Several parts of Kenya have been infested by desert locusts since the invasion of the dreaded insects in December 2019. This is according to the information released by Council of Governors chairperson Wycliffe Oparanya when he addressed the media on March 12, 2020.

A quick match backwards. A video of police officers in Garisa blowing a whistle to scare away locusts irked and delighted netizens in equal measure. The government was at the center of backlash from experts for handling the menace with the highest level of casualness never seen before. Statements like

“They will just go”, “Kenya is not the only country affected”, etcetera, took center stage. In fact, the
immediate former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, unashamedly asked Kenyans to take a photo of any insect they thought was a locust and send it to his ministry for verification. As if locusts shall wait for verified answers before hoping to the next plant. CS Kiunjuri’s assertion did not fall short of pricking the nation’s intellect.

However, Kenyans breathed with a sigh of relief when Mr Kiunjuri exited the stage following his sucking and a replacement done. He who came after him was Mr Peter Munya. First day in office,

Mr Munya assured Kenyans that he will use science to contain the menace. Interestingly, science to Mr Munya is this infamous line of thought: ‘locusts are aging and will soon die’. Which begs the question: Do we really, as a country, have a deficiency of stupid people? Anyway, the Agriculture ministry would soon save face, following an expert advice, and opted for aerial spraying to combat the ruthless insects. But then came other problems; the sprays were not enough. Ecologists, on the other hand, argued that the quality of the chemicals used was poor thereby killing other insects like bees that largely contribute to pollination. All that time, the insects traveled from East to West leaving irreparable damage on crops and vegetation. A fact that has no doubt put Kenya at the brink of a biting hunger for both human and animals. With the rudderless ministry in place, one begs to ask whether Kenya had prepared for such an emergency or did anything prior to prevent an invasion. Because as the wisdom of old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The National Disaster Management Unit (NDMU) coordinated by the ministry of Interior is responsible for issuing early warnings and alerts, drills and exercises, and issuance of press releases when any pandemic stikes or is impending.

A sneak preview of updates from the ministry indicates nothing of that sort ever happened. In reality, Kenyans started linking the coming of locusts with curses as portrayed in deity quarters. Of hearsays that prophets had predicted the calamity dominated talks in almost every space. Be that as it may, it is evident, we were not prepared for anything.

NDMU insists disasters are prone to happen. However, others can be averted hence a need to
strengthen the preparedness and abilities of communities so that they are well suited to respond in case one is ever to happen. You see, they have been budgetary allocations for disaster management in the country for every of the Financial Years.

For now, the laxity on part of the government has already stirred up the deepest and ugliest kind of fear in farmers. A section of them have vowed not to plant any crop until the government compensates them. On the other hand, the government seems to be too busy. And perhaps not ready for the next disaster.

Let us not be ignorant of history. And let us wander abit from matters locusts invasion. Sometime last year, Kenya was hard hit by landslides that claimed lives, maimed victims and destroyed property.

In the West Pokot landslide, over 40 people died, at least according to government statistics. This again exposed the country’s poor disaster response coordination.

The county (West-pokot) and national government were reading from different scripts. Whereas the
county estimated that 52 people had lost their lives, the national government insisted that 41 was the tentative figure. Who was fooling who? And as if that was not enough, the national government went ahead and estimated that 20 million people needed to help. This figure was rubbished by Governor John Lonyang’apuo who gave 70 million as their figure. Is this not another challenge facing disaster management units by both governments?

The world could be brutal at times. I must admit, other departments have tried, though not fully. I am satisfied by the response shown when buildings collapse and floods ravage. Also, the response shown by Kenyan security team during the Dusit-D2 terror attack.

Kenya is never prepared for any ‘new disaster’. Response to such calamities only improves after a bitter experience. That is to say, Kenyan government will only manage to combat the desert locusts after a long period of devastation. NDMU needs to be informed that chaos and disasters unfold without notices, forces seen and unseen stand ready to tear into whatever calm the country is, lest we start praying for manna from heaven during hard times.

By By Henix Obuchunju

Multimedia journalist

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