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Kenya, staff run away from their stations in fear

Firms and civil service hit hard as staff run away from their stations in fear

Story by PATRICK NZIOKA
Publication Date: 2/11/2008

Professionals from all sectors have borne the brunt of post-election violence that erupted after the Electoral Commission of Kenya declared Mwai Kibaki President amid disputed poll tallying.

Following the announcement, violence erupted in different parts of the country between various communities resulting in loss of lives, injuries, looting, and destruction of property and displacement of thousands of people.

Schools, universities, hospitals and companies, both public and private, are now deeply affected after their workers left their places of work for fear of attacks.

Extra burden

In some cases, employers had to take the extra burden of evacuating their workers to safer areas, while in some areas, institutions had to close down completely after the workers fled to safer areas.

Some public projects have stalled after the few experts who were perceived to be ‘outsiders’ left.

Schools and health centres were the hardest hit especially in the Rift Valley, Nyanza, Western, Coast and Central provinces where members of some communities were ordered to leave since they were not wanted.

Matters became complicated after protesters started forcing the few schools that were open to close. Even now and despite the uneasy calm that has returned to some of the areas, schools are yet to reopen for fear of attacks.

The director of medical services (DMS), Dr James Nyikal, says some 120 rural health centres in the Rift Valley completely closed down, while about eight were shut in Nyanza, the two provinces that bore the brunt of the violence.

Dr Nyikal says major hospitals in Kisumu, Eldoret, Kericho, and Nakuru were also affected especially at the height of the violence when many injured people were being brought in.

Other hospitals affected are Naivasha and Mombasa.

However, Dr Nyikal says that the ministry will not be moving those affected from their areas of work because normalcy is returning to areas hit by the violence.

The country has about 3,500 health workers across all cadres.

“They have been affected, but the ministry will not be moving people from their areas of work. As things settle, they can go back to their work stations,” he said.

Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) secretary-general Francis Atwoli says the magnitude of the problem is enormous because most of the people uprooted were migrant workers, some of whom were experts and could not be replaced easily.

Mr Atwoli says about 200,000 of his parent union, the Kenya Union of Plantation and Agricultural Workers, had to leave their work places, mostly in the Rift Valley, following the violence.

Most of the semi-skilled workers in the expansive tea estates and other plantations in the Rift Valley and even Central provinces are from Rift Valley, Nyanza and Western Kenya and had to leave their places of work when the security situation deteriorated, he adds.

“Productivity has already gone down after the experts left and it will take a long time to get back to normal even after affected organisations tried to hire local people,” Mr Atwoli said in a telephone interview.

In the early stages of the violence, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) called on teachers who felt threatened and sought to move out of areas they felt insecure to register with the local education officers for onward transmission to the headquarters for action.

Tentative figures from the commission show that about 1,000 teachers in post-primary institutions, including 50 people from technical schools and 613 in primary schools, were affected by the violence and had requested to be moved to other areas.

Rift Valley tops the list with 605 teachers, while Nyanza has 377 teachers. Others are Western with 41, Central with 80, Coast with 23, Eastern 3 and North Eastern 5.

But TSC spokesperson Nkatha Murungi says the problem is not as acute as initially anticipated because those asking to be moved are spread across the country such that those who leave a particular province will be replaced by those who want to move in.

Within province

For instance of the 605 people requesting transfer from the Rift Valley, 405 just want a movement from one district to another within the province. The number of teachers from other provinces who want to move to the province is about 160, meaning that it will only lose an insignificant number of teachers, if any.

Safaricom chief executive officer Michael Joseph says the company had to evacuate about 50 workers from across the country following the violence.

This has, however, not affected the business except in Kisumu where the Safaricom shop was burnt down.

The Universities Academic Staff Union says the post-election violence has affected more than 300 lecturers in public universities, although the number could be higher because figures from some of the institutions that are still in recess have not been received.

Secretary-general Muga K’Olale says the most affected universities were Moi, Egerton and Maseno, where houses built by lecturers were torched. “We expect the numbers to go up as we can only know the real figures when the universities fully resume classes,” Mr K’Olale says.

According to him, the impact of the lecturers’ exodus will be great and will be felt for long because they cannot concentrate on their work if they feel threatened. The alternative is to move elsewhere.

Mr K’Olale gave South Africa, Rwanda and even Europe as likely destinations that are likely to benefit since the lecturers would not think twice if they got a chance because they face many problems locally.

He mentioned poor pay and now insecurity as some of the lecturers’ problems. “People will have to make very hard choices,” Mr K’Olale said.

Universities he says might have to provide accommodation for both students and lecturers on campuses — a situation that will stretch universities’ budgets.

The institutions might also have to open dialogue with the communities  around them to agree on a plan of co-existence to forestall the losses some of them have gone through, he added.

The Union of Kenya Civil Servants says about 1,000 of its members had to leave their stations out of for fear. Rift Valley where the violence was intense was the hardest hit with 422 civil servants affected. Others are Central with 216, Nyanza with 128 and Western with 199.

Deputy secretary-general Tom Ondege says the workload in some of the Government offices has overwhelmed the few employees who remained behind with Rift Valley as the hardest hit.

In Kericho and Bureti districts, most firms that had hired experts and cheap labour from outside are now facing a crisis following the exodus of non residents.

Multinational tea companies have been hard hit by violence where some experts and low cadre workers perceived to be outsiders have left for their rural homes after being threatened with dire consequences if they defied the quit order.

In Naivasha, more than 30 medical personnel have been displaced.

A doctor and more than 12 nurses as well as 12 other health workers attached to the Naivasha District Hospital left.

In Gusii, about 12 factories managed by the Kenya Tea Development Agency were left unmanned after the managers fled. Technicians and ordinary workers including casuals stayed away from their stations as a result of the violence.

Most of them failed to report back to their work stations after Christmas due to lack of transport or fear for their lives.

An unknown number construction workers had to flee after youths threatened them. However, construction of the Daraja Mbili-Kegogi-Miruka road was not derailed by the incident.

In Nakuru, one of the leading and the oldest industry in East Africa producing blankets and other garments has closed down after 800 workers fled due to violence two weeks ago.

In Western Province, nearly 100 teachers affected by the violence are seeking transfers, a situation education officials say could aggravate the shortage of teachers in the province and affect education standards.

In Busia District, construction of Bumala-Port Victoria road has been put on hold after five engineers  and other workers perceived to be ‘outsiders’ fled. Busia district roads engineer John Amadi said the workers feared they could be attacked.

In Nyeri, several government institutions have been affected. In North Rift, Moi University, the Kerio Valley Development Authority, Kenya Seed Company, and New KCC are among those that have been hard-hit.

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About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.

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