Most Kenyan meals are centred on ugali, a thick, dough-like mass made form maize and/or cassava flour. Following the Kenyan culinary tradition, it emphasises feeding the masses as efficiently as possible. Ugali is relatively inexpensive and thus easily accessible to the poor, who usually combine it with sukuma wiki(local Kenyan vegetable) to make a filling meal. Yet, in the past few months, as we are drawing close to Kenyan election, this most popular Kenyan staple food has become endangered in the grocery store!
Ugali has become synonymous with every talk in the country and news headlines like “Drama follows as Kenyans cook ugali outside President’s office”, “Ugali wannabes” and even “Lugari man stabs wife, kid over ugali” started to appear. Not only was ugali missing from the local convenience stores, even super-markets have limited quota on the amount of ugali flour customers can buy. The price of ugali skyrocketed at least 50% over the past few months. Finally, in late May, the government announced an official subsidy in order to reduce the price of ugali. So why has ugali– Kenyans’ cheapest staple food – gone hiding?
Some argue that the price of this basic commodity has hiked up because of the drought affecting the Horn of Africa in Kenya. Others say that the ugali war had originated from powerful cartels trying to capitalise the market. No doubt, the general election in Kenya is in the upcoming August also contributes to this price war.So, as government supporters were praising the food subsidies as the actions of a caring government, oppositions accuse the government of creating an artificial shortage in order to be seen as a helpful.
Would government would risk a food shortage this close to an election?
We don’t know.
One thing we know for sure, with the price of commodity going up, local Kenyans especially those in the slums do not need missing ugali from their diet.
Author’s note: Interestingly, media in the country rumoured that maize flour had to be imported from as far as Mexico to meet the needs of Kenyans with ugali. Yet, it was also pointed out that the shipment time of 6 weeks was not consistent with the timing of supply of maize flour in Kenya! Of everywhere with maize flour, why Mexico anyway?