Kenya: Remark on Locusts - Munya No Stranger to Controversies

23 February 2020

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya is the type of politician who is unlikely to sit back quietly and watch events unfold.

In terms of political experience, the former Meru governor -- loathed and loved in equal measure -- is a narrative of intellect, patience, independent-mindedness, and the willpower of a man determined to achieve his political dream.

Mr Munya said locusts ravaging crops and grass in different parts of the country are destined to die of old age and are no threat to the country's fragile food security.

"Don't be worried. They are going to die. They are yellow in colour. It means they are old locusts and they cannot harm crops. Their main concern now is looking for a place to lay their eggs," he said.

A Senate committee summoned him to explain his ministry's plan to manage the swarms.

MIRAA ISSUE

However, he did not turn up on Thursday, as he was scheduled to be in a Cabinet subcommittee meeting with the Council of Governors in preparation for the eighth National and County Governments Coordination Summit at State House.

While Mr Munya was trolled on social media for his thoughts on the voracious insects, turns out the CS was partly right.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao) says a desert locust lives for three to five months depending on weather and ecological conditions.

Fao also notes that the race is to contain the locusts before they turn yellow since a new generation often multiplies 20-fold.

Mr Munya's statement was the latest of many debatable or controversial assertions.

In 2016, he caused controversy in Somalia when he visited Somaliland, a breakaway region yet to be recognised internationally, ostensibly to lobby for easier trade rules for Kenyan miraa exporters in exchange for some form of recognition for the country.

FUND HEALTH

The proposal irked Somalia leaders, who returned the favour by imposing a temporary ban on miraa imports from Kenya, accusing Mr Munya of meddling in the country's affairs. The ban was later lifted.

After a series of rallies defending his stance on the matter, Government Spokesman Eric Kiraithe dismissed claims that the ban was triggered by Mr Munya's visit, saying foreign affairs matters were the preserve of the national government and governors had no role to play.

Mr Munya later told this writer in an interview that the miraa issue was being used to fight him politically.

And in 2014, then the first governor of Meru, Mr Munya controversially said that patients from other counties may have to pay more charges if the national government does not fully fund devolved health functions.

"If the funds are not increased we might be forced to charge patients from other counties additional costs. You cannot devolve a function and not devolve funds," the governor said.

But even with his controversial streak, perhaps the biggest challenge he had to contend with as Council of Governors (CoG) chairman was the infamous 100-day doctors' strike.

POLITICAL AMBITION

CoG sued and obtained orders stopping the strike. Doctors who defied the order were jailed by the labour court for contempt but later released.

Mr Munya's plunge into politics in 2002 wasn't rosy. A lawyer-turned-politician, he gave his all in the nomination race on the National Alliance Rainbow Coalition (Narc) party ticket for the Tigania East parliamentary seat.

He was denied a certificate to become the flag-bearer of the popular coalition party that went on to end Kanu's 24 years in power.

But the betrayal by political schemers and rivals did not end his dream, for he sought the ticket of the less popular Safina party, eventually bagging the seat in the General Election that year.

He served as MP for 10 years and established himself as one of the most vocal legislators.

Mr Munya is a graduate of the Kenya School of Law and is acclaimed for his law-writing prowess during his studies in the United States and work at Moi University as a lecturer.

CENTRE OF POWER

Upon graduation, he interned at Kamau Kuria and Kiraitu Advocates in Nairobi.

It is also during his time as CoG chairman that he declared a supremacy contest with Deputy President William Ruto.

Mr Munya appeared to be building his career on defying the establishment and like the proverbial cat with nine lives, many often thought his career was headed for the rocks, but he managed to escape the political death traps.

His term in office as governor was tumultuous. In that year he battled and won a petition challenging his election.

Mr Munya triggered debate that he was creating an alternative centre of power in Meru politics, which has for years been dominated by Kiraitu Murungi.

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