in Kenya. It is importing steel from Dubai for a bridge it is constructing at Enyau in Ajumani District in northern Uganda. The bridge will help Sudanese refugees to return home.

Using the Tanzanian route "will roughly cost 20 percent more because of extra fuel and logistics," according to Roberta Russo, spokeswoman for UNHCR Uganda.

UNHCR's Southern Sudan program has been heavily reliant on Kenya for supplies and as a transport route. There are 20 trucks used for repatriation waiting for the all clear to be driven from Nairobi to Uganda.

"If the situation doesn't improve, Southern Sudan will start to be affected because they won't be able to make purchases for reintegration projects," said Millicent Mutuli, UNHCR's regional spokeswoman. UNHCR is already looking for Ugandan suppliers to replace the Kenyan ones.

Protecting the Convoys

However, many aid agencies and businesses do not have the financial or logistical muscle to switch routes and suppliers. After a visit from Uganda's First Deputy Prime Minister Eriya Kategaya, the Kenyan government agreed on Jan. 31 to provide military escorts to trucks travelling from the capital, Nairobi, westwards to the Ugandan border. The first convoy was a success, with 400 trucks arriving safely on Feb. 1 under the protection of Kenyan army helicopters, jeeps, and trucks.

However, for W.F.P. the convoy system may be insufficient to meet their needs. W.F.P. uses convoys of up to 800 trucks. "It's a question of capacity. We are concerned the convey system may affect the amount of food we can move," said Smerdon.

There is also the danger that security in Kenya will deteriorate.

"If we go back to an escalation of events like Tuesday [unrest on Jan. 29 after the killing of opposition M.P. Melitus Were in Nairobi] it's going to be quite impossible even with army presence," said Cook.

Three W.F.P. trucks have been damaged or looted by mobs at impromptu roadblocks, mainly in the Rift Valley. In the most recent case, a truck was attacked at a roadblock south of Eldoret on Jan. 31. Its windscreen was smashed and food stolen.

Fuel Supply Lines

Aside from food aid, fuel is the most critical item for Kenya's landlocked neighbors. Crude oil is shipped to Mombasa, where it is refined, and then piped to Nakuru, Eldoret, and Kisumu. It is then trucked to Uganda and on to other Great Lakes countries.

Uganda needs 35 truckloads of fuel from Kenya each day to provide the 1.75 million liters of diesel and gasoline it consumes daily. Shortages have driven up fuel prices and these increased costs have been passed on to consumers.

Andrew Luzze, policy officer at the Uganda Manufacturers' Association, told IRIN the fares charged by taxis and buses had doubled since fuel supplies from Kenya were disrupted. He said prices of basic foodstuffs like matoke [bananas], fish, potatoes, maize, flour, and beef were up by about 15 percent.

"We are concerned, especially in transport sector. Roads are the main mode of transport in Uganda. The internal distribution of goods in the market is really hindered. Ugandan manufacturers sell to Rwanda, Congo, and Sudan. They can't reach their customers because of fuel," he said.

The increased cost of diesel, from 1,800 Ugandan shillings ($1.05) to 2,400 shillings ($1.40) per liter on Jan. 31, was also pushing up the cost of manufacturing.

"Most industries in Uganda use generators because power is rarely reliable and of poor quality. Any increase in the diesel price hinders production," said Luzze.

Those relying on raw materials, such as wheat and plastics, from Kenya had been worst affected. "Some manufacturers have stopped because of the raw material shortage. You end up paying labor which is doing nothing," said Luzze.

Agricultural exports, mainly coffee, as well as tea and fish, account for 30 percent of Uganda's gross domestic product. Hardly any of these perishable products has been able to leave the country, particularly as insurers had refused to provide cover for transporters going into Kenya.

Across the region, farmers producing for domestic markets will suffer if the Kenyan crisis is not resolved.

"These are agricultural countries and need to transport people and goods from one place to another. To say crops are already rotting in fields is to overstate it but if [the fuel shortage] goes on for another six to eight weeks, it might be a possibility," said Kwame Owino, an economist at the Institute of Economic Affairs in Nairobi. Like Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are heavily reliant on agricultural exports, particularly coffee.

"They have a pile of goods to come to Mombasa to be shipped. Certain industries, especially those that deal with fish and other perishables, have basically had to stop," said Steven Smith, chairman of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, which has been putting pressure on the government to restore order to the country.

Impact on Somalia

While the delivery of aid to Somalia has not been disrupted because supplies arrive by sea, projects have still been affected because most agencies run their Somali operations from Nairobi.

"A lot of our staff is Kenyan and this is having an impact on everyone's morale, not to mention the fact that some of our Kenyan staff have been directly affected and have had to relocate to safer areas. Also, in the midst of a continuous emergency situation in Somalia, we have to think about contingency plans for our office in Kenya. This adds a strain to our already stretched human resources," said Paul Daniels, assistant country director for CARE Somalia.

The international focus on Kenya had also lowered the profile of Somalia and other regional hotspots.

"We have a major crisis in Somalia. We have a situation that is quite tense in Burundi and eastern Congo and northern Uganda. We'll have a problem in terms of advocacy to keep up the profile of the other countries. Some [donor] money may also be diverted from other countries to Kenya," said Pierre Gelas, regional disaster response adviser for the United Nations. © IRIN

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

From Integrated Regional Information Networks.