By TOM MBOYA in Nairobi

KENYAN motorists are being forced to drive long distances to look for the very commodity that enables them to drive- petrol-which has been scarce since early last week.

With the rest of their compatriots sweating under the heat caused by the shortages, Kenyans living in border towns are having it a little bit easier as they hop into the neighbouring countries for readily available- and cheaper- fuel.

These neighbours are Somalia, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda.

As Easter approaches and the fuel shortage showing no signs of abating, urbanites who customarily travel to rural areas to spend festivities with their kith and kin might just be forced to part with extortionist fares charged by public service vehicles or cut off travel altogether.

Social media posts that are usually full of caustic political comments have turned into information boards where people get news on which petrol stations are selling the product.

Prices have shot off the roof with a litre of petrol retailing for some 1.3 US dollars up from the usual one dollar.

Strangely, petrol station owners insist on cash only and will not accept mobile platforms like M-Pesa or debit and credit cards.

“No M-Pesa payment at most petrol stations. It’s cash only. I’m reading a lot of games in this fuel scarcity,” protested journalist Ochieng’ Ogodo.

Most of those commenting agreed that the oil retailers were doing going the cash way so as not to attract the keen interest of the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and industry regulators for the illegal price uncrease.

Those in charge are trading accusations with nobody ready to take the blame.

The Petroleum and Mining Permanent Secretary, in a typical bureaucracy-speak, said there was no shortage at all.

He laid the charge right at the door of oil marketers whom he accused of lack of capacity to keep adequate stocks.

“There is no fuel shortage in the country,” said Kamau Kamau.

“The shortage is within certain oil marketers, the smaller ones, especially. With the prices of fuel being where they are, it is putting a strain on their cash flows.

“They may not have access to banking facilities the way larger companies would have. They can only buy what they can afford, and this is the issue.

“It is not a question of supply, it is one of affordability,” Kamau told journalists who had passed snaking queues of motorists trying to get fuel while on their way to the press conference.

And on Monday morning, Kamau shifted blame to the very victims of the shortage- Kenyan motorists.

Speaking to a local radio station Spice FM, Kamau blamed Kenyans’ panic-buying habits and small-scale fuel dealers’ financial indiscipline on the fuel crisis that has hit the country hard.

Kamau  said if all Kenyans would continue buying fuel based on their normal patterns, the shortage wouldn’t hit the current crisis levels.

Kamau said “panic-buying” was triggered by oil marketers, who sent out an alert that soon they’d be unable to ship in fuel if the government fails to pay the Sh13 billion subsidy that it owes them.

The PS He likened the current fuel crisis to when bank customers receive information, verified or otherwise, that their commercial banks would be declared insolvent.

Since October, the government has kept fuel prices stable by cutting the margins of oil marketing companies (OMCs) despite increasing international prices by reimbursing them through the subsidy scheme. 

But in February, global crude oil prices short up sharply following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, leading to oil supply shortages as Western countries imposed sanctions on Moscow, including a ban on its oil.

As usual in Kenya whenever such a national calamity occurs, politicians weigh in, shooting from both sides of the mouth.

Deputy President who has since become the country’s de facto opposition leader William Ruto laid the blame on cartels and power barons with access to state protection.

He demanded full disclosure of oil marketers who have benefited from the fuel subsidy, claiming that some of the funds meant for the programme had been diverted.

The DP said the high fuel prices are unprecedented and are not due to ordinary market responses to global crude oil price dynamics. – Zambezi News