THE INDEX — April 19, 2010

Kenyan flower and vegetable exporters are reeling from losses associated with volcanic flight bans in Europe. Following the second eruption in a month of the Icelandic volcanic system, Eyjafjallajokull, ash-filled skies have caused extensive flight delays and a near shutdown of the agricultural export sector in Kenya. Refrigerated storehouses in the East African nation are full and exporters have begun throwing produce away because it has nowhere to go. Stephen Mbithi, chief executive of the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya, described the situation as "disastrous." "On average, we ship some 1,000 tons, worth $3 million, per day." Mbithi went on to say, "We have handled drought, El Nino and the post-election violence, but we have not seen anything like this." Already an estimated $12 million worth of flowers and vegetables have been unable to make it to European destinations. Jane Ngige, the head of the Kenya Flower Council, said growers will be forced to destroy many tons of their produce that has piled up in storage. "Though no farm has closed down, some workers will have to go on leave as the farmers re-organize themselves," Ngige said. A reported 5,000 workers were asked to stay home on Monday as efforts were made across the industry to keep flowers and vegetables in the ground rather than harvest them. Efforts have been made to send flowers elsewhere. As it stands, horticultural produce is only reaching East Asian and Japanese markets, but efforts have begun to help flowers reach North America via South Africa. Exporters fear that longer routing could still mean that flowers are destroyed by the time they arrive. Agriculture is Kenya’s largest export, with horticulture accounting for nearly 20% of its economy and employing an estimated three million people. Kenyan, British, and Dutch airlines that fly from Nairobi have been grounded since last Thursday.

Renewed fears of political instability have swept Rwanda again, 16 years after the East African nation first fell prey to genocide. A grenade exploded in the capital of Kigali, the latest in a spate of attacks that left one person dead and at least four others injured. Earlier this year, in February and March, grenade explosions targeting central areas of the capital city—including the country’s genocide memorial museum—leaving several dozen injured and at least one person dead. While no one has publicly claimed responsibility for the series of attacks, conspiracy theories abound, with suspects ranging  from genocide sympathizers to disgruntled former members of the ruling political party to the president’s own agents (who, presumably, could use the attacks as political cover to further clamp down on civil liberties). The turmoil comes amid preparations for the country’s coming parliamentary and presidential elections. Set for August, preparations have already been marred by questionable actions on the part of the ruling regime.  This past week, Rwanda’s Media High Council suspended two of the country’s independent weeklies for six months, closing the outlets just long enough to prevent them from covering the campaign and balloting. (A council member told the Committee to Protect Journalists that one of the weeklies was closed for “insulting the head of state, inciting the police and army to insubordination, and creating fear among the public.”) And recently, one prominent would-be presidential candidate, Victoire Ingabire, was denied the right to contest the presidential race amid allegations of propagating “genocide ideology.” While there are widespread disagreements about the merits of the charges against people like Ingabire, observers still worry about what such charges could mean for the country as a whole, and whether grenade attacks like those in Kigali this week will become increasingly frequent as the political scene becomes increasingly contentious.

At least 24 people were killed Monday evening in northwestern Pakistan after a bomb exploded in a crowded marketplace in Peshawar. Local authorities believe a teenage suicide bomber is to blame, though no group has claimed responsibility. The explosion occurred near a political protest led by Muslim religious party Jamaat-e-Islami. The party was demonstrating against a statewide practice called load shedding which forces electrical shutdowns to save energy. A senior leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, Haji Dost Muhammad, was killed in the blast. Seven hours earlier in the same city, another bomb was detontated in a schoolyard, killing one child and injuring ten others. The historic city of Peshawar, which was once guarded by high walls, serves as a link between Pakistan and Afghanistan because it lies nears the Afghan border. Because of its geography, Peshawar often serves as a battleground of Taliban extremists and al-Queda based in Afghanistan and the Pakistani police and armed forces.

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