from Africa in Transition

Drought and the Kenyan Elections

July 27, 2017

Packets of maize flour subsidized by government in Nairobi, Kenya May 24, 2017. Over three million Kenyans are expected to be "food insecure" by the time voting begins in August. Baz Ratner/Reuters
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Elections and Voting

Food and Water Security

The very tight race between Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee Party and Raila Odinga and the National Super Alliance (NASA) reflects growing food insecurity that, in turn, is the product of drought, which may also be related to climate change. Spring rainfall is down 75 percent from the its five-year average, bringing Kenya’s staple food crop, maize, down 70 percent from its five-year average, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization. In response to the drought, food prices are much higher than normal. According to local observers, the price of maize flour is up 50 percent, milk is up 12 percent, and sugar, 21 percent. Food agencies estimate that 2.6 million of 48  million Kenyans are now “food insecure,” with estimates that the number could increase by one million by August. In certain remote areas, food agencies are describing the situation as “one step away from famine.” 

The incumbent Kenyatta administration has introduced price controls on maize flour and lifted tariffs on imported maize. The opposition, NASA, sees these steps as too little too late. It is also critical of alleged white-elephant prestige projects, general corruption, and government policies that benefit big farmers and millers, often with close ties to Jubilee.

Election Day, August 8, will show the extent to which voter anger at high food prices is directed at the Kenyatta administration. As the incumbent, Kenyatta would normally be the favorite, not least because of the administration’s patronage networks. But that advantage could be undercut by the price of maize.

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