F you think back on the promises made during the 2013 General Election, you will remember pledges about free laptops for schoolchildren; loans for youth and women’s groups; the infrastructure for supply of clean water and electricity. And so on. What you will not recall is any pledges to end the routine famines that follow on the seasons of drought that regularly stalk Northeastern Kenya. Indeed, no leading presidential candidate stood up to declare that he or she would end the scourges of famine and hunger in Kenya. This is because Kenya is a country in which there is no excuse for famine.
Some years ago, the ‘Freedom from Hunger’ annual fund-raising walk was a prominent feature of Kenyan life, with schoolchildren, as much as adults, seeking sponsorship to raise money for a charitable fund that could be used to buy and supply food to those parts of Kenya that perennially experienced drought. But with time, less and less is heard of this initiative – such fund-raising walks (or even runs) are now more focused on major killer diseases: As indeed is only appropriate. What am I getting at? Simply that we should have long passed the stage in our economic development where ordinary Kenyans had to fear famine or hunger. We should long before now have achieved comprehensive food security. Nobody in Kenya should ever die of hunger.
In a country dedicating billions of shillings to a new standard gauge railway; yet more billions to road and water projects; how is it possible that a famine long predicted by our own meteorologists leads to widespread starvation? Why have our officials in the planning ministry not been able to look ahead; see that there is a famine looming; and mobilise national resources to deal with this emergency?
Why is it that only after deaths have occurred; only after there is a huge national outcry in the media; only then does the government move to address the situation?
This is not a matter that should be left to development partners – it is pointless to boast that Kenya meets 97 percent of annual government expenditure through local taxes, if we are going to run to the donor community to beg for food to save Kenyan lives.
Nor should this be a matter for private philanthropy.
Our status as a middle-income country counts for very little if we cannot guarantee food for the whole population, and Kenyans still die from hunger, every few years.