This was brought out clearly in an NTV panel discussion on Wednesday morning focused on food security, national security and related issues.
A diverse panel featuring security experts, such as KCA University vice-chancellor Noah Midamba, former Kenya Army officers Captain Collins Wanderi and Captain Simiyu Werunga, was in broad agreement that irrespective of the arrival of imported maize and the subsidy, the government remained indicted for allowing the situation to get out of control before intervening.
A key element was that the maize shortage was not a sudden and unexpected event but had been projected and warning signs issued well in advance by a variety of agencies, including the government’s own early warning and disaster response mechanisms, but no action was taken to stock up in advance.
The Ministry of Agriculture and its National Cereals and Produce Board, the custodian of the national strategic grain reserve, were particularly culpable. So was the ministry of Devolution and Planning that hosts the Department of Special Programmes, the National Treasury and the Presidency.
The panellists, some of them supporters of the Jubilee Party, agreed that the cyclical food shortages, whether today or in the past, should not be blamed on drought, but on gross inefficiency or wilful sabotage within the various government departments.
Another key point was that endemic corruption has for decades exploited drought and famine to help commodity traders and their political patrons reap billions from the suffering of Kenyans.
The other issue that the government and its supporters do not want to talk about is that a subsidy can only be a short-term measure. It is costly and unsustainable in an economy already stretched to the limit by ballooning budget deficits and public debt.
Cheap maize is unlikely to last in the store for more than a few weeks, and certainly not beyond the General Election in August.
It will also create a secondary market where politicians, their families and business associates buy up the bulk of subsidised flour, hold it and unleash it for super-profits when the prices go up, or re-export it to neighbouring countries, where the wholesale and retail prices are still much higher than the subsidised product in Kenya.
Macharia Gaitho is a former managing editor for special projects at the Nation. He has returned to the paper on special assignment as the head of the elections desk.