#CostOfLivingKE: The Politics of food prices and why Uhuru Kenyatta should be worried

By Arap Doyo on Facebook

People may vote with their pocketbooks, but more often than not, they revolt with their bellies. If you want to predict where political instability, revolution, coups d’état, interstate warfare or regime changes will occur, the best factor to keep an eye on is not GDP, the human development index, or energy prices but the FOOD PRICES.

When a citizen cannot have enough money to purchase food and feed his family, definitely that will create a kind of upset with the system. An uncontrollable upset that is dangerous for any establishment.

That said, the sky rocketing food prices, if not controlled on time, will be Uhuru Kenyatta’s waterloo. The imminent fall of Jubilee is predictably nigh.

History has never been wrong.

In the French Revolution in 1773, according to a book: Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food and People, by Linda Civitello, two of the most essential elements of French cuisine, bread and salt, were at the heart of the conflict; bread, in particular, was tied up with the national identity. "Bread was considered a public service necessary to keep the people from rioting," Civitello writes. "Bakers, therefore, were public servants, so the police controlled all aspects of bread production."

Around that time, the average 18th-century worker spent half his daily wage on bread. But when the grain crops failed two years in a row, in 1788 and 1789, the price of bread shot up to 88 percent of his wages. Many blamed the ruling class for the resulting famine and economic upheaval. On top of that, peasants resented the gabelle (a tax on salt that was particularly unfairly applied to the poor.)

Obviously, the causes of the revolution were far more complicated than the price of bread or unfair taxes on salt (just as the American Revolution was about more than tea tariffs), but both contributed to the rising anger toward the monarchy.

The results of the popular uprising included the storming of the Bastille, a medieval fortress and prison in Paris, on July 14, 1789, and the eventual beheading of the Monarch; King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by the guillotine.

Forward to the 1980’s;

When grain production collapsed in the Soviet Union and what had been one of the world's greatest grain exporters became a net importer, the resulting surges of anger brought down the whole Communist system within a couple of years. Communism crumbled.

In 2011, food and fuel subsidies accounted for a staggering 8% of Egypt’s GDP Hosni Mubarak’s government could no longer afford to feed his population into submission. Even with subsidies, grain prices jumped 30 percent in Egypt between 2010 and 2011, and the uprising began in January 2011.The high food prices helped fuel the anger against oppression, corruption and poverty and Mubarak was eventually kicked out.

The Arab Spring was hugely influenced by earlier riots in response to high food prices in Algeria and Tunisia. The revolutions that swept the Middle East that year were, of course, primarily the result of a population frustrated by decades of dictatorship and corruption, but according to food security scholars, Egypt’s revolution, in particular, is impossible to fully understand without taking into account the role of food.


There is a general frustration in the country. From Malindi to Mandera, from Bondo to Kiambu, from Vihiga to Nyamira, from Kericho to Kitui, the song is the same. Everyone is feeling the pinch.

A packet of milk now costs between Sh 65 and Sh70, maize flour (Sh170), beef (Sh440 per kilo), three tomatoes (Sh25) while a bunch of sukuma wiki has shot from Sh5 to Sh10 in most markets in Nairobi. There has been an upsurge in prices of several food items including, groceries,cereals and spices too.

The latest data from the Kenya Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) show inflation has hit 10.28 percent, a level last seen in 2012 and way above the Government preferred 7 per cent ceiling.

With the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) short of raising its hands in surrender and a government struggling to contain the situation with very little success but with a lot of rhetoric, Kenyans have basically been left on their own to deal with the high levels of inflation.

The current state of the economy creates a perfect environment for a revolution; a ballot revolution to be precise. Revolutions happen in presence of a rallying call the majority of the can relate to.

Effortlessly, the opposition can seamlessly rally the country, Jubilee strongholds included, against the ruling regime by invoking the high food prices.

And with a country where 70% of its citizens live below a dollar a day, the rallying call will resonate across board. And neither will an online portal nor massive PR will stop the masses from expressing dissent, anger and frustration.

Uhuru must rise fast and act before his ship sinks farther. In his four year rule, he has committed countless governance blunders but the high food price one might be the stroke that broke the camel’s back.

He has less than 8 weeks to salvage the ship.



KanaliSpeaks is a blog that focuses on current issues and all things governance.


KanaliSpeaks is a blog that focuses on current issues and all things governance.

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