Until the Jubilee government incentivised importation of maize and subsidised prices of maize flour a week ago, it was becoming increasingly clear that the ruling party had granted its opponents a tantalising campaign weapon. That could easily have sounded the death knell for JP’s re-election hopes.
Any student of history will tell you whether it is the French revolution or more recent staple food riots in West Africa, nothing unites voters more than a complaint about high food prices and unavailability of staple food.
It has therefore been amazing that Jubilee allowed the situation to get out of hand before applying emergency measures to facilitate the importation of grain and subsidy of maize products.
One watched in shock as Jubilee spinners tried to explain away the flour scarcity and the high food prices with such flimsy excuses as the ongoing drought and the shilling’s weakness against global currencies.
Jubilee should know their voters do not care why there is no food and why prices are unreasonably high; they punish whoever is in charge, ruthlessly. It is a basic truism that governments exist primarily to ensure certain basic needs of the citizenry are met.
Nothing is more basic than ensuring supply of basic food at reasonable prices. What was surprising about the delay in providing solutions is that this crisis was easily foreseeable.
We had an unusually low production of maize in the last harvest. We then had an unusually high volume of exports. Align this with increased consumption of food as population grows and you have the inevitable crisis. This is also not the first time the scenario has transpired. Every five years, this food crisis predictably repeats itself.
What was amusing is the crocodile tears of opposition leaders who have been at the helm of government in previous food shortage times! Fortunately for Jubilee, some modicum of solution is being implemented and it may just rescue their political future.
Naturally, many Kenyans have raised sufficient issues that need postmortem to ensure that the Jubilee solutions do not come at an unsustainable cost to the Kenyan public and that the problem never again rises to the level it did this year. Firstly, we must establish who slept on their job.
Whether at ministerial level, at the grain handling parastatals, or at the Treasury, there should be cost to the sloppiness that got the country where people lost their lives due to solvable challenges. Such sloppiness is criminal negligence at its worst and someone needs to pay a price.
We must also try and establish whether some aspects of the scarcity and high food prices were manufactured to allow some people make huge returns from the interventions by government.
There is no doubt that if anyone had bulk grain in the high seas before the intervention, they will make a killing from selling untaxed grain in the market. While holding grain in ports near areas of scarcity is common in the grain export sector, it is also possible to give grain barons insider information of impending changes in government policy to enable them make a huge return. Thirdly, we must ensure this cyclical challenge does not define Kenya.
It is unfortunate that for a country that boasts world renown Mpesa, has some of the best infrastructure in the region, boasts a huge supply of human capital has people dying of hunger in the 21st century! What makes it even worse is Kenya has been food sufficient over time but farmers are increasingly disinvesting from food production.
While subsidising food prices is an important short term measure, what we should be investing in is subsiding the cost of production and ensuring that post-harvest management of grain is efficient and benefits both producers and consumers. While Jubilee may have dodged the bullet this time around, failure to manage food is intolerable and comes at a painful price.
—The writer is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya