Kenyans celebrate with prayers for rain amid rising food prices

A man carries a cross during a procession on Nairobi streets as Kenyans marked Good Friday yesterday. [George Njunge, Standard]
Kenyans spent Good Friday, an occasion when Christians all over the world reflect on the death of Jesus Christ, praying for rain and a change in fortunes.

As Botswana author, Bessie Head, would have put it: Christ is the rain God Kenyans are looking for.

And President Uhuru Kenyatta in his Easter message to Kenyans seemed to tacitly pray for deliverance from an impending starvation.

“As a government, we recognise the difficulties being faced by Kenyans faced with drought in parts of the country and assure that we are working to mitigate the situation,” President Kenyatta said even as he urged Kenyans to remember the less fortunate by showing compassion to the needy.

A recent survey by Ipsos reveals that close to 47 per cent of Kenyans cite drought and famine as the most serious problem affecting them in their locality.

The weatherman has already painted a gloomy picture. According to the Meteorological Department, rains might not come, and if they do, they will be too little to produce enough food for the 45 million Kenyans.

Hoarding of maize

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Crafty farmers and millers have already started playing mind games. Farmers know that the country will experience scarcity of maize and have started hoarding the cereal, creating an artificial shortage.

The Cabinet on Thursday warned farmers against hoarding maize and other essential food items while millers were warned against hiking prices of maize flour.

Maize flour is a critical ingredient for ugali, a staple in most Kenyan households.

The second major problem to most farmers, according to 19 per cent of respondents in the Ipsos survey, is the high cost of living.

Poor rains will also result in high cost of electricity as water levels in the dams used to generate hydro-electricity subside.

It is not just drought that has pushed up the cost of living, high prices of petrol will also see a hike in prices of manufactured goods and services such as transportation.

Thus, a typical middle class household in Nairobi that had plans to pack a few things in their car and drive for miles with their family this Easter will have to give it a little more thought after the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) announced an increased price of super petrol, diesel and kerosene in Nairobi by Sh5.25, Sh5.52 and Sh2.76 per litre, respectively.

Kenya Association of Travel Agents Chief Executive Officer Nicarno Sabula said uptake of holiday packages for the April break is slightly lower for both travel and hotel bookings compared to the same period last year.

“Generally, the numbers this year are looking a bit depressed. We are not seeing as much interest but we are still optimistic we will see last minute bookings ahead of the long weekend,” Sabula was quoted by one of the local dailies.

However, Voltic, a company that has a system that manages end-to-end ticketing for over 20 bus operators with over 3,000 vehicles, says it has experienced a 25 per cent increment in bookings this Easter compared to the previous one.

The purchasing power of Kenyans would be further eroded after the government announced plans to start deducting 1.5 per cent from the basic salaries of formally employed Kenyans for the National Housing Development Fund.

The High Court later issued an injunction against the implementation of the levy.

However, for a government that is determined to rake in at least Sh57 billion from Kenyans every year, this relief is certainly temporary. Samuel Nyandemo, an Economics lecturer at the University of Nairobi, said things have never been this bad.

“The country right now is at its worst point in terms of economic performance,” Nyandemo said.

“Purchasing power has been affected by prices going up. High fuel prices has resulted in cost of living going up.”

The Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya, Dr Jackson Ole Sapit, could not have put it better: “I urge Kenyans to remember Christ died for us as a sign of sacrifice. We pray to God to give us rain. As people we should not lose hope but continue to work hard.

“We should also support those who are currently facing food shortages and in need of emergency relief supplies in various parts of the country,” he added.

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Good FridayChristiansEaster Holidays