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There’s a fine line between patriotism and posho

If one man offers you democracy and another offers you a bag of grain, at what stage of starvation will you prefer the grain to the vote?
~ Bertrand Russell

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This is a question I have spent a considerable amount of time pondering over the past few days: Are we ready to shut up and stuff our mouths with cheap posho at the cost of asking the hard questions about the direction this country is taking and how we got here in the first place?

Some background to the food crisis: Kenyan farmers planted maize as usual but were, however, provided with substandard fertiliser, naturally we ended up with very low yields (a situation not helped by poor rains), NCPB then refuses to buy their maize thus ensuring we have no SGR (strategic grain reserves). Hunger ensues. By the way, this is all happening while we’ve thrown 15 billion shillings at irrigation projects with nothing to show for it except for an outstanding debt that needs paying.

We are then told that private millers allegedly brought in almost 30,000 tonnes of maize within less than a week of imports being allowed (we’re told the ship came from Mexico, on pointing out Mexico is too far we are told it came from South Africa, on pressing we’re finally told it was just floating on the high seas trying to hawk maize to passers-by, jamani). Regarding the importers of the maize, the company at the forefront is called Holbud (UK) Limited

According to reports from Kenya’s newspaper of record:

“Two years ago, Holbud was in the news when the parliamentary committee on Agriculture was investigating how the company won a Sh6 billion fertiliser tender and the quality of fertiliser brought in (which has contributed to the food crisis we face)

Holbud was mentioned in Kenya again in 2004 and it was also about a maize scandal. This time NCPB officials sold 1 million bags of maize from the Strategic Grain Reserve to Holbud at “uneconomical prices” which it sold to Zimbabwe “to offset NCPB’s debt to farmers”. Holbud had neither asked to buy the maize nor tendered for it.

Earlier in 2002, the same firm had been allowed to import more than 16,000 tonnes of maize from South Africa, when the Kenya faced a crisis similar to the one we are in today.

Based in the UK, Holbud is run by Hasnain Roshanali Merali, David George Rowe, Mahmood Gulamhusein Khaku and Shaukat Akberali Merali.

But according to court filings in the US, both Holbud and Hydrey (P) Limited are “related companies controlled by Roshan Merali” as the two share directors.

Kenyan government officials say that Holbud was only a transporter of the maize aboard MV IVS Pinehurst, but it named among the importers Kitui Flour Mills, Pembe Flour Mills and Hydrey (P) Limited – meaning that Holbud shipped maize to itself through its sister company, Hydrey.”

The plot thickens…
So GoK then sends its own senior officials to receive this maize at the port that was supposedly bought by private businessmen, it then buys this maize and then sells the same loot to millers (who some say are the very same importers who sold the same maize earlier, so did it even leave the ship?) at subsidised rates. Finally, it then avails unga at 90 bob for the suffering wanainchi. Of course, the same wanainchi will pay for this subsidy from their own taxes since the government doesn’t simply print money. We are subsidising our own flour because the people paid to ensure we have a stock of grains for emergencies (which drought is not actually) either spent their time scratching their scrotal sacks as silos gathered cobwebs, or as some are alleging: they sold off our stockpile to South Sudan and never replenished it.

Some of us would rather we not question the source of this maize or the mechanism by which we have received this subsidy, they feel we should just be grateful to get something to eat. I disagree. I get it, they support your favourite politicians no matter what. Perhaps they even now conclude they have another good reason to buttress stubborn unwavering support for their beloved leaders on the basis that they lowered prices of unga. That’s well within everyone’s right.

But please don’t insult the intelligence of Kenyans by declaring that just because we were starving in the face of unaffordable flour it then follows that we have no right to question the means by which we have received subsidised posho in record time; and this courtesy of millers involved in past grain scandals. We’re not sheep.

The money that pays the rich connected millers to have them ship in, sell maize to GoK, have GoK sell the maize back to them, and then put a sticker on old packets of flour and offer this so called subsidised unga is not from Uhuru’s or Ruto’s (or indeed RAO’s) pocket; it is us, the long-suffering Wanjikus, who will be ultimately paying from our own taxes for this ‘subsidy’ since the government doesn’t simply create money out of thin air but takes it from us, from our sweat. Of course our wonderful leaders won’t be using part of their fabulous wealth to feed us regardless of how much we think they love us and how strongly we feel about them that we’re willing to fight each other to keep them ensconced in palatial public offices and homes.

And do not forget that the fact we have needed this shameful rescue from hunger is itself an indictment on our leadership because it is as a direct result of a lack of planning, pure ineptitude, gross negligence, or perhaps even deliberate and unconscionable sabotage by an unfeeling bureaucracy that you sit there defending.

On 8/8/17 we’ll split the country right down the middle on the basis of tribe as usual, no one will remember the events of the last few weeks.

As for the local farmers, they simply continue to get the middle finger regarding the maize they tried to sell that was earlier rejected, no one offered them a subsidy, GoK is like screw them, let the weevils and rats have a feast. In the meantime, rich millers and connected commodities dealers who knew beforehand before even GoK opened up imports continue to laugh all the way to branches of international banks in the neighbourhoods of their McMansions in the leafy suburbs of Nairobi and other capitals of the world. And we get to have our own money banked for us, the very same monies that will be dished out to us in ninety days to vote enthusiastically for the most generous of our leaders.

On 8/8/17 we’ll split the country right down the middle on the basis of tribe as usual, no one will remember the events of the last few weeks.

#ThisIsKenya

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I stand with our doctors

Nothing that has value, real value, has no cost. Not freedom, not food, not shelter, not healthcare.
~ Dean Kamen

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After all the grandstanding, and the threats, and the dithering, predictably, the chickens are coming  home to roost… Doctors will not back down, and this fight has finally come to a head.

Initially a lot of Kenyans on social media were talking about the doctors’ strike like something that’s way out there, that’s not really touching their lives directly, after all it was just another protest like many others. In fact I even saw some argue that doctors could be proving they are not indispensable because the country had gone 70 days already without doctors and they were still breathing. I just shook my head.

The update-posting, selfie-taking, pizza-eating, mall-cruising, tweeting middle-class did not particularly feel the pinch, not until today. You see many of us have medical covers and are not planning on going to that Vihiga District Hospital where patients relieve themselves in buckets on the ward floor; few of us have ever set foot in Kenyatta Hospital where you can watch a tractor drive out the back every morning with a pile of bodies from the wards headed to a mortuary piled to the ceiling with corpses in various states of decay; many have never been to those level 4 hospitals where you can watch patients die in waiting lines; they couldn’t understand how a quack doctor has been performing caesarian operations in a county for years without detection.

People felt cushioned from the ongoings, aloof to the struggle of the public hospital doctors; after all Aga Khan, Mater, Nairobi, Getrudes, etc, were all still operating at full speed, and with personal doctors sat dutifully at their work stations and doctors’ plazas. That’s until yesterday when things changed. That’s when panic set in, that is when matters were thrown into perspective, that is when shit got real.

I have got news for you: it’s always been real, it hit the fan a long time ago, and for us all. If you ram your jalopy into a truck carrying broilers pumped with steroids at Ngoliba you will not be taken to Karen Hospital, you will be dumped at the nearest public hospital which is manned by those same doctors we watched march on our wall mounted curved screen TVs as we discussed ‘their greed for money’ in our posh accents; your relatives in the sticks don’t have those medical cards to swipe at 5 star hospitals, they depend on those district hospitals where doctors don’t even have gloves or clean syringes, they sorely need those public hospital doctors; mothers giving birth in the boondocks, they don’t have the options of epidurals at fancy hospitals with Cayenne driving doctors; little babies in the ‘reserves’, those don’t have several branches of Getrudes at the corner of every estate. These calibre of patient all need better public hospitals with working facilities and well motivated doctors. In fact we all need the same things they need whether we know it or not.

As a matter of fact, it has been pointed out several times that what we call a middle class in Kenya is just but a working class, basically that means a class that is just one missed salary away from desperation and destitution; lose your job today and of course that medical cover will disappear faster than money is siphoned out of Afya House.

Let me give you a personal story: In December 2005 my late father was preparing to retire for the night at the Nairobi Club when he felt a sharp pain in his upper chest and neck, he called his doctor at Aga Khan, Kisumu, who on hearing the symptoms advised that he take a taxi immediately to Nairobi Hospital because it sounded like the onset of a heart attack. The old man did as he had been told and called a taxi which took him directly to the hospital, in fact he walked by himself from the car to the hospital main door as the taxi guy then left; which is the exact reason he was all by himself when he collapsed right there in the reception. Now the hospital could not book him in unless someone signed a guarantee. By the time they found my mum’s number in his diary and called her and she called me to rush over to the hospital, it was too late. You can’t sit around with a heart attack waiting for a cash guarantee (I hear it is now 600K). In fact in 1996 my dad had fallen gravely ill and been rushed to MP Shah, he was lucky that at that time he was with my mum and they had a Diners’ Club credit card, or they would not have been booked in without a 150,000 shilling cash deposit.

So what’s the point of my story you might be wondering, and just what is its relevance to the current doctors’ strike? Well look at it this way: doctors are fighting to have public hospitals equipped better, working and living conditions improved, and facilities for patients upgraded (it is all there in the dishonoured CBA, but the government would rather you only pay attention to salary demands). If this fight had been won all those years ago and public hospitals were better equipped and manned with motivated staff then it would have made better sense for the taxi driver to take my dad to Kenyatta Hospital instead (where they don’t ask for a Diners’ Club card or a deposit of half a million shillings to admit a dying person), maybe if Kenyatta Hospital or Mbagathi hospital had been a viable option I wouldn’t be writing this today and I would instead be telling you about the pressure from my dad to settle down… These second chances at life, these options for patients everywhere, that is what the doctors are fighting for.

If you are walking by yourself on the street and suddenly fall down in a heap, there’s a very good chance that you’ll find yourself at Mbagathi Hospital or Kenyatta Hospital, than that you’ll end up at Karen Hospital or Aga Khan. And even if you were taken to one of those premier private hospitals, woe be unto thee if you are not walking around with a travellers’ cheque for a million shillings in your pocket, for otherwise you might still find yourself at Mbagathi, if you make it there alive at all. That is when you will understand what the doctors’ strike is about, at that shattering moment when your relatives find you lying alone in a dark corridor because there was no space in the wards, and worse no one knows what’s wrong with you because there’s no functioning X-Ray machine, there’s no basic equipment, no anaesthesia, and in any case the doctors themselves are languishing at King’ong’o, Kamiti, and Kodiaga like common criminals for shining a light on our dark despicable healtchare conditions.

This fight is not just about better salaries for doctors, this fight is not just for the poor that go to public hospitals. This fight is about improving all public health facilities, it is about improving working conditions for medics and ultimately for patients, it is about equipping healthcare facilities with at least the basics. It is a fight that you are invested in whether you realize it or not.

Don’t wait until that day you wake up on the cold cracked floor of a public hospital with nothing but painkillers in your hand and not even a cup of clean water to wash them down with to come to the startling realization that this was your fight.

Don’t wait until that day you will be writing a story about losing a parent(s) at the reception of a private hospital that needed a million shilling deposit to book them in; and worse, they only went there because there was no public hospital in the vicinity that could have saved them.

#IStandWithDoctors #HealthCrisisKE #KMPDU

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