The high cost of living is slowly pushing Kenyans to unorthodox means to make ends meet, including stealing flour to avoid sleeping hungry.
A couple in Mombasa, hounded by hunger and a pressing poverty, decided to steal a bale of flour to prevent their children from starving.
But they were caught, arrested and taken to court to face the law.
Saumu Ali and her husband Evans Odhiambo were charged with stealing.
According to the charge sheet, the couple, on April 13 in Shimanzi, Mvita Sub-county, stole one bale of wheat flour valued at Sh1,980, which was the property of Grain Industries Ltd.
They pleaded guilty to the charge but, in their defence, said they had run out of options and that it was the only sensible thing to do that day to avoid sleeping on empty stomachs.
“I was [at my place of work as a casual labourer] when my husband called me to help him carry the [stolen goods]. We did this for the sake of our children,” a teary Ms Ali told Mombasa Senior Resident Magistrate Vincent Adet.
She said she had confessed to the arresting officer and explained her situation but the law enforcer insisted on taking her to court.
“We took the flour from a vehicle that was parked near the road. My husband had asked me to help him carry the load,” she told court.
But, instead of applying the law and punishing the couple, Mr Adet chose to help them.
“On humanitarian grounds, especially for the woman, I have considered the circumstances of the offense and I sympathise with her situation. With three kids under her care, and no source of income, I am of the view that [we should instead] buy her a bale of wheat flour and some meat for today,” he said.
And with this, the magistrate quickly turned the court session into an impromptu funds drive by being the first donor, giving the couple Sh1,000.
He then asked the people present in court to contribute whatever they had to help the couple buy meat and flour.
At the end of the fundraiser, the magistrate told the woman that her “sins had been forgiven” and set the couple free, but he advised them not to repeat the same mistake.
The magistrate explained that his decision was informed by a probation report that indicated that the couple had no source of income and depended on menial jobs to survive.
This comes hot on the heels of a raging debate on how to treat petty offenders. Just last month, Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party presidential candidate Raila Odinga was on Twitter asking the courts to unconditionally release a man who had been jailed for shoplifting from a local supermarket.
Mr Odinga argued that petty offenders like Alvin Chivondo are jailed while politicians with ongoing graft cases are allowed to campaign freely.
“Let the courts get their priorities right, for once, you can’t jail a man for trying to feed his family,” he tweeted. Mr Odinga”s comments came days after the Office of the Directorate of Public Prosecution announced that it would not prosecute politicians charged with graft until after the August 9 polls.
The announcement has not only been challenged in court by civil society groups, it has also attracted widespread criticism.
Despite repeated pleas to be pardoned, Mr Chivondo was slapped with a one-year jail term by a Milimani court after he was found guilty of shoplifting items worth Sh3,165 from a Naivas store in Nairobi. The judgment allowed him to secure his freedom by paying a Sh100,000 fine.
He had pleaded guilty to stealing five kilos of rice, five litres of cooking oil, and two kilos of sugar, among other items, saying he stole them because he had not eaten for days. Chief Magistrate Wendy Kagendo, while justifying her decision to punish the accused, noted that he was not a first offender and that she had pardoned four other suspects for stealing from the supermarket.
“The accused is being dishonest; he’s made a habit of shoplifting. The court will not be lenient [and this will] deter him and others from reaping where they have not sowed,” she said.
Kenyan laws do not have a provision that allows convicts to be released on the orders of any politician other than the President.