When Martin Shikuku juggled two pounds of flesh in his hands

Martin Shikuku with James Orengo during the Kamukunji rally. [File, Standard]

One of the most affable debaters in Kenya's Parliament was Martin Shikuku, once a long-serving member for Butere Constituency. In the early 1970s, he also served as an assistant minister in the Vice-President's office and Ministry of Home Affairs. However, being in the government never deterred Shikuku from speaking his mind.

Shikuku had other competencies as well, among them, being able to juggle two pounds of flesh in his hands, long before former Cabinet Minister John Michuki came up with his liver juggling anecdote.

In May 1972, the Meat Control Bill was being debated in Parliament. Members were especially vocal about the lack of enough meat inspectors or proper meat inspection facilities. Others questioned the rationale behind grading meat in several categories. It is the latter that irked Shikuku the most.

And so on one afternoon, Shikuku walked into a butchery in Nakuru and bought a pound of fillet from a carcass labelled Grade One. A few moments later, he sent a friend to buy another pound of meat from another carcass labelled Grade Two from the same butchery.

With the two pieces of meat, Shikuku walked into the local offices of the Kenya Meat Commission, held each piece in one hand, and asked the fellow who graded the meat as to which piece was first or second grade. In his mind though, he knew the grading of each piece - first grade on his right hand and second grade on his left.

The meat grader could not make out which piece was labelled what unless he saw the stamp on the carcass. "But it is all good meat. This is all very good meat for consumption," said the grader. The exasperated legislator then told Parliament to scrap such grading, saying that once meat has been inspected as good to eat, the grading did not matter, as it was only confusing "our mothers who did not go to school".

According to Shikuku, eating any grade of properly-inspected meat had no health implications. In any case, he argued, the rate food decomposes once it leaves the digestive system is the same. "What if I ate continuously first grade meat? Will I put on weight or something or will my blood test be different? Will my haemoglobin be more red than when I eat third or fourth grade meat? Let us have a fixed price so that we do not have [this] cheating," said Shikuku.

Shikuku said the only thing a buyer ought to know is the part of the animal that he wants to consume, say the ox-tail or the head. In his Butere constituency, all a man had to do was slaughter a cow, climb up a tree and make "a funny noise" that is interpreted by others to mean that a cow has been slaughtered.