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Violence in Kitui over disputed charcoal ban

Mathew Ndung’u and Charles Muasya @PeopleDailyKe

Irate youth set ablaze a lorry and a pick-up ferrying charcoal from Kitui county on Wednesday. The incident comes after Governor Charity Ngilu launched a crackdown on charcoal business in the county. Burning of the vehicles on the Kitui-Garissa road brought business to a standstill as traders protested the act.

Tension gripped the area in the morning as charcoal traders in Tana River and other areas neighbouring Kitui threatened to retaliate. The intensified crackdown comes after some charcoal dealers defied the ban on charcoal and sand harvesting in the county.

The arson happened after Ngilu impounded four vehicles around Kanyonyo area along Garissa-Thika road yesterday when she was travelling from Nairobi to Kitui. She met the vehicles, which had passed several police roadblocks, and ordered them to be taken to Kitui Police Station.

One of the lorries, however, developed mechanical problems and could not move from the scene. Hours later, the youths set the vehicle ablaze. At the time of the incident, Ngilu had escorted the rest of the vehicles to Kitui Police Station where they were detained as the ban on transportation of the commodities imposed last month by the county commissioner’s office and that of the governor takes effect. Grace Nyambura, an operator of the lorry that was burnt, said her efforts to plead with the angry youth fell on deaf ears.

“I watched helplessly as the lorry was burned along with more than 300 bags of charcoal worth thousands of shillings,” she said, adding that she had the necessary documents to transport the commodity.

Ngilu declined to address the press at Kitui Police Station while efforts to get a comment from her communication department bore no fruit. This is the second time the governor has impounded lorries ferrying charcoal since the ban was imposed.

Two weeks ago, following a tip-off from members of the public, she seized two lorries at Kyusyani market in Kitui Rural sub-county. Charcoal transporters have criticised the ban, which is ongoing despite being suspended by a Kitui court until a petition filed by Mutha Charcoal Producers and Charcoal Transporters Association is heard within 21 days.

Ngilu, who has vowed not to relent in her efforts to restore the fast-degrading Kitui environment, has reportedly held meetings in the charcoal-producing zones to seek support from residents.

“I wonder where I will start if the government that is supposed to empower me is encouraging destruction of property. We want President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene and provide a solution to the escalating rows,” said David Kariuki, driver of the burnt lorry.

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