The politics of food

Continuing from where we left yesterday, it is interesting to note that the settlers sought protection from the colonial government against the African peasants. In Siaya, we read

[ ]The new market position these farmers achieved in the 20s and early 1930s was feared by the European settlers in Kenya, who sought the protection provided by stiff competition and marketing regulations to maintain their domination of these markets.

Free market anyone?

On the politics of food

Or maize.

Today we take a break from that strand of critique of capitalism and politicians to talk about something that is close to your stomachs or mine in this particular case.

I am presently reading Siaya: the historical anthropology of an African Landscape by Cohen and Atieno Odhiambo and in a chapter on hunger, they make some very interesting comments, to wit

The consumption of white maize meal has been associated in Siaya with the process referred to as ‘westernization’. Maize first entered the local economy through the intervention of the colonial government, an intervention that involved pressure.

But you all, by now, know that’s not all why I am writing this post.

They say

For the people of Siaya, maize is both a part of what is viewed as progress and a part of what they term disaster.

Why disaster?

[ ]The adoption of maize as a cash crop also involved a new cultivation practice: planting in rows, with a second weeding to remove the undergrowth. These practices caused soil erosion which by 1930s resulted in continuous famine that has plagued Uyoma and lower Asembo people for decades.

Had the introduction of maize been beneficial to the people of Siaya, there would be no concern. But our authors note

Within the households it has long been recognised that whatever the claims for maize, the actual yields per hectare relative to sorghum and millet on a cultivated plot are not in fact superior, particularly when nutritional value is taken into account.

They continue to note

Despite this evidence, for eight decades now, the official voice has not relented in its sponsorship of maize as the preferred food crop in Siaya.

One should note here that by introducing a crop as a cash crop, the goal was not food sufficiency for the locals but for export. In the end we have manufactured famine and food shortages since local foods, that are nutritious, are relegated to the back burner without funds for improving their varieties.

They write

For the authorities, maize has virtues as a national grain, as a potential export crop, and as an agent of of the commodification of agriculture and the expansion of a regulated cash economy into the countryside. But for recent and present Siaya, maize means hunger.

It is unfortunate this circumstance has not changed many years later.

Happy Saturday friends.

On moral bankruptcy

I recently wrote here regarding the person of the president appearing as caricature for the incompetent and stealing father before him.

And while still on the 18th Brumaire, Marx said of the bourgeoisie of France that

It was forced by its own class attitude, on the one hand, to destroy the conditions for all parliamentary power, its own included, and, on the other, to render irresistible the executive power that stood hostile to it.

Now, those more eloquent than I have said of our political class as a morally bankrupt sort. Nothing makes this evident than the recent reports that they were bribed in the lavatories with as little as Ksh 3000 to alter or approve a report on illicit sugar into the country.

Of relevance to the above statement by Marx refers to the failure of the August house to pass legislation to bring to life the 2/3rd gender rule as enshrined in the constitution. What this has done to the morally bankrupt house is to make it a puppet for the executive, filled as it is, by a protege of the nation’s first big scale thieving family. This house cannot even if it tried, check the executive.

The chief justice has by failing in his constitutional duty to advise the president on the illegality of parliament, has made the courts equally subservient to the executive so that where the constitution envisages three centres of power, working together but also as checks, we have the executive led by an incompetent and a thief lording it over all of us. If there is a royal screw, we are being screwed royally and without the benefit of lube.

There’s nothing so annoying as to know you are being led by your inferiors.

Sarcasms that the world has known

In 1915 while Europe was engaged in a tribal war, butchering each other, some of their citizens put to paper what I can only call sarcasms.

They wrote

[]It is the right of a people to rule themselves. And he who violates shall be the enemy of all.

Others had this declaration as a sacred principle

No province shall be transferred from one government to another without the consent by plebiscite of the population of such province.

Even though they were non state actors, I can only think that in referring to populations, they did not refer to Africans, Asians or any other group of people under colonial domination.

who is the person of culture?

Romain Rolland says

the true man of culture is not he who makes of himself and his ideal the centre of the universe, but who looking around him sees, as in the sky, the stream of the Milky Way, thousands of little flames which flow with his own; and who seeks neither to absorb them nor to impose upon them his own course, but to give himself the religious persuasion of their value and of the common source of the fire by which all alike are fed.


On war or insanity

In Above Battle, Romain Rolland writes a very insightful passage that, in my view still explains partly why men and women go to war.

You Christians will say that war exalts the virtue of sacrifice. And it is true that war has the privilege of bringing out the genius of the race in the most commonplace of hearts. It purges away, in its bath of blood, all dross and impurity; it tempers the metal of the soul of a niggardly peasant, of a timorous citizen; it can make a hero of Valmy.

First as tragedy then as farce

Is a book by Zizek that makes the case for the communist Idea both through his critique of capitalism and by extension liberal democracy and the religion of free market economy that by all reasonable standards have failed to deliver what they promised to the majority.

I think it was Churchill who is said to have uttered these words

Democracy is the worst form of government except all others

And since then any attempt to critique democracy is met with the dismissal that communism has been tried and failed and so we must resign ourselves to the worst system. This kind of criticism is, in my view, uncritical.

There is hardly any place where we have democracy, that is, a government of the people by the people. We have instead increased authoritarianism that purports to hold elections. In effect what we have is a parliamentary dictatorship where power resides not with the people but with the ruling elite.

A case can actually be made for a proletariat dictatorship which does not only change who is in power but changes to a non-statal existence destroying all that which came before it.

Zizek talks too about the current privatization of the commons through what is called intellectual property where the intellectual product is mediated by private capital ala Bill Gates or Apple.

Another thing I find very interesting is what Zizek proposes as a response to anyone who accuses us of undermining democracy. He writes

That one’s answer should be a paraphrase of what Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist manifesto: the ruling order is itself already doing all the undermining necessary.

He continues

In the same way that (market) freedom is unfreedom for those who sell their labour-power, in the same way that the family is undermined by the bourgeois family as legalised prostitution, democracy is undermined by the parliamentary form with its concomitant passivization of the large majority, as well as by the growing executive power employed by the increasingly influential logic of the emergency state.

Its a good read. Interesting. Well written and argued.