The poor want food, not theories

Locals wait for their rations of relief food distribution by President William Ruto

Famine victims wait for relief food distribution at Nakaalei in Turkana County on November 5, 2022.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

At last, the long-awaited rains have started but they are doing so in a very hesitant and choosy manner, and the auguries are not very reassuring to farmers who have been waiting for too long.

The problem is that the long rains are neither expected to be long nor heavy, and the weather experts are not giving poor farmers any reason for hope.

When a weather bulletin contains words like “scattered”, “depressed” and “sporadic”, you know for sure there will be nothing to celebrate about in the coming months, which is sad considering that this country is in the grip of a crisis in which five million Kenyans are at risk of starvation.

It is clear that forces from without our borders are responsible for this state of affairs, especially the war between Russia and Ukraine, the countries that supplied much of the African content with grain.

It is also clear that climate change has had a great bearing on worldwide food security. However, it is pointless to keep whining about global warming while doing little to shield the most vulnerable members of society — the very poor — from its deleterious effects.

Clearly, this government and future ones will have to mitigate such calamities by storing enough food in the national silos for a dry day —and those days are becoming a lot more frequent with the passage of time.

Relief food

A great deal has been written about the need to frequently replenish our food stores to avoid trooping to foreign countries for relief food whenever the rains fail. 

Indeed, voluminous studies exist which give all the correct answers, and so the reason why we are always caught unaware when adverse weather clearly threatens national security is something of a mystery. Right now, there is great agitation for the return of food subsidies.

Many economists are not convinced, and they warn that tinkering with commodity prices distorts the market, and only enriches speculators. Whatever the case, offering band-aid solutions to intricate problems has never worked.

The poor do not want to hear theories about why the price of unga never came down as promised by the Kenya Kwanza government.

They want to know why the “earth is still hard” when they expected a better deal, which is probably why, on Monday, many will join the planned demonstrations against the high cost of living and assorted grievances.

At the risk of sounding contrarian, I am convinced the protests will achieve little in the short run, though they will definitely succeed in highlighting, starkly, the issues that have made Kenya a less-than-ideal country to live in today.

To be sure, it is quite insincere of government critics to cherry-pick the issues that have resulted in the precipitate fall of the shilling against the major currencies, the heavy flight of the almighty dollar, making life a nightmare for importers of essential commodities, and the prolonged drought on the back of a prolonged pandemic which made economic recovery difficult.

Though I am no apologist, there is no government in the world that was elected to perform miracles in its first six months, and the one in power today certainly can’t.

At the same time, some powerful individuals, unfortunately, persist in driving away the confidence we may have had in the government when they keep issuing contradictory statements that are meant to reassure Kenyans but end up doing the exact opposite.

The time is long past when politicians sought to empower our youth with promises and generous doses of vendetta. What they need are meaningful jobs, and if the jobs are not immediately available, they should be incentivised to become more productive in other ways.

That’s probably what the Hustler Fund was meant to achieve, but many people have expressed grave doubts that it will ever work.

* * * *

This Monday, March 20, the International Day of Happiness will be observed throughout the world, at least in those countries that recognise the United Nations as the premier global institution that still cares for such things. 

It is supposed to remind us that happiness is a human right, whatever that means. However, the reality is that very few people are actually happy and there is very little joy in the world.

On the world stage, there is the unending war between Ukraine and the Big Bear that has affected the rest of the world in one way or the other, a new Cold War is loading, and there are pockets of turbulence everywhere.

Locally, there is very little to celebrate because our new government is still improvising on how to contain high inflation, food scarcity and the indomitable Raila Odinga — all at once.

And so, as a reggae group, Morgan Heritage asked, do you see anything to smile about? The kind of despair that disturbed the Jamaican group is what Kenyans are undergoing right now.

However, the UN insists we can create our individual happiness by being “mindful”, “grateful” and “kind” to the rest of humanity. Noble sentiments these, but who really gives a hoot when there are so many other urgent things to worry about?

Mr Ngwiri is a consultant editor; [email protected]