SOCIETY TALK

How panic-buying is making unga shortage worse

Just like when pandemic hit, people are stocking up ahead of election

In Summary

• It is not the politics but the mass hysteria that endangers Kenyans

An almost empty shelf set aside to stock maize flour in a supermarket (left) and a trolley packed with about 10 packets of subsidised unga by a client in one of the supermarkets in Thika Town
An almost empty shelf set aside to stock maize flour in a supermarket (left) and a trolley packed with about 10 packets of subsidised unga by a client in one of the supermarkets in Thika Town
Image: JAMES WAINAINA

The rapidly increasing prices of food and household items spread fear into an already anxious country about to face an election.

As a country that faced devastating loss in the aftermath of the 2007 election, we automatically become tense every election. The underlying problem, we all know, is tribalism. We have associated tribes with political parties for too long. This is a huge problem in the Kenyan political scene, which requires proper analysis and solution.

In any case, whenever there is a tight presidential race that is hard to predict, we already fear the worst. No one wants their side to lose; winners are seen as ‘tribal victories’, which in turn cause the losers to incite violence. Most of us are fearful of any violence post-August 9. As such, we believe we must ensure our families are provided for during this period.

With food prices at an all-time high and families scrambling to buy as much as they can in anticipation of lockdown, it came as a relief when the president announced that maize flour prices will be reduced to Sh100 for every 2kg packet.

The Naivas near my home has a WhatsApp group that shares sales and promotions. Members also get to inquire or buy items through the administrators in the group. As soon as Uhuru announced the reduction, the group chat was bombarded by queries from members who wanted to know how soon flour would be available at the mandated price. I burst out laughing as I read a frustrated member’s message, inquiring when the reduced flour price will be availed. I could just imagine her tone when she wrote, “Uhuru amesema!”

By the time I got to Naivas a few hours later, the flour was all gone. The establishment had put a four-piece maximum limit on everyone. The next day, it was announced on the group that flour had been restocked and lo and behold, before two hours were up, the maize meal was kaput!

The incident made me think… It is usually not a big event that turns a disaster into a catastrophe. Rather, it is the mass hysteria that plagues us during a disaster. Who remembers the extreme shopping people would do during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020? Because we fear the worst, we end up bringing out the worst in ourselves. When we buy tons of food because ‘it’s cheaper’ or we anticipate food shortage, we end up causing a ripple effect that will ultimately affect other Kenyans.

We rush to buy food reserves enough to feed an army, yet we have small families. In the end, we cannot escape the food wastage when it goes bad in our homes. I wonder why people never resort to eating less when worse comes to the worst. In times of food security, most of us never think to eat until forced to. We seem to have lost all sense of reason. Just because Naivas has limited the amount of packets one can buy means that one must buy the maximum even if they do not need it at the moment.

This results in a mass hysteria of buying. Everyone fears that flour will run out if we all do not buy the maximum immediately. Yet on an ordinary day, piles of flour sit untouched on the shelves. Excessive buying will eventually lead to food shortage and panic amongst the people. Therefore, I humbly request everyone; let us break the mentality of mass hysteria. Let us not be overrun by fear. Let us buy food rations for our families as usual so that other families are able to do the same.