“Ugali” is the staple food in the majority of Kenyan communities, and it is almost considered a national meal due to its popularity and importance in the country. This starchy mixture of maize-meal, is prepared by adding maize flour to boiling water, while kneading using a cooking-stick until you have a steamy, solid product that is normally served while hot. when adding the flour, you have to be careful to initially add a little portion of the flour that is locally known as “unga” into the boiling water, then leave the semi-solid mixture to boil for a few minutes after which you can now add more flour as you continue kneading. This immensely improves the quality of the final product. It is easy to know that the “ugali” is ready for serving because of the sweet aroma (almost like that of a bread being baked) that it produces when well cooked. “Ugali” can be served with almost any kind of stew including chicken, fish, beef and even traditional vegetables and sour milk.
Apart from being an energy-rich starchy meal, “ugali” is considered to be an important national meal that, somehow, binds the different Kenyan communities together and provokes varied sentiments in the national psyche. Ask many Kenyans living abroad which meal they miss most and more than three quarters of them will automatically say, “Ugali”. It is common to hear a Kenyan saying, “Ninaenda kutafuta unga” (which loosely translates to- “I am going to look for maize flour”) meaning, he is going to work; or “Umemwaga unga” meaning you have messed up your source of livelihood! It is also a known fact that Kenyan sportsmen, especially the football and rugby teams, carry several packets of “unga”, whenever they travel abroad for a match, so that they can cook their own “ugali” just to be sure that they have enough energy when they face their opponents in the pitch. The easiest way to trigger a Tahir square, Egyptian-style revolution in Kenya, is by hiking the price of “Unga” and making it scarce.
Traditionally, in many Kenyan communities, any girl who did not know how to prepare “ugali” was not fit for marriage; and if she happened to get married, doing a shoddy job in preparing “ugali” could be a trigger of domestic violence and she could even be sent packing back to her mother for more lessons on how to cook this important meal. In some communities, like the Kisii community, women from a bride’s home took “ugali” prepared from millet flour to the newly married man’s home, a few days after he paid dowry, as a sign that their girl was ready to be a wife and that her people knew how to cook “ugali”! This unique meal has also been the subject of rib cracking jokes on national TV where comedians usually depict some communities, especially from the western part of the country, especially the Luyha community, as being overly in love with the meal. In western kenya, it is called “Ukali”
Indeed, there is no doubt that “ugali” is the meal that keeps Kenya moving. A quick check on the daily menu of the Kenyans who do heavy manual work in industries and construction sites will show you that “ugali” easily dominates other meals on the menu. Unfortunately, these are the worst paid people earning as little as two dollars a day(Ksh. 150). Given that these are the people who drive the economy of the country, you can now begin understanding why it is a crime against humanity for a packet of “unga” to cost more that a dollar when a majority of these casual workers survive on a two dollar budget a day. With a 2kg packet of unga costing about Ksh.120, you can only imagine how many families go to bed on empty stomachs. Some prominent leaders like the former finance minister who was recently nominated as ambassador to the U.S. Njeru Githae, once argued that Kenyans are over-dependent on “ugali”, which is true. But his suggestion that Kenyans should borrow a leaf from the Chinese and seriously consider diversifying the meals on their menu, by including crawling creatures such as cockroaches and rodents like rats on their menu list,was considered a big insult that left many mouths agape !
It is obvious that the privileged ruling class has no idea how it feels like for a whole family go to bed hungry; not because they are fasting or lack appetite, but because they have nothing to eat! Take for instance our president who was born in state house when his father was president, and is now the tenant of the same house as president. I can only imagine that if he ever went to bed hungry in his entire life, then it was not because there was no food in the house but because he was either sick or, due to some reason, he had lost his appetite. But even so, it must not have been before his handlers persuaded him to take a few sips of fresh juice or some exotic soup of sorts. This is the very reason why I can’t blame the president for not having a clear picture of what the poor people go through on a daily basis, but the blame squarely lies on the people around him who are supposed to give him a realistic appraisal of the situation of the poor Kenyans on the ground.The deputy president, a self declared hustler, might have gone to bed hungry a couple of times in his childhood, as it is no secret that he is a self made politician. His is an inspiring “rags to riches” story, hence it would be totally unfair to say that he doesn’t know how it feels to be poor and helpless. But I was saddened when I saw him on citizen TV yesterday, trying to justify the high cost of living in the country.
This is why the president is supposed to surround himself not with people who
tell him what he wants to hear but those who tell him the bare and painful truth, even if it may be unpleasant to his ears. This is why the president should refuse to assent to any bills aimed at stealing from poor Kenyans, forwarded to him by the senate and the National assembly. Lastly, this is the reason why the president should not be party to any machinations aimed at killing devolution since, if well handled, devolution will finally put “ugali” on the tables of poor Kenyans. Lest we forget, the buck stops with the president in any gov’t. He should, therefore,completely refuse to be held prisoner by political wheeler dealers who have vested interests , at the expense of poor Kenyans, since he will finally take responsibility of all that goes wrong during his tenure in the big house on the hill.Kenyans are very hopeful people and nobody should kill this hope. Any government that is unable to guarantee its people’s security against terrorists and hunger has no business governing.