Government should rest on her laurels no more on food security

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BY EMEKA-MAYAKA GEKARA

We have institutionalized lying. Academics are saying we are living in the post-truth era. And politicians are engaged in post-truth politics.

The generally agreed definition of post-truth is “the public burial of objective facts by an avalanche of media appeals to emotion and personal belief.”   It is basically willful lying and use of what the pro- Donald Trump TV talking heads call “alternative facts.”

Prof John Keane of the University of Sydney who has written extensively about it, says post-truth also includes forms of public discourse commonly called bullshit.

“It comprises communication that displaces and nullifies concerns about veracity. Bullshit is hot air talk, verbal excrement that lacks nutrient. It is shooting off at the mouth, backed by the presumption that it is acceptable to others in the conversation,” he writes in The Conversation.

It is post-truth when someone tells lies or willfully says things they know not to be true, for effect.An example is when Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen says there is no rift in Jubilee.  Or when National Assembly Majority leader says Kenya’s public debt has reduced drastically during the Uhuru administration. The converse is true.

Another scholar, Yuval Noah Harari who teaches history at  the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has argued that that propaganda and disinformation are nothing new. In fact, he writes, humans have always lived in the age of post-truth. “Homo sapiens is a post-truth species, who conquered this planet thanks, above all, to the unique human ability to create and spread fictions,” he argues in his book 21 Lessons For The 21st Century.

You just need to listen to Deputy President William Ruto to agree that that homo-sapiens is a post truth species. Despite bereaved families, chiefs and media reporting actual deaths caused by hunger that has ravaged sections of the country, the DP declared that nobody had died. He described the reported deaths as fake news. Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa suggested that the chiefs who were reporting the deaths were “embarrassing” government. The DP ordered that they be sacked.  It is not only a shame that Kenyans are dying of hunger when sections of the country have plenty of food, but also sad for public officials to twist the truth. The Government says farmers produced 46 million bags of maize. This is sufficient to sustain the country.

The hunger situation is also a pointer to our ill-preparedness or poor response to warnings.   The National Drought Management Authority had raised the red flag nearly a million people were facing hunger due to poor rains in December.It identified the affected areas as Samburu, Marsabit, Garissa, Isiolo, Mandera, Wajir, Baringo, Kilifi, Tana River, West Pokot, Makueni, Kajiado and Kwale.The Famine Early Warning Systems Network had also predicted that below-average seasonal rainfall would cause an increase in food insecurity in early 2019. It indicated that arid and semi-arid counties should expect a decline in food, water and pasture. 

The DP announced release of Sh2 billion government funds to purchase relief food, truck water and rehabilitate boreholes. And there in lies the problem. It has become “cool” for Kenyan politicians to be photographed distributing debes of unga and beans to emaciated old women and children. They should be ashamed.

After the distribution, the politicians troop back to Nairobi to sit on their hands and wait for another emergency. Why were the boreholes and water pans not rehabilitated earlier?  It is a typical Kenyan attitude for government to wait for a crisis to happen before it exerts a knee-jerk reaction. What became of the End Drought Management policy framework that was aimed to create a partnership between counties and national government in handling of such a crisis?

Even more saddening was that leaders both at the county and national government were engaged in high-octane succession politics as families suffered out of hunger.

Suggestions have been made on how to mitigate such crises in future.  The most popular is improvement of agriculture through irrigation and expansion of extension services. Herders can be helped through increased access to water, sanitation, animal feed and management of drought-prone rangelands. Farmers have also been advised to use drought resistant crops.  You will argue that drought is a natural process. Fine. But the critical thing is mitigation to prevent loss of lives. And this is where the government has always slept on the job.

But while at it, we must address one of the damning consequences of drought: Poverty.Less food and water also means vast numbers of dead livestock in affected areas. This devastates families’ source of income and food. More so, it affects not only the economies of the areas in focus but also the national economy.

According to World Vision, nearly 40% of children in sub-Saharan Africa grow up stunted due to chronic malnutrition, they lack the capacity to learn and contribute to the economy. Their little bodies don’t get enough of the right nutrients at the right times to support physical and intellectual growth. “Thus, their countries lose out on significant leadership and innovative potential, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty and deprivation.”