Hunger is political and political class isn’t ashamed of it

Saturday February 18 2023
Residents of Kakiteitei village in Turkana, Kenya relief food

Residents of Kakiteitei village in Turkana, Kenya get relief food from the Kenya Red Cross Society. PHOTO | SAMMY LUTA | NMG


The 2022 version of the Global Hunger Index is out. It is a publication of Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe. Not surprisingly, African countries continue to rank poorly. For instance, the report shows that a significant section of Kenya’s population remains vulnerable to hunger and undernourishment. Stunted growth and malnutrition affect significant numbers of children in different counties.

The report is helpful because it looks at areas that need to be improved to achieve sustainable food security. It analyses various factors and players in the food value chain that influence food security: Governance, farmers, production, culture, transportation, access to land, marketing, population growth, climate change.

Policy makers, therefore, have in their hands a detailed, non-partisan, objective analysis of hunger and food security, and recommendations on how to achieve food security. I make this observation because, if there is something officials, particularly in Africa, are experts in, it is the art of making excuses. So, when a river floods and drowns people, officials blame people for building near river banks. A few years ago, when a train crashed into a matatu killing several people in Umoja, Nairobi, the authorities blamed hawkers who had encroached on the railway track, thus blocking motorists from having a clear view of the tracks.

Who is responsible

When buildings collapse and people are buried alive, authorities blame unscrupulous owners of the buildings. After these tragedies, the questions left soaking in our grieving hearts are: Who is responsible for resettling people away from river banks? Who is responsible for clearing encroachment on railway tracks and highways? Whose job is it to enforce the building code?

For decades, food insecurity, drought and hunger have been part of Kenyan life. Yet we have never been able to manage these occurrences. In fact, even when scientists warn of an impending drought, the government, no matter the ruling administration, is always caught flatfooted. Even when the media begin reporting deaths of livestock and people, there seems to be no mechanism for urgent response. A few years ago, the clergy had to plead with the government to temporarily stop campaigning and address the hunger crisis.


But what I find incomprehensible is the pomp and ceremony with which officials flag off trucks carrying relief food for victims of hunger. They stand on a red carpet and, with bubbling pride, energetically flag off the relief trucks. Some even have banners on the side of the trucks bearing their names, rank and the date of the flag-off in bright, cheerful colours. An event that should be of great shame becomes an opportunity for self-aggrandisement.

By contrast, officials in China try to hide the extent of Covid-19 spread because they are ashamed of what the world will think of their management of the disease.

 So there is a more fundamental factor that underpins hunger and food insecurity: Officialdom’s warped concept of power within a democracy.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator