I am surprised that some elected leaders from the Luo Nyanza region are dissuading their constituents from receiving relief food whose distribution is currently being spearheaded by Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo.
Those who are opposed to the initiative are seeing the "invisible hand of politics" in the exercise. This is rather strange coming from leaders who should know that unlike the State, governments the world over are conservative political animals keen on self-preservation.
The government is the political wing of the State. It exists to do politics. Without politics, there is absolutely no reason for the existence of a government. I am not aware of any government in the history of the State that didn't play politics. Sometimes our politicians forget that they are part of the government, and are paid to do politics on behalf of the citizens.
Some of the leaders from the region have argued that, compared to parts of North Eastern, Northern, Eastern, Coast and far-flung Rift Valley regions, Nyanza is not badly off. In fact, as they have correctly observed, many areas of Luo land are currently harvesting maize. However, a closer observation reveals that the crop hasn't done very well this season, and even where the harvests are likely to be good, the micro and small farm sizes and traditional farming methods militate against food security beyond one month.
The small-holder farmers of the Luo Nyanza region haven't invested much to modernise farming. The low crop yields fairly well reflect the poor state of the farms and farming methods.
In any case, Luo Nyanza has not known food security for decades. Why are the leaders pretending not to know that the people they lead are actually hungry? In the recent weeks I have traveled back home a number of times to assess what the food situation is like. People are hungry!
As the leaders voice their concern about the use of food distribution as a political bait, the people are lining up for the food. I saw queues that stretched for kilometres. People are literally fighting for food. Many of them have not seen a meal for days.
I think there's a huge disconnect between what some of the leaders believe is the food security situation in their constituencies and the real desperation on the ground. This food has been donated by the government to help alleviate hunger. It doesn't matter whether or not it is a political move. The reality is that people are food deficient, and the government is donating foodstuffs. Let the people take the food, and once their stomachs are full, they can do the politics.
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The very leaders who are objecting to the relief food distribution can hardly have a peaceful time with their families without hundreds of constituents thronging their homesteads for hand-outs! This happens literally every single day; it's simply unsustainable.
Whenever MPs are accused of impropriety with respect to the utilisation of CDF in their constituencies, more often than not, it is because of the constant demands on them for hand-outs. One only needs to observe how the MPs are united in the fight to reinstate CDF in order to understand the kind of pressure these legislators endure in the constituencies.
Those criticising the relief food distribution effort should remember that 85 per cent of the national budget remains in Nairobi. As we all know, the President has a great deal of influence on what goes into the budget, and discretion in its re-allocation, if need be. Reallocation from vote-heads happens quite often depending on changing priorities.
If the Luo Nyanza leaders rally citizens to reject the "relief food" or discredit the intention behind its distribution, that will certainly be a good reason for the government to withhold resources meant for the region, refuse to budget for new projects or simply stop the financing of the many continuing projects and programmes that President Uhuru Kenyatta initiated during his second term when he closely cooperated with the ODM leader Raila Odinga.
Leaders have a duty to understand the context within which public funds are distributed and applied to finance development. Appearing to be loyal to the government is a key factor in budgetary allocations to regions (and communities).
I know that some leaders have been telling their constituents that like all other citizens, the Luo deserve a piece of the national cake as Kenyans and taxpayers. That is as it should be. However "vitu ni different Kwa ground." Every time the region has had a structured cooperation with the government, the fruits have come in abundance. It happened during the Jaramogi-Moi cooperation. It happened when Raila worked closely with Kibaki. It has happened during the hand-shake period.
Recent political history tells us that in the run-up to the return of multiparty politics, President Daniel arap Moi, bowing to pressure to pacify the Luo community whose sons and daughters had suffered inordinate humiliation, torture and killings in the hands of government agents on trumped-up charges, appointed literally all elected MPs from the region to full or assistant ministerial positions. But that was also the time that witnessed very little, if any, implementation of government projects and programmes. In the period shortly before and after the assassination of the Foreign Minister Robert John Ouko, Moi made every effort to create an impression that he was working with the Luo community.
The reality, however, was that where the rubber met the road, there was hardly any official budgeted development funding targeting projects and programmes in Luo Nyanza.