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Why leaders cannot brush aside demos on cost of living and food

Opinion
 Raila Odinga speaks during a past Azimio la Umoja rally in Siaya. [Michael Mute, Standard]

"Food security is undeniably the bedrock of economic development. China and India's experiences demonstrate that countries must prioritise adequate access to nutritious food to foster economic growth, alleviate poverty, and enhance human capital development.

Africa, too, must recognise the significance of food security and channel efforts towards agricultural development and infrastructure improvement. By doing so, the continent can lay the foundation for sustainable economic development and a prosperous future for its people."

This is the written view of one of our highly respected economist and public intellectuals Dr Bitange Ndemo, now our Ambassador to Belgium. It is also the view of those who have been part of the demonstrations taking place here. Concerns about cost of living are not abstract. They are real.

They are the outcome of non-disbursements of county revenue shares timeously, of the non-payment of salaries to public servants, of the extraordinary increasing financial loads on low-income sectors by the escalating cost of petrol, of the resultant recourse to loan sharks to tide over school fees and food.

Those in power are ignoring or brushing aside these concerns. They consider that the demonstrators are not people who voted for them, and, according to a high spokesperson of those in power, the demonstrators are not shareholders in the limited company of the nation. And are therefore not entitled to any answers.

It may appear, to many, that those in power do not have teams competent enough to deliver answers or remedies.

Food security and delivery of food security has three components of great gravity. They are, one, establishment and availability of food security. Two, access by people to food security. Three, food security that is affordable to those most in need.

Thus availability, access and affordability have to be delivered by those in power. These three elements are co-essentials. Each one unlocks the other, so that all three make food security a reality.

When none of these three are visible, nor their imminent presence indicated, nor the consideration of remedies made public, Article 35 of the Constitution on "the right peaceably, and unarmed, to assemble, and to demonstrate" activates itself.

The Constitution provides this remedy, among others, to those injured. The demonstrations about cost of living are demonstrations about absence of food security, in every sense of the term, national as well as family based.

The lack of attention on the part of those in power about rectifying the weakening food security shows their indifference to critical dangers that all economic history, our own history and all serious studies have shown clearly. There is already present harm. If unattended, history and these studies warn of missed opportunities and an unfavourable future.

These views on food security are not views of only the demonstrators. They are also concerns of the large congregations of churches which have spoken up, of MPs of those in power themselves. Odd taxation, or confusing statements about privatisation, or the drop in the purchasing power of wages, have all become concerns of a larger larger number. It is fair to say those in power do not have majority of Kenyans behind them on this issue.

This is what the Constitution provides on food: "Every person has the right to be free from hunger, and to have adequate food of acceptable quality; to clean and safe water in adequate quantities;" (Article 43(1)(c) and (d)). It further mandates: "Every child has the right to basic nutrition." (Article 53(1)(c)).

And "The State shall take measures to ensure the rights of older persons to live in dignity and to receive reasonable care."

(Article 57(c) and (d)). The Preamble confirms that Kenya is "Committed to nurturing and protecting the well-being of the individual, family, communities and the nation." Instead of following all these provisions, the people in power are following the Companies Act to benefit only their own supporters as 'shareholders' and themselves as directors.

But the Companies Act is not the manifesto of people. The Constitution is the manifesto of people.

-The writer is a senior counsel

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