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Kenya Investigates Sale of Famine Food Aid


The Kenyan government is investigating claims that some relief food that had been donated to famine victims in the north and east is instead being sold in the marketplace.

Footage playing on the Kenya Television Network Thursday night showed shops in the eastern town of Garissa displaying bags marked "GoK (Government of Kenya) Relief: Not for Sale."

A Kenyan newspaper Friday described how journalists saw shopkeepers displaying hundreds of bags of maize and beans, cartons of powdered milk and cooking oil, and unimix, which is a special supplement for malnourished children.

It is not clear how the shopkeepers obtained the food aid, or how widespread the problem is in Kenya, where more than 20 districts that have been hit hard by the drought.

There are allegations that local government officials and businessmen have been diverting the food aid and benefiting from its sale.

Some shopkeepers say that starving people have traded in their food rations for sugar, tea, rice and other items.

An official with the Office of the President, Simiyu wa Sanja, tells VOA his government is looking into the matter.

"We have handed this over to the authorities, the investigative arms of the government," he said. "We have to find out, [and] establish the truth. We don't know where that information came from, we just saw it in the press."

Mr. Sanja did not give any details of the investigation, and says food aid is still reaching the people who need it.

VOA was unable to contact government spokesman Alfred Mutua for comment. Mutua was quoted in the press as saying, if anyone sells or misuses relief food, they will suffer the consequences, and the government will not be gentle to them.

Food aid donated by the government, local businesses, Kenyans and others is being transported to the affected districts.

The secretary-general of the Kenya Red Cross, Abbas Gullet, tells VOA the government Friday morning asked his group to distribute government relief food in about 10 districts because of complaints that the relief is not reaching people most in need.

Gullet says he thinks the sale of the relief food is "despicable," but he says the media reports should not overshadow efforts being made to help the people hit hard by the famine.

"My concern is, today, there are Kenyans who need assistance like yesterday and that's what we should focus on," he said. "And we should not concentrate on negative publicity, which then of course muddles around everyone, and everyone then comes with suspicion: Is this the order of the day? How big is this? Where, when, who, what, and all that. There are a lot of good works being done."

The drought, which has lasted for several months, has claimed at least 40 lives, and has been declared a "national disaster" by the Kenyan government.

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