When he campaigned in his second presidential bid, Uhuru Kenyatta promised that under the watch of his Jubilee Party, Kenyans would never have to pay more than Sh100 (USD1) for a kilogram of maize flour, which is known as ‘unga’. However, it does now cost more than a dollar and, due to failed rains, the price is going up by the day. Consequently, the menu in most homes are changing and one of the country’s dietary staples, ugali, is missing.
“Whenever I go to the supermarket, my heart sinks because the prices change overnight,” says Kamilla Okioma, a hairstylist in Embakasi, on the outskirts of the Nairobi. She says she cannot go for more than two days without ugali.
Failed Election Pledges
Kenyans have vented their frustration online. On 30 April, Esther Mwende, a secretary with the ministry of Foreign Affairs, wrote on her Facebook page: “During the grand coalition govt [in 2008-2012], large-scale farmers in Kenya sold maize to the government stores [National Cereals and Produce Board] at a cost of Sh3 000 per 90 kg bag and Kenyans bought maize flour at Sh70 per 2 kg packet. “Today, in the corrupt Jubilee regime, farmers are selling the same maize at Sh2 000 per 90 kg bag while Kenyans are buying a packet for Sh130. Jubilee government has destroyed our country and failed in fulfilling their election pledges. Come August 8 , we will smoke them out without mercy.”
Now as Kenyatta seeks re-election, the price of maize flour may well determine how much support he gets.
Several other people have expressed similar anger in interviews. Charles Kimondo, a second-hand clothes dealer on the outskirts of Nairobi, says that President Kenyatta has not kept his promise and he must “be taught a lesson” for joking with “Kenyans’ stomachs”.
“How can a bale of maize flour be more expensive than a packet of cement? Does the government want us to substitute maize flour with cement?” Kimondo asked angrily.
Several TV opinion polls have been conducted on the cost of maize flour and the reaction of respondents has been fast and furious, with many saying President Kenyatta’s government has failed and does not deserve a second chance.
Several TV opinion polls have been conducted on the cost of maize flour and the reaction of respondents has been fast and furious
“I wonder what he will be telling us when he goes around campaigning. What will he tell Kenyans who cannot feed themselves?” Mary Muthoka, a housewife, asked.
“A government that cannot control the price of food does not deserve to be in charge,” said Samuel Otieno, a matatu driver.
A Government at Odds with its Citizens
When President Kenyatta took office in 2013, the price of unga was Ksh90 (USD0.87) and now it is Ksh180 (USD1.75). This is a steep rise for the majority of Kenyans, who are struggling with high inflation. The situation has put government at odds with the population because the steady price of unga has been the pet subject in most of his state addresses.
As Kenyans rate the performance of Kenyatta’s government over the last four years, his inability to tame the runaway cost of maize flour has been deemed one of his major failings. Now, as Kenyatta seeks re-election, the price of maize flour may well determine how much support he gets.
In early April 2017, the Treasury, the budgetary arm of the Ministry of Finance, announced that the government would waive import taxes on maize so that Kenyans would be able to buy maize flour at a cheaper price. However, this has done little to make flour affordable as millers say it takes more than a government directive to reduce food prices. They say factors like the country of origin determines the time they take to adjust their prices.
Failed Game Plan
Like his predecessors, President Kenyatta had a plan to ensure that maize flour would not be one of the headaches of his administration. To this end, he commissioned a one million acre irrigation scheme in Kilifi County, a coastal part of the country, half of which would be under maize. This five-year project was to last through the first term of his presidency and was projected to cost about Ksh400 billion (USD3 874 096 000), most of which would be borrowed externally.
However, due to gross mismanagement and corruption, nothing has come of this investment. Since early 2017, Kenya has been receiving food donations from as far afield as China and United Arab Emirates, something Kenyans have questioned given that the country has invested so much in agriculture.
Since early 2017, Kenya has been receiving food donations from as far afield as China and United Arab Emirates, something Kenyans have questioned given that the country has invested so much in agriculture.
Maize is a staple food in Kenya, and a shortage of flour is enough to make Kenyans take to the streets. In 2011, several Kenyans took to the streets to protest the high cost of unga, among other things. Then, a group of young people, symbolically carrying empty plates under a banner reading, ‘Unga Revolution’, staged a week-long sit-in near the offices of then President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
The next elections are set for 8 August 2017. This means that President Kenyatta’s government has less than four months to bring down the price of a packet of maize flour. Meanwhile, since it is campaign season, Kenyans are all ears to hear his message.