Ugali is driver of Kenya's economy

Last week, I stumbled upon an interesting essay that Jimmy wrote for his Geography teacher who had asked the class to identify one very important item that Kenyans can relate with.

They were then to write a full page detailing its origin, significance and any important qualities. Of all the important yet common things in Kenya, Jimmy chose ugali.

Here is what he wrote:

“Ugali is arguably the most popular dish in Kenya and has been the staple food to most of our country’s 42 ethnic communities. Also known as sembe, kuon or sima, ugali is rumoured to be the secret behind our country’s award-winning athletes and powerful rugby players.

Ugali is easy to prepare, as it only requires hot water and maize flour. One may also use flour derived from other grains, but not wheat. Depending on your tastes, you may also add a little salt or margarine to the ugali so as to improve its flavour.

Despite its celebrity status, ugali’s exact origin remains unknown. However, it is believed that it was discovered many centuries ago by a woman who was preparing porridge, but accidentally put too much flour.

To prepare ugali, you start by boiling water in an open pot. You gradually add flour and stir continuously until you achieve a solid cake.

A special wooden cooking stick known as mwiko is used for stirring. One must never leave ugali on the fire unattended to because it can burn.

It takes between 10-20 minutes to fully cook ugali. The ideal test of ugali’s readiness involves hurling a steaming ball of the mash on a brick wall and it is deemed ready for consumption only if the ball sticks to the wall.

This method was used in many homes but is gradually losing its appeal, as it is generally wasteful and has resulted in minor accidents. Our house girl Maggy, for instance, relies exclusively on her sense of smell and gut instincts to assess the readiness of ugali.

The preferred method of consumption is by use of a fork or one’s fingers. Care must be taken when using fingers to scoop hot ugali because it can stick very firmly to skin and cause a lot of pain.

Ideally, ugali should be served with greens, chicken, red meat, fish, sour milk or a variety of sauces. Eggs are also favoured, but only when they are fried, not boiled.

A healthy adult male can consume up to two kilogrammes of ugali per day, but this figure may vary depending on the quality and appetite. (I have used my father’s eating patterns to arrive at this estimate. He is a relatively heavy ugali consumer, regardless of the quality.

Thanks to its popularity, ugali commands iconic status in our country. A man’s physical power and machismo are associated with heavy consumption of ugali, while weaklings are largely seen to be suffering ugali deficiency.

However, excessive consumption of ugali can be harmful to one’s health.

Nutritionists warn against over-dependence on ugali, saying it does not supply all the necessary nutrients to the body. They specifically discourage people from eating plain ugali.

Signs of ugali abuse may include, grey hair, stunted growth and protuberant tummies in adult males, which the victims may unfortunately mistake for rise in social status.

Some schools and offices discourage their members from consuming ugali for lunch, as this may lead to lower activity especially on hot afternoons, which in turn affects productivity.

In my view, ugali is an important national treasure, and is the one item that we all know and love.”

Jimmy’s essay ended at that, and he scooped twenty points out of thirty.

Having read it, I turned to an insha Russell wrote last Friday, in which he had explained the evil that is corruption.