– Hon. Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya, comments on his resolve to put restoration of the Mau Forest at the top of his agenda.
Britain gave birth to first modern diet fad: William Banting’s low carbohydrate regimen appeared in 1863, at the peak of Britain’s imperial power. Arguably, America, with the Pentagon’s highly subsidized and permanent armament industries with a tangible global reach, is at the peak of her imperial powers. America, however unconsciously, increasingly eats and acts in an imperial manner. The satisfaction of the appetite is everything. Unsurprisingly, America is the fattest nation in the world with a staggering 71.1 percent of Americans being obese. If America wants to curb the 100,000-400,000 obesity related deaths per annum, her people would need to challenge the priorities of the very powerful and very influential corporations such as Big Pharma and the junk food industries, where profits take precedence over the wellbeing of the people they serve. In fact, the American public would need to extend its challenge to the media, coal and oil corporations, all of which are primary funders for politicians, who in turn ensure the corporate agenda takes centre stage globally. The media has played a stellar role in ensuring that the American dream is under attack from the enemy, thus, succeding in creating an ‘us’ vs them ‘mentality’.
While Kenya is certainly not an imperial power, it has certainly borrowed unhealthy lifestyle choices from it’s ‘big brothers’. In Kenya, those who have ‘made it’ have adopted the trappings of wealthy sedentary living, where family life revolves around private transport the latest console games and laptops. As a result childhood obesity in Kenya has risen to 16 percent. By extension, one can say that the affluent in Kenya eat in an imperialistic manner, and perhaps, by extension act in a similar fashion.
While certain health care professional in Kenya are sounding the alarm bells over the health implications of Kenya’s changing eating habits, the nation continues to grapple with a pervasive form of eating that has exemplified Kenyas elite. ‘Eating‘, as Kenyans have dubbed the gorging of state resources by the well-connected, has crippled the country. Invariably, Kenya is currently the 14th most corrupt country globally. What causes this gluttunous consumption of the public coffers in Kenya?
America’s eating habits might provide an insight into Kenya’s ‘eating’ habits. Between 1970 and 1994, the USDA reports, the amount of food available in the American food supply increased 15 percent from 3300 to 3800 calories or about 500 extra calories per day. One could argue which came first, the appetite or the bigger burger. Kids had come to see bigger everything- bigger sodas, bigger snacks, bigger candy – as the norm. There was no such thing as fixed, immutable size for anything. There was more to all of this than just eating more. Bigness: the concept seemed to fuel the marketing of just about anything from homes (mini-mansions) to cars (SUV’s) to clothes (super baggy) and back to food as in the Del Taco Macho Meal which weighed four pounds.
Social scientists,observing these rapidly changing trends concluded that “Bigness” is addictive because it is all about power. While few teenagers can actually finish a 64-ounce Double Gulp, it is empowering to hold one in one’s hand. The pioneers of supersize had in effect banished the shame of gluttony. Similarly, the shame of gluttony has been banished from the minds of Kenyas “Big Men”, as their primary goal seems to ‘eat’ as much state resources as possible. particularly in Kenya’s biggest forest, the Mau Forest.
Unfortunately, the eating is always an exclusive tribal affair, thus providing a stumulus for ethnic tension. Inevitably, the Mau Forest is a means to an end, it is a commodity that can be used to make millions, and it has.
When Prime Minister Hon. Raila Odinga stated that he would go after the big fish (‘mbuta’, or well connected politicians and businessmen with land in the Mau) and the small fish (small scale farmers with one acre or less), he lived up to the latter half of the agreement. Over 5000 poor small-scale farmers were evicted from the Mau Forest during the course of last year. However, the big fish were having a field day. In May of 2007, the European Union donated KES 24 million for the conservation and mangement of the Mau Forest. The money was given through the Constituency Development Fund as a joint venture between the EU and the Government of Kenya. In July of 2007, UNEP donated KES 100 million (approximately USD 1.3 million) towards the conservation of the Mau Forest. Approximately two and a half years later the Spanish government donated KES 97 million (approximately USD 1.3 million) towards the conservation of East Mau Forest and in April of the same year, the American government gave KES 500 million (approximately USD 6.2 million).
Coincidentally, this 721 million shillings (approximately USD 9 million) that was allocated to the restoration of the Mau Forest over the last three years and is also approximate value of a ‘big fish’ property. The former president’s Kiptagich Tea Factory estate, which was acquired illegally in the Mau forest and comprises the largest section of the Forest ‘eaten’ by an individual. While the large land owners continue to ‘eat’ the millions from the Mau Forest, the well connected who have been given the responsibility to restore the forest are eating at the same table as well.
It is therefore unsurprising that the government has failed to respond to the forest fires that have been consuming parts of Mau Forest since October last year. Inevitably, the occurence of forest fires spread to forests in Nakuru, Busia, Meru, Mount Elgon, Mount Kenya and Nairobi. The government then declared this season of drought a National Fire Season. In my mind, duck hunting season means that one can hunt duck, does National fire season mean that people have now been given free reign to burn forests?
This youtube video drives says it better than I can, entitled; (If this Country Burns, We Burn with it: Kuweni Serious)
In closing, recently Sarah Palin ridiculed Michelle Obama’s suggestion that children should eat less dessert because it is bad for them. The First Lady’s comments came as a response to a report showing childhood obesity had risen and was causing early deaths amongst them. While searching for marshmallows, crackers and chocolate from her kitchen cupboard, the former governor of Alaska said, ‘where are some more ingredients? This is in honor of Michelle Obama who said the other day we shouldn’t have dessert”. It would be good if Mrs Palin rejected the masculine competitiveness and male-oriented petty politics that tries to smear and destroy one’s opponent and join Michelle Obama in her campaign to not only to eradicate obesity but to make sure the millions of women who are invisible and voiceless are heard. Amongst numerous indigenous communities around the world, women have tempered men’s need for irresponsible conquest, by including a worldview that consists of humanities responsibility to properly nourish and care for the earth and its children and end the senseless violence and wars. The voices of the women who have embraced a women-centered social, political and cultural order is needed now more than ever.
Have a wholesome Day,