Governor’s proposals confuse & alarm Kenya
NAIROBI, Kenya––Does Nairobi County governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko want to shoot street dogs, vaccinate them against rabies, or serve them for dinner?
Three and a half months after the Sonko administration began running the three proposals up the flagpole to see who might salute, neither Nairobi citizens, news media, nor animal advocacy organizations know just what Sonko, 44, might really favor, or have the political clout to actually do.
All three ideas are apparently still on the table––but whatever Sonko favors, public opinion suggests dogs will not be on the dinner table, or be shot at random, at least not without a fight that could finish his frequently controversial nine-year tenure in public office.
Threatened to shoot dogs first
The Sonko administration proposal to shoot street dogs surfaced first.
Reported John Wanjohi for Nairobi News on May 5, 2019, “Nairobi County director of veterinary services Muhari Muriithi says an alarm was raised after it was established that there are more than 50,000 stray dogs in the county.”
The number, suggesting a ratio of one dog per 62 humans, is credible in Nairobi, a city of 3.1 million people, many of whom live in shanty towns with no functional sewage and refuse collection systems.
But reducing the dog population could open more Nairobi neighborhoods to baboons, who already forage wherever dogs are scarce, are more adept and aggressive thieves, and have a more damaging bite than most dogs.
100 million Kenya shillings
“We are concerned by the increasing number of stray dogs in the city,” Muriithi reportedly said, “and we are going to eliminate them in the next one year. We have allocated 100 million Kenya shillings for that purpose,” Muriithi continued, a sum equivalent to $970,200 in U.S. dollars.
Wrote Wanjohi, “Muriithi said the budget will be used to purchase guns to kill the dogs, and also to pay for the site where the animals will be dumped.”
The Kenya News Agency reported that Muriithi claimed, “Shooting to kill stray dogs is even recommended by the World Health Organization,” which would be flagrantly incorrect.
Added Wanjohi, “Muriithi spoke during a breakfast meeting organized by World Animal Protection,” the 35-year-old British-based organization formerly called the World Society for the Protection of Animals, “at a Nairobi hotel.”
World Animal Protection opposed scheme
Clarified Sylvania Ambani, also of Nairobi News, in a follow-up article, “World Animal Protection, however, opposed this plan by Nairobi County to kill more than 50,000 stray dogs. World Animal Protection argued that the county should instead direct the funds to vaccination and sterilization [of street dogs].”
“A recent dog survey by World Animal Protection established that 53% of dog owners in Nairobi allow their canines to roam freely,” Ambani added, “especially at night, in the belief that this is the animals’ natural behavior.”
Responded World Animal Protection director Tennyson Williams, in a statement relayed to ANIMALS 24-7 by communication director Lucy Wanjiku, “If indeed Nairobi County has set aside 100 million Kenya shillings to cull dogs, this money could vaccinate all dogs in Nairobi for a period of seven years, at a cost of 300 Kenya shillings per vaccination cycle. Vaccination will need to be done alongside a sterilization program too, but it could be a fantastic mass dog vaccination scheme with this kind of budget!”
Then the Nairobi dog situation took another twist.
Sonko attacked by stray pit bull mix
Reported Jane Wetei of Hivi Punde News on May 23, 2019, “Police are investigating an incident in which Governor Sonko was attacked by a stray dog. Sonko is nursing serious injuries after a stray dog bit his left leg. Sonko was trying to stop the stray dog from attacking his favorite dog, known as Evans. Sonko was walking his dog when the stray dog cross,” apparently a pit bull mix, “charged at them. The dog’s jaws latched on Evans and then it bit Governor Sonko on the left leg as he tried to get it off.
Said Sonko, “Several passers-by heard the commotion and ran over to help. The dog locked on to the side of my dog and wanted to kill him. I had my left leg in his mouth and was kicking him in the head to try to get him to stop. I was hitting the dog and it was having no effect. He just wanted to kill Evans. I have seen dogs bite before, but this was just different.”
Continued Wetei, “The dog was finally brought under control when the Governor’s personal bodyguard came with a stick, which he used to scare the dog away.”
From Control of Stray Dogs Bill, 2019 to eating dogs
Ibrahim Oruko of The Nation media group on the following day, May 24, 2019, explained the highlights of the Control of Stray Dogs Bill, 2019, a licensing act pending in the Kenyan Senate since April 15, 2019.
The Control of Stray Dogs Bill, 2019 if and when passed, would update the Rabies Act, introduced under British rule in 1932, last amended in 1962, the year in which Kenya won political independence.
When the Control of Stray Dogs Bill, 2019 did not promptly advance, Sonko became impatient, posting to Facebook on June 27, 2019, “Soko ya mbwa [a dog market, in Swahili] coming soon to Nairobi. We are in the process of identifying a market for stray dogs in Nairobi,” Sonko said, “where we shall be recruiting and bringing together all the dog-eating nationalities and open for them a koroga [stir] club where they’ll be buying slaughtered stray dogs ready for cooking or eating.”
Vaccination centers & selling dogs as pets
Sonko illustrated his Facebook posting with a photograph of a dog meat market believed to be in either southern China or South Korea.
“However,” reported Sylvania Ambani, “when Nairobi News contacted Nairobi County chief media officer Elkana Jacob over the matter, he said that the county is planning to establish vaccination centers for stray dogs in the city. Elkana said that after receiving vaccination, the dogs would be sold to willing buyers who wish to keep them as pets.
“Those who wish to be dog owners will be allowed to get one,” Jacob said.
Other journalists took Sonko’s Facebook posting at face value.
“China, Switzerland, South Korea, Nigeria”
“Dog meat is a common delicacy in countries such as China, Switzerland, and South Korea, among others,” wrote Bosco Marita for The Standard. “In West Africa, Nigeria is among the countries that enjoy dog meat.”
The current Kenyan population of Chinese and South Korean ethnic descent is believed to be anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 people, most of them in the Nairobi area. Nairobi also hosts a Nigerian expatriate community.
But there has never been any visible demand for dog meat from immigrants to Kenya of any ethnicity.
“We have no idea whether Sonko is serious”
“We have no idea whether Sonko is serious about this. It is very difficult to tell,” emailed Kenya SPCA acting executive officer Nina Odongo to ANIMALS 24-7.
“If he is serious, however, he could not do this overnight, and certainly he could not override the procedure to get a law passed,” Odongo wrote.
“There are strict regulations on meat slaughter [in Kenya],” Odongo confirmed. “For dogs to even be considered, they would first need to be gazetted [published as proposed subjects of legislation.]
“This would involve the proposed law first going through the Ministry Of Livestock and Directorate of Veterinary Services, who can advise on the public health concerns surrounding the consumption of dog meat,” Odongo explained. “It would then be gazetted for public participation, at which point it is imperative that all stakeholders are extremely vocal about their objections to prevent it going any further.
“Public overwhelmingly against the idea”
“The public response the Kenya SPCA has received has been overwhelmingly against the idea of a dog meat market,” Odongo said, “although there are those members of the public who feel this would address the problem of stray dogs.
“There has not been a response from the Chinese community.
“The Kenya SPCA is currently trying to get a comment from Sonko’s office about his statement,” Odongo added. “However, the laws are very clear. Dogs are not classified as a food animal, and the government does not inspect dog meat, nor approve dogs for slaughtering.
“The Kenya SPCA is strongly opposed to the idea of a dog meat market,” Odongo emphasized, “We ask all dog lovers to be vocal about their objections, and petition both the Director Of Veterinary Services and the Minister of Livestock and Fisheries to make public statements on this and to put pressure on Sonko to withdraw his statement.”
“Sonko is a rabble rouser”
Said Africa Network for Animal Welfare founder Josphat Ngonyo and senior communications officer Sebastian Mwanza in a joint statement to ANIMALS 24-7, “By nature, Governor Sonko is a rabble rouser. He goes against the tide as a leadership style, which brings both good and bad results in equal measure. He could be testing the waters to see the reaction of the Nairobi residents and the country at large.”
Ngonyo and Mwanza noted “an outcry by [some] Nairobi residents that Sonko had abandoned 100 million Kenya shillings project to cull the city’s stray dogs,” after Nairobi County director of veterinary services Muhari Muriithi had proposed it.
Sonko “has since remained quiet on the project. At least, for now,” Ngonyo and Mwanza said.
“A friend never eats his friend!”
Concerning the proposal to sell dog meat, Ngonyo and Mwanza emailed, “It is our considered view that this proposal destroys Kenya’s hard-earned reputation as a highly respected tourist destination due to its environmental and animal welfare policies. Hence the proposal is exceedingly cruel, disastrous and egregiously unnecessary. Kenya is woven into very strong culture that considers dogs as companions and man’s best friend. They are part of the family and as such, a friend never eats his friend!
“Dogs are companion animals, not livestock,” Mgonyo and Mwanza emphasized. “The stray dog’s problem needs to be addressed with funding spay/neuter programs which, according to our experience, is the only proven way to successfully reduce stray dog populations, as our organization is doing with the county government of Machakos.”
Machakos, the Kenyan capital city from 1887 to 1899, is about 40 miles southeast of Nairobi.
Control of Stray Dogs Bill, 2019 may settle the questions
The pending Control of Stray Dogs Bill, 2019 may yet settle the issues pertaining to stray dogs, not only in Nairobi County but throughout Kenya.
The bill “proposes that owners ensure that their dogs do not pose a risk or cause nuisance to members of the public,” summarized Ibrahim Oruko of The Nation media group, extensively quoting and paraphrasing from the draft bill itself.
“Should a canine be caught free-roaming, the owner shall be liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding 300,000 Kenya shillings,” about $2,900 U.S. dollars, “or to a jail term of not less one year. The bill gives power to county officials to seize stray dogs found in public places and detain them. [Where possible] such seizure shall be done at the cost of the dog owner.
“The bill provides,” Oruko wrote, that “where the conduct of an owner of a dog results in a death of a person caused by the dog, the owner will have committed an offense and shall be liable to a fine not exceeding 500,000 Kenya shillings,” currently $4,852 U.S. dollars, “or a jail term not less than five years, or both.
“Where a dog trespasses to a place other than the owner’s place, the owner shall be liable for damage done to property by the trespass,” and for “the expenses incurred in capturing the dog.”