Monday, May 29, 2017

Postponing the inevitable

Maize became a political weapon as Jubilee and Nasa supporters traded barbs over the cause of the shortage, but critical questions remained unanswered. -- Macharia Gaitho, Daily Nation
Whether or not one believes that climate change is anthropogenic, it is an immutable fact that because of climate change, Kenya will experience erratic weather conditions for the foreseeable future. Among the consequences of climate change for Kenya will be increased frequency of droughts and drought-like conditions. And among the possible consequences of droughts are famines, with the recent one reminding us of another immutable rule in Kenyan politics: hunger is a political weapon and he who wields it ruthlessly usually prevails.

Many Kenyans have speculated over who were the winners and losers from the recent famine, often examining and re-examining the sequence of events that led the Government to waive customs duties for maize imports to cope with severe shortages of maize-meal in the market. Few have taken serious note of how the shortages (and the consequent reports of starvation in hardship areas) were used as political weapons to corral politicians and county governments into a specific narrative.

If one remembers the reason why there is a film called Blackhawk Down, one will remember that it is because Somalia was in the grip of a devastating famine and that the warlords that controlled Mogadishu did so by using the food aid delivered in Somalia as a weapon. In Kenya, the threat of starvation deaths because of the famine and the potential for political losses in August has been used to brow-beat politicians and county governments to toe lines that were inimical to their long-term benefit. In other parts of Kenya, the famine has given local politicians the pretext they needed to settle cores with large landowners and their supporters in and out of Government. The common thread in the events following the declaration of a famine as a national disaster is the threat of starvation and runaway food inflation and what it means for the general election of 2017.

Few Kenyans are willing to accept the reality that Kenya will always be a work in progress, that we will never get to political nirvana. The men and women whom we elect to represent our interests will also always have selfishly reasons of their own to seek high office, include self-enrichment from public resources. We will always find ourselves in one political crisis or another; there will never be a day when we can claim that Kenya is at peace with itself because we no longer encourage the best among us to seek public office. It is only the charlatans, the snake-oil salesmen, the carpetbaggers and the venal who manage to capture the imagination of the public and put themselves forward for public office, whether that office is elective, appointive, faith-based or in business.

Our national leadership in all its manifestations is not composed of men and women who would, in all honesty, successfully pass an honestly-administered assessment based on the provisions of Article 10 or Chapter Six of the Constitution. What is more, we are comfortable with the idea that men and women of doubtful integrity and moral fibre are not always anathema to our interests. For this reason we are willing to accept the narrative that one man or woman is responsible for the famine that followed the 2016/2017 drought -- and that one other man or other woman will be responsible for "saving" us from the adverse effects of the famine. So long as we see ourselves as cogs in the political wheels of our "leaders" we will never truly liberate ourselves from starvation deaths -- we will only postpone the inevitable every now and then.

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