A friend of mine keeps a cat, mainly to catch a persistent rat that’s been raiding his granary. For months, the cat has been well fed and pampered, even though it has had no success in ending the rat’s felonious reign. As his losses from the granary mounted, my friend chose to engage in self-help; direct action. Rat poison was liberally sprinkled on choice rat foodie morsels, and all buddy needed to do was sit back and observe the thief’s demise. So it was a major shock when the very same afternoon the deadly dusting was done, he saw his faithful cat rush to the granary, snatch the poisoned food, and split in a hurry. He hasn’t seen the cat since, but the rat is still there in the granary gnawing away at the wooden structure itself. No cat, soon no granary.
Is there a point to this story? Not really. As a city slicker I’m always fascinated by the stories you are told by the practical men and women of the soil; our farmers. As of the 2019 census there were reported to be 6.3 million farming households in Kenya growing maize, beans, sorghum, rice potatoes, beans, millet, cassava, sweet potatoes, wheat, cabbage and other greens. Add to this the households growing cash crops, who were as follows: 966 thousand avocado farming households; 796 thousand mango households; 478 thousand coffee households; 476 thousand tea growing households; 195 thousand macadamia families; 177 thousand citrus (oranges, lemons and limes); 131 thousand miraa farming families; 90 thousand coconut growing households; and 60 thousand cashew-nut households. Everyone with a patch of earth grows maize and beans, or keeps dairy or meat cows, goats, sheep or camels. I forgot to mention there are 12.2 million households in Kenya, according to the 2019 Population Census. So farmers are easily more than half our population. The rural population is actually 57 percent of Kenya’s people.
This portion of our population has concerns that might be incomprehensible to city dwellers who daily consume the food they produce, and visit them less frequently. To them, it is crazy that the entitled city denizen would have them produce food below cost, to keep prices at their supermarkets low. It is also strange to them how much focus there has been on maandamano of the destructive kind in Nairobi and Kisumu since the date with destiny of 20 March 2023. Were they to be asked, they would echo the cost of living complaint rather than the electoral injustice claims of Azimio La Umoja One Kenya, I think. After all, they too are now buying a 2 kg packet of sifted maize flour at over KSh 205 – ten years ago this would have cost KSh 110.
Sure rural folk do recognize they have Article 37 rights too, and do exercise them. They protest practical stuff that can get done such as completion of roads to a motorable standard. When these roads are left as muddy deep-soil tracks, the rural protester is liable to plant bananas in the ‘road’ to communicate displeasure. Protest processions in rural areas don’t last whole working days. The march is most likely to run straight towards the government office being protested against, or to the local police station where a noisy but succinct petition will be delivered.
In my limited experience, there are far fewer brutal crackdowns on rural protests than those in the urban milieu. At least in Ukambani. Are the police more tolerant? I don’t think that is necessarily so. But in a small town, the cops, where they drink, where they sleep, and where their kids go to school are not as mysterious as in the big city. Or rather they are not as set apart from the community they police.
Rural politicians are also far more attuned to the vagaries of disgruntled public opinion. If we had a devolved taxation legal regime, such as being suggested in the UK where the proposal is to devolve income tax and excise tax collection, we would have had far more consultation about practical stuff such as where are these proposed houses to be built in my sub-location; who are the proposed contractors; how many jobs will be reserved for our girls and boys? Practical stuff.
At the national level, Kenya Kwanza leaders and government officials get away with being really obtuse and hard to understand. Like, suggesting for example that the Housing Fund is a means to rob banks. They are presently muddying the policy waters with evidence that their opponents actually fully support their ruinous policy – hence the tik-tok videos of Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga speaking words identical to William Ruto’s. Try saying this rob-the-bank stuff in a market baraza and you will have your fare returned to you. We all know these rural folk are clever. That’s why our politicians only address them at a distance in massive stadiums or from car sun-roofs. It’s too dangerous to have genuine town hall dialogue with what I am arguing is a very powerful interest group.
This interest group is pan-ethnic and pan-national. They are pre-disposed to organization unlike the urban lumpen. They actually comprise over half our households and with the advent of cheap internet and other communication technologies, they have leap-frogged into a position of information that counter-balances the urban mob. Serious political work to organize the farmers and make them politically conscious on scale may be the way to break the cycle of political domination by briefcase political parties and urban warlords. The farmer can be the vanguard of the change movement.
And Oh! I’ve just been informed that the cat and the rat story was a joke at my expense. No self-respecting cat could fail to detect rat-poison.