Standard Newspaper reports that the newfound love for fish in Central Kenya is exposing the women of that area as poor cooks. The story has been given a narrow angle of women of central kenya now seeking new culinary skills to put fish on the table.
The broader angle, interestingly, is the changing cultural attitudes by central Kenya people on fish as political, socio-cultural and economic object.
Over the last decade; Mt. Kenya politicians discussed fish very derisively. In fact, after ‘foreskin’, fish was the next main insult a Kikuyu could throw to a Luo. I must have been in high school when I heard some Mt. Kenya MP telling off Raila Odinga thus: “the Nairobi stock market is not a fish market”.
Yet, fish selling has never been Raila Odinga’s economic stronghold.
During Kibaki years, the economy of Kenya was being discussed in terms of ‘stocks and shares’. This was given more mainstream acceptance by media talk shows like Julie Gichuru’s ”who owns kenya” programme, which essentially made those who owned what in the listed companies at the Nairobi stock/securities Exchange to be the real ‘owners’ of Kenya.
What has happened now is that fish is no longer a cultural ‘Luo’ food. The economics of the ‘fish market’, interestingly, has shifted from Luo Nyanza to Central Kenya. As fish deteriorates in Lake Victoria, and Luos fail to pick up fish rearing as an alternative to lake fishing, this gap has been taken over by the kikuyu, who either now imports fish from China or rears in fish ponds.
So, fish is not just a delicacy in Central now. To some families, it is replacing coffee and tea; and millions of shillings is being allocated for ‘fish development’, which is the other name for fish rearing in Mt. Kenya. The money now runs into billions.
Politically, the viability of fish as an economic good follows that it can no longer be a cultural epithet directed at others; Luos especially. It means that as more Mt. Kenya families produce fish; they need local market for it. Who but not their men and their children?
So, even as politics of foreskin persists, politics of the fish is headed to the museum of ‘defeated sentiments’. One such defeated sentiment is that the Nairobi stock market is not a ‘fish market’. Fish, it appears, is finding its way in the stock market!
One more thing; one may argue that the demand for fish also shows the changes in Mt. Kenya demographics. A young, fairly travelled and fairly exposed kikuyu population is increasingly saying to the old dogmas of that region: “it doesn’t matter anymore”.
This young group may have gone to the University of Nairobi, to Maseno, to Kenyatta University, to Kisii and to University of Eldoret where they met others eating fish; joined in fish eating and enjoyed both the fish and the experience. I have not talked of Moi University because I don’t want trouble.
These young people may be employed in ethnically diverse institutions where they continue to eat fish. They may also be meeting fish eating friends after work, during weekends, at night or even NOW!
Finally, the shifting narratives on fish may just be the window into knowing the broader, hidden changes taking place in our country. Changes being pushed by the shifting economic and social circumstances of ordinary people.
To some student of political science, sociology, developmental communication or other humanities who needed a thesis topic; I hope I have raised your curiosity.