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January 20, 2019

The catch in NASA, JP pledge clash

Plate of ugali
Plate of ugali

The National Super Alliance and Jubilee’s tiff over provision of ‘free’ secondary school education after the election is interesting. The parties, which are competing for state power, know parents who toil to keep their children in secondary school like this idea.

NASA’s pledge has a higher sense of urgency, but Jubilee wants to delay the fulfilment of the promise to allow time for ‘planning’. NASA promises to take this burden off the pockets of parents in September, only weeks after the August 8 General Election.

September is the peak season when poor parents raise funds for their children joining public universities for the first time. Easing the burden for the secondary school lot, therefore, has a populist pull.

The promise appeals even more in this unprecedented age of acute unga rationing. This is the first time Kenyans are running from supermarkets to grocery stores to line up for a packet of unga. It is also the first time the government is subsiding the price of unga, when available, for the rich and the poor with GoK-branded packets.

At these shops, the usual answer to desperate consumers is that ‘unga ilikuwa hapa jana’. The vendors are spitting in the faces of hungry and angry consumers who spend hours hunting for unga.

When you are lucky to find stock, it is limited to one or two packets, which underlies the intensity of the crisis. Food insecurity is a serious issue, and a breach of the Bill of Rights. The rights to adequate food and education are sacred.

For Jubilee, the shortage demonstrates the burden of incumbency. For NASA, it is evidence the Jubilee regime has failed to plan for food security.

A ruling party is cornered when basic rights are breached. There is a crisis of trust when you add more promises to failures to accomplish other pledges of five years ago.

Ensuring food security was a promise. Irrigation of millions of acres in Tana River was a promise to ensure food security. This promise is still pending, even though this government had four years to plan.

Among the Luhya, with about two million registered voters, food is ugali and kuku. Among the Luo, food is ugali and fish. Anything else is a snack. Among these communities, you do not wash your hands to eat a snack. And some say they have not ‘washed’ their hands for months now.

Even if there were alternative foods to ugali, consumers would need a longer time for re-orientation before they can accept rice or spaghetti and sukuma wiki as food. This means dependence on the staple grain has acquired a political hue.

Ugali is a millstone around the neck of the Jubilee government. The promise of food security may not work in the face of pending pledges.

Jubilee says its free secondary school education pledge will be implemented in January, five months after the election. The deferral, the ruling coalition says, considers planning, government revenue cycles, and perennial budget constraints.

But those skeptical of the Jubilee promise say the party is in power and can implement the promise immediately—just cut down on corruption to bridge the budget gap. They say Jubilee should act rather than promise because it has the wherewithal.

Opposition NASA has no such clout, so it can pledge without attracting intense interrogation.

But the power of context lowers the believability of the Jubilee promise of free secondary school education, or any other pledges. Voters recall the pending promises in the Jubilee manifesto of 2013. The promise of laptops for standard one children by January 2014, is stuck at the pilot stage.

The pledge of five premier stadia in the counties is pending. The promises to manage public expenditure and cutting down on the cost of corruption have floundered.

On the promise of free secondary school education, the Jubilee anger has do with the competition of ideas in the psyche of impressionable voters. The poor voters know food is a better offer than a suspended promise.

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