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10/18/2008

Scrap Metal Crime in Kenya

Filed under: china,kenya,resource — admin @ 4:13 pm

A demand for scrap metal by China is fuelling an unprecedented rate of crime in Kenya and vandalism of key installations to meet a growing demand for raw material. Electricity, phone cables and railway lines have been vandalized as the Chinese importers continue to pay premium prices for metal.

State corporations have as a result lost millions of shillings in stolen cables and structures as thieves go for valued copper steel and aluminum metals all of which are in high demand in the rapidly expanding Chinese economy.

But it is not only the big state corporations that are suffering abandoned houses in villages and town’s cattle dips, livestock inseminations centers and bus stops have all been stripped bare of iron sheet roofing.

Similar fate has befallen street lightning posts, sign posts as have roadside railings on highways endangering lives of motorists and other road users. Abandoned and broken down vehicles have not been spared either as the mad rush for scrap metal intensifies across the country.

Unemployment

In some extreme cases unemployed youths have stolen utensils such as cooking pots from their parents houses which they sell to dealers for about a dollar a kilo , money the spend on illicit booze heightening misery in poor families.

A number of youths have been found electrocuted and hanging from power installations as they tried to bring down power transformers valued for their copper casings.

In a recent incident on the outskirts of Nairobi a young man was killed and his body set on fire by an angry mob as he and 3 others tried to a uproot a steel gate from a compound which they intended to hack into small pieces and later on sell to merchants

Scrap buying yards have sprung every neighborhood, estate and village .Local merchants are profiting big-time buying scrap and selling it to Nairobi’s industrial area based traders, who in turn export to China making huge profits as the country suffers.

Highly valued of all the metals is copper which attracts the highest price the result of which is that Telkom Kenya the sole operator of fixed line phones has lost virtually all it’s infrastructure in parts of Nairobi and environs .

The company has been forced to set up a more aggressive security department as has the Kenya Power and Lightning Company (KPLC) spending millions of shillings on expensive security infrastructure, money that would otherwise have been spent on other priorities.

The youth

Idle youths are spending their daytime spying on where next to pounce on these valued metals after which they come at night to take the loot before selling it to traders who hardly care where such merchandise is coming from.

Sadly the millions of shillings earned by youths from sale of the metal is spent on drink to the last coin.

Some children in slums are as well dropping from school to engage in the trade with many spending their days collecting waste metal pieces .

Victims of the trade are blaming the police for not only laxity but for corruption as well , with hundreds of people mainly traders being arrested daily for buying stolen metal , but are soon set free after paying a bribe.

Peter Gikonyo a scrap dealer in Mukuru slums is one such a person, almost every other week police have raided his premises confiscating telecom cables but has never spent a night in cells after greasing hands.

“ All police are interested in is money “ he said arguing that the amount he pays them was peanuts compared to the more than 400% paid by exporters for prized copper.

Police now no longer arrest he adds but instead pass through his yard weekly to collect protection fees.

“ We must make the hay as the sun shines”, Gikonyo offers, adding that the boom will not last forever.

The government has tried to reign on the trade but little success so far has been realized.3 years ago a 100% export duty was imposed to apparently cushion local industry but the Chinese appetite for the metals and willingness to pay a premium hardly impacted on the trade .

This year the government proposed in the national budget read in July to ban scrap metal exports but the measure is yet to be approved by parliament and the Scrap Metal Dealers Association of Kenya is already up in arms, threatening court action to stop any such legislation.

The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) has in the past complained that local factories unable to offer as high prices as the Chinese risked closure and loss of thousands of jobs.

Two years ago a local Auto battery maker Kenya Battery Manufacturers closed down blaming Chinese importers of starving it of lead, a critical component in batteries, by offering extraordinarily high prices.

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