Is Kenya Starving the Poor to Play Politics?

With Sammy Ndirangu and some of ACORN Kenya Korogocho leader

Nairobi      Talking to ACORN Kenya organizers and leaders, one thing jumped to the top of the conversation quickly when education was raised, and it was not the poor quality of the books and classrooms this time, it was food, specifically school lunches.    Everyone from slumdweller to education expert agrees that a child’s ability to learn is improved by whether or not they are receiving adequate nutrition, and in slums like Korogocho where ACORN works, the meal at lunch and any leftovers sent home by the school are often the real meal of the day.  How could this situation have worsened?

It turns out that with the installation of a new government this year after the 2017 election, the incoming Interior Department minister announced a change of policy on school lunches.  After a 40-year partnership with the World Health Organization, which was paying the bulk of the cost of over $1 billion dollars to provide school lunches in Kenya’s lowest income communities and elsewhere, the minister declared the time for “dependence” on outside interests and donors had ended, and that Kenya would feed the million school children itself effective January 2018.   The WHO in the face of this opposition withdrew its funding.  The January date turned out to be too ambitious so the implementation policy for the new school lunch policy or what might be know as the “no school lunch policy” became May 2018.

David Musungu with some of the leaders

The legislature only appropriated the equivalent of $24 million to support the feeding program.  The potential beneficiaries were reduced from one-million children to half-a-million.  In the new “independence” program, parents were then assessed a fee for the lunches to offset the cost of local authorities providing them of roughly 800 KS per term or $8 USD, leaving the children of many poor parents to withdraw from school as well.

We asked the chief of Korogocho, who is appointed by the national government, about this policy change and its impact.  He argued that Korogocho and other slums needed an exemption.  The average income in the slum is only the equivalent of $70 per month so losing $2 for the lunches per month during the school term is not trivial.  He went into some detail about what he argued were the 60% of residents who depended on the city dump that abuts the slum by scavenging waste food.  He believed the government needed to act to continue the lunches.


At the same time, when we argued that our members were demanding that ACORN initiate a campaign to restore free school lunches and that in talking to our members, we were finding variable costs, some of which were significantly higher, his advocacy pivoted with concerns that our raising our voices in protest might put pressure on his political position as well.

As we left the meeting, we looked at how tall and strong the tree had grown on the chief’s compound that we had planted when launching ACORN eight years ago in 2010.  We knew the leaders felt there was not choice but to do everything possible to change this policy, and their will be done.


Community Radio Comes to the Nairobi Slums

ACORN organizers and director of the station and several volunteers

Nairobi     Visiting Korogocho, where ACORN Kenya has worked for the last more than eight years, we wanted to make sure that we had an opportunity to visit an interesting experiment in community radio, KOCH-FM 99.9.  Years ago, I had noticed there might be such a thing when we were visiting our groups, but we had failed to make a connection.  More recently, we had tried to track them down, and ACORN Kenya’s organizers, Sammy Ndirangu and David Musungu, had done several preliminary shows, and a partnership was growing.

Meeting the station manager, Doreen Maan, we got a much better understanding of exactly how unique the station is.  KOCH was the first noncommercial station licensed by the Kenya authorities for broadcasting in the slums of the city and allowed to program on 99.9 as a frequency.  The government’s view of “slum radio,” organized and supported by youth as the driving force in Korogocho, was to limit the power of the station to only 25 watts so that their reach would only be about 3 kilometers.  Given the size of Korogocho as the 3rd largest slum in the country and the oldest in Nairobi, that still gave the station a potential audience of hundreds of thousands of people, if they could reach them.

community radio KCOH 99.9 in Korogocho

Later additional licenses were issued in other lower income slums in Nairobi, such as Pamoja FM in Kibera, Ghetto FM in Pumwani and Mtaani Radio in Riruta Satellite. Since these radios target a specific audience from the lower income settlements and are limited to only a narrow range with 25 watts of allowable power in a unique arrangement, they share a common frequency, 99.9 FM with each other as community radios in Nairobi.  They program a range of music and commentary.  Sometimes they even are involved in some activism.  Quoting from one description about KOCH-FM:

…In response to the political violence witnessed in Kenya after the disputed results of the December 27 2007 general elections, Koch FM gathered community members to create peace messages and jingles, which they regularly played on air. The team mobilised people to donate food and clothes through radio appeals; they then distributed the donations to the over 500 families that were camping at the Star of Hope Academy in Huruma. In collaboration with other pro-peace initiatives, Koch FM mobilised, organised, and undertook a call-for-peace procession in Korogocho and Ngomongo. Apart from peace slogans, songs, and chants, Koch FM distributed handbills and T-shirts with peace and reconciliation messages.

Indeed, these were our kind of people.  We had an extensive conversation about ways that ACORN could partners with KOCH, as well as the prospects for KOCH joining our partner, the Affiliated Media Foundation Movement and sharing some programming, technical tips, and experience.

We hope great things come from this small beginning.

tower for KCOH