|Article by Wanjiku Wang’ombe with Ogova Ondego
Published February 27, 2008
Unable to cope with the rapid rate at which donkeys were littering the town, Limuru Municipal Council on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, passed a law for donkeys to wear napkins in mid 2007. Stung donkey-owners, who accused the government of its insatiable thirst for revenue, took to the streets with demonstrations that attracted international media attention. It has been some months now since that attention waned and it is unclear how the council calmed down the donkey owners. WANJIKU WANG’OMBE with OGOVA ONDEGO report.
While some people thought the mayor of Limuru was sick and needed urgent psychiatric help, others found the idea both ridiculous and funny to the extent they suggested the mayor be invited to ‘kick-start the exercise by tying a nappy around a donkey’.
In Limuru, a town that is about 50 Km from Nairobi city, almost every household keeps at least one donkey as a mode of transport. Donkeys are economical when it comes to transporting farm produce, water, charcoal, clothes for sale, furniture or any other luggage. A donkey can carry the luggage on a cart it pulls or on its back. During market days on Wednesdays and Saturdays, numerous donkeys appear in Limuru town carrying all kinds of goods.
As I get to Limuru, I am expecting to see a town full of animals crossing the road, some resting under trees while others are freely grazing by the roadside such that the city is stinking and carpeted with brown scones. If this is not the case, at least I am expecting to see donkeys with nappies at their rear and the owners emptying the contents of the nappies. Oh, what a story to write.
However, I discover that the town is clean with fresh air circulating and I only see two or three donkeys grazing by the roadside.
Solomon Ngugi, a lorry driver and a resident of the area, tells me that the donkeys leave the town early in the morning to go to work in the villages and return at dusk to spend the night in town. During this time they soil the town with their droppings and in the morning it is the duty of the town council’s cleaners to collect the dung.
According to Ngugi, the municipal council came up with a way of trying to curb this menace through legislation. It introduced the idea of providing bags at a fee to the owners of the donkeys but the owners did not go along with it.
They accused the council of seeking to make money from them unfairly. This, Ngugi says, was when the donkeys-in-nappies news spread and the whole town went berserk.
Lucy Nyaga, the Town Clerk, dismisses the ‘donkey-in-nappies’ theory as ‘malicious propaganda from the donkey keepers who felt that the bylaws set by the council were too heavy for them. She however mentions that the bylaws require that any one who carries luggage using a donkey within the town should have a kiondo bag hanging from the cart to receive solid waste from the animals.
Though the genesis of the donkeys-in-napkins saga remains a mystery, most of the residents defend the town council saying it had made applicable laws that most of them were already practising. Saying they are comfortable with the by-law, they say the nappy story was a cooked up story made by irresponsible donkey-keepers.
Judy Waringa, the personnel officer with the Limuru Municipal Council, says that they borrowed the idea of keeping the town free of donkey waste from Lamu town where there are so many donkeys and the local council there had made laws similar to curb donkey waste.
“These laws are not new; we just adopted them from laws made by the Kiambu County Council and we decided to just borrow them. However, it took some time for them to be passed by the government,” she says, adding that the Municipal Council of Limuru Donkeys and Donkey-Carts By-Laws 2006 are based on the Local Government Act (Chapter 265 of the Laws of Kenya) and section 118 of the Traffic Act (Chapter 403 of the Laws of Kenya), and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (Chapter 360 of the Laws of Kenya).
According to the Municipal Council of Limuru whose by-laws came into effect in 2007, a donkey owner must secure an annual permit from the council. This permit is acquired at a fee according to the number of donkey-carts one has.
Some sections of these by-laws require that a donkey be treated humanely, be not beaten, and be not overworked or made to carry excess luggage exceeding 200kgs or 3 meters high measured from the ground level. Another by-law forbids the use of a donkey which is not older than two years or one which is in its last month of pregnancy from being used.
There is also a penalty for the donkey owner who is found making a wounded animal to work.
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Another contentious requirement is that only people above 18 years can be issued with permits and only they can guide donkeys. Such drivers are required to display the permit, affixed to their lapels, all the time. In a town whose residents use children to run errands, they find this requirement objectionable.
Any person found guilty of any offence is liable to a fine not exceeding Sh2000 (US$32) or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two months, and in the case of a continuing offence, to a further fine not exceeding Kenya shillings one hundred for every day or part thereof during which such offence shall be continued.
A donkey driver in Limuru says he earns at least Sh1000 (around US$16) on each market day. Another peak time for donkey drivers, he says, is when there is a shortage of water in and around town and they are then asked to ferry water to homes.
Carrying luggage is not the only benefit of a donkey. They are beneficial when it comes to selling them. While a young donkey costs around Sh3000 (US$48), a fully grown one goes for around Sh6000 (US$96) in Limuru.
Though the Limuru by-laws stipulate the penalties for various offences, donkeys are still beaten and denied food and medical attention while no one has a donkey permit and it is evident there is no bag behind any donkey or a number plate on the cart. Children still ride on loaded donkey carts that still obstruct traffic on market days while hospitals for donkeys are non-existent despite the lip service to provide them medical care.
Asked when the Municipal Council of Limuru Donkeys and Donkey Carts By-Laws 2006 would implement the stock reply by both Town Clerk Nyaga and her senior staff is “soon”.