Posts Tagged With: Kenya

Drug Control in the Era of Devolution

By Mohamed Boru

Kenya’s shift to a devolved system of government has seen a re-distribution of functions that the government is supposed to perform. Where such functions were once a preserve of the national government in Nairobi, the new dispensation has brought about devolution of functions between the national and county governments depending on who is best placed to perform them. One such function that has been devolved is the control of drugs. (Schedule 4 of the constitution gives a breakdown of the functions to be performed by the two levels of government).

Devolution of such a function gives the County Assembly the mandate to pass laws that give effect to this function. This means that each of the 47 County Assemblies can come up with drug control legislation unique to their County despite existence of national laws that were enacted for the same function.

The Constitution of Kenya (2010) provides that in instances where a function is divided between the two levels of government, national legislation takes precedence over county legislation in case of conflict between the two sets of laws. But where a function is the preserve of the county government (such as control of drugs), county laws will supersede existing national legislation that governed such functions. Such a drastic shift is bound to have interesting consequences in attempts to control drug use in the country.

If for instance a county feels that a certain drug or substance is of detriment to the residents of the county, it can pass laws that will control the distribution and use of such a substance or drug. This was the case when Garissa County announced plans to regulate the sale and use of miraa within the county despite no such restrictions on the substance under national laws.

It gets more interesting where a particular substance is popular with residents of the county but has been banned for one reason or another under existing national legislation. In such a circumstance, the county in question can pass legislation that will allow for use of such substances regardless of the illegal status conferred to the substance by national legislation.

In counties where drug abuse has become a menace, the county can enact laws that explore alternative models of drug control to the existing model of criminalizing drug use that has done little to control drug use. Mombasa County – a haven of drug abuse – can decide to explore models that have proved successful in controlling drug abuse and its negative effects in other jurisdictions. Portugal’s model would be a good precedent where the country addresses drug abuse as a public health problem as opposed to a criminal-justice one. Here, drug users are subjected to a hearing and instead of being sent to jail, they are sent to a rehabilitation center. Such a restitutive approach aims to return the ‘offender’ to their original state in contrast to the retributive approach that seeks to punish the user. This model has proved quite successful with the number of drug addicts in Portugal reduced by half as well as reduction in spread of STD’s and death by drug overdose.

What we are likely to have in future is a scenario such as what is currently being witnessed in the USA where residents of the states of Colorado and Washington recently passed ballot initiatives that made it legal to cultivate, sell and consume a limited amount of cannabis for those aged above 21. The two states stand out for defying federal (national) laws that criminalize pot use and hands out stiff punishments to ‘offenders’. The federal government while initially opposed to these provisions has shown a shift with US Attorney General Eric Holder indicating that the federal government won’t be pursuing pot users in these two states.

The legalization of previously banned substances is also bound to have other implications such as revenue generation for the particular counties as the substances would now be taxed. Such a paradigm shift might also spawn the emergence of ‘drug tourism’ where residents of different counties travel to a particular county to partake in substances that would otherwise have them arrested in their home counties. Netherlands has been doing this for decades with Amsterdam famed for its liberal stance on drug use.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how the overzealous Chairman of the drug control authority NACADA deals with the devolution of drug control what with Counties likely to challenge his high-handed attempts at controlling drug use in the country.

Categories: Human Interest | Tags: , , , , | 15 Comments

How Construction of the Mombasa-Malaba Railway will Transform Kenya

By Don Pablo

On Thursday this week, Kenya will recreate the steps that led to the formation of the country by commissioning the construction of the railway to Uganda. That it has taken us more than a century to add to what the British built in the 19th century is a shameful story for another day.  Now is the time to rejoice at a crucial and long overdue move by the state.

The commissioning that will take place in Mombasa will be a walk down memory lane as attempts to open up East Africa’s hinterland are given a big push by the authorities in the region. The railway once complete will run from Mombasa to Malaba, into Uganda and beyond to Rwanda. South Sudan is said to be eager to have the railroad extended to Juba as well.

Construction of the railway has been a necessity for a country that relies heavily on road transport to haul bulky goods. Shockingly, Kenya uses trucks to transport up to 95 % of goods from the port in Mombasa. This reliance on an inefficient form of transportation has seen Kenyans pay heavily for our lack of options with the cost of transport and logistics accounting for 45% of the cost of goods in Kenya. The situation is bad enough without our neighbours relying on the same creaking infrastructure to transport their goods.

The advantages of rail over road are quite significant. This goes to explain the zeal shown by the President in having the rail infrastructure in place ASAP. For instance, one train carries approximately 216 TEUs (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units); those big containers carried by trucks along our highways. It would take 108 trucks carrying 2 TEUs each to move the same number of ‘containers’. The heavy use of road transport explains why up to 60 trucks leave Mombasa for the interior of the country every hour!


The train carries in one trip what would take 108 trucks to transport (c/o Tom Shermer)

This comparison of tonnage transported doesn’t even take into consideration the speed factor where the trains would move goods and passengers almost four times faster than the trucks. Incidentally, you’d be shocked to learn that Kenya is considered ‘landlocked’ due to the period it takes to move freight inland. It takes up to 7 days for a truck to move from Mombasa to Kisumu, a journey that the train would cover in a maximum of 17 hours.

The trucks that dot our highways are dangerous for road users and have been known to brazenly defy traffic rules. The crazy number of deaths on our roads can be partly attributed to their dangerous antics such as ‘freewheeling’ when driving downhill, driving in the middle of the road, and lack of tail lights. The trucks are also heavy and cause damage to the roads. The section between Uthiru and Limuru is a good example of the roads ‘sinking’ under the weight of the heavy machines. In terms of pollution, it’s quite obvious that 108 trucks would cause much more pollution than a single train.

The difference between these two forms of transportation in terms of cost efficiency, pollution and could not be any clearer.

Simply using a train to move goods would reduce the cost of transport by up to 60% according to government statistics. This would have a significant effect on the overall cost of living in the country and boost our economy. Crucially, Kenya will also reduce her import bill since we’ll require less fuel for transportation. Easy and cheaper means of transportation might also lead to industrialization along the rail corridor as industrialists take advantage of the infrastructure.

The benefits of the railway will also include appreciation of property value along the corridor. Sultan Hamud is particularly tipped to grow into a big town being a future railway depot. This would help in decongestion of major cities as satellite towns develop along the railway corridor.

The railway will be built in two phases with the first phase between Mombasa and Nairobi being completed in 2016. The construction phase will also come with benefits. At least 60 jobs will be created for every kilometre of track laid, a total of 30,000 jobs during the Mombasa-Nairobi phase.

The Sino-African workers won’t face as severe a threat from wildlife at Tsavo as their Anglo-Indian counterparts though, largely due to decimation of animals through poaching. Nor would they have to deal with locals attacking and stealing rail materials from them. The danger they will face will come in the form of competition as Tanzania tries to steal the shine from us.

As was the case in the early 20th century, the railway will transform life in Kenya and beyond. With the lines clearly drawn in the battle to be East Africa’s preferred transport route, it is good to see that our country is alert to the danger and willing to out-do our southern neighbor. It’s also encouraging to see the country seek alternatives to the 21st century lunatic express, the chaotic Mombasa-Kisumu highway. Sit back and watch the future of East Africa take shape.

(Statistics courtesy of Kenya Railways)

Categories: Human Interest, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments


By Don Pablo

After months of grey skies that inhibited views of the cosmos for earthlings in this part of the world, the clouds have finally dispersed. As we approach summer, the clear skies come bearing gifts for sky gazers to make up for the lost months. It’s late October in Nairobi and a lot is happening in the sky. Between now and the solstice on December 21st, sky gazers in Kenya will see the brightest planet in the solar system reaching its pinnacle in brilliance, a solar eclipse and a potentially super bright comet.

As if sensing the astronomical thirst we have had to endure, the skies have wasted no time in putting up a show for us. Planet Venus has been lighting up the sky as it beams mightily in the west at dusk, living up to its ‘evening star’ moniker. The evening star is the brightest planet visible from earth and the third brightest celestial body after the sun and moon. Venus dominates the western sky and is visible for two hours after sunset before setting in the western horizon. That it’s visible in the early evening sky makes it particularly easy to view.


Position of Venus in the evening sky. Antares is the brightest star in the Scorpius constellation (c/o

Venus has been visible for the better part of the last three months. It was particularly dazzling three nights ago when perched right at the ‘tail’ of the Scorpius constellation, one of the twelve constellations of the Zodiac. Identifying Venus should help you see the Scorpius constellation given their proximity at this particular time in this part of the world. As you can tell from the name, the Scorpius constellation resembles a scorpion as shown in the image below.


Venus (in red) and the Scorpius constellation

Having curtain raised for its more illustrious celestial bodies, Venus leaves the stage for the Sun and Moon to enchant us. On the 3rd of November, the moon will pass between the Earth and the Sun, partially blocking out the Sun and putting on a spectacular celestial show for people who are in the right place to see it. This particular solar eclipse has received a lot of coverage in Kenya and rightly so. The Turkana region offers some of the best views of the eclipse anywhere in the world.

When the Moon passes directly between the Sun and Earth, the usual outcome is either a total or partial solar eclipse. But the event on November 3rd is something of a hybrid. A hybrid solar eclipse occurs when the Moon is almost too close to the Earth to completely block the Sun. This type of eclipse will appear as a total eclipse to some parts of the world and will appear as a partial eclipse to others.

The eclipse path will begin in the Atlantic Ocean off the eastern coast of the United States and move east across the Atlantic and across central Africa.


Turkana region lies directly in the path of the total eclipse (c/o

Totality will be visible only from a narrow track of earth, stretching from Gabon in the west to Kenya and Ethiopia in the east. In this very narrow path across Africa, there will be a total eclipse when the moon covers the sun completely, with darkness descending and the stars coming out! In every other place of Africa beyond that narrow band of totality, everyone will see a partial eclipse including folks in Nairobi and Mombasa.


Path of the solar eclipse (click to view gif) – c/o

Kenya will be a particularly popular destination for astro tourists seeking to enjoy this rare occurrence. While the eclipse duration locally is only 11 seconds or less (compared to more than a minute in Gabon), the northwest region of Kenya has excellent weather prospects with clear skies expected.

(Please note that it is dangerous to look directly at the sun without the aid of a solar filter to block the sun’s harmful rays. It may cause “eclipse blindness,” a serious eye injury that can leave temporary or permanent blurred vision or blind spots at the center of your view. If you cannot access a solar filter, try get your hands on a welder’s protective glasses. Used camera films aren’t of much help so you might want to reconsider using that as well).

Fast forward to November 28th and newly discovered comet ISON will make its closest approach to the sun. If the comet survives its encounter with the sun, it could be one of the brightest comets in recent memory. Some astronomers estimate that it could even be bright enough to be seen during the day!

The big question mark however is whether the comet will stay intact, or shatter in spectacular fashion. If the comet survives, it will be visible in the early morning and early evening sky and could be nearly as bright as the full Moon. Some astronomers are already calling it the comet of the century.

The end of the year marks the beginning of summer in the Southern hemisphere. On December 21st, the South Pole of the earth will be tilted toward the Sun, when it ‘reaches’ its southernmost position in the sky and will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn at 23.44 degrees south. This is the first day of winter (winter solstice) in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of summer (summer solstice) in the Southern Hemisphere.

Given our position on earth, we are lucky enough to witness some spectacular celestial events in the coming weeks. If you are lucky enough to be able to travel to Turkana, savour the moment and please share your pictures and experiences with us. If you can’ travel to Turkana, you can enjoy the sights from the relative comfort of the home. Wherever you may be, enjoy these sensory delights and  marvel at the wonders of the universe.

Categories: Astronomy | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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