Tricks Kenyans Are Using to Survive Nairobi's Harsh Economy

Man carrying ugali on his shoulder around Yaya Centre.
Twitter/The Standard

In his campaign pledges, President William Samoei Ruto made a daring promise that was obviously brokered on the alters of hope and a true desire to save Kenyans from ravaging economic times.

The assurance to reduce maize flour (Unga) prices from Ksh230 to Ksh70 was well placed within the hearts of voters, who indeed confirmed their love for the white powder on August 9, 2022, when they voted Ruto as President.

A month after being sworn in, President Ruto thoughtfully reviewed his options after meeting a deflated economy with bruised fiscal expenditure and a bloated wage bill. 

Though still appearing brave enough to lift the morale of his people who insatiably demanded the Ksh70 promised Unga, President Ruto, came to terms with the fact it takes much more than a word to fulfil a promise. He asked for a year to lower Kenyans' beloved commodity. 

File: A plate of ugali with chicken

Eating cheap ugali is still an option for those who are innovative enough to understand how to survive tough economic times.

In Nairobi, residential areas welcomed cheaper maize flour that does come at a noisy cost, remarkably since the processing is loud and somewhat messy - posho mills. 

Driving through Nairobi’s middle-class estates, you will most likely encounter inverted pyramid cylinders fitted with rejected jeans trousers at the ‘mouth of the milling outlet.”

An up-close look at the posho mills reveals more than a maize grinding machine. It’s a whole factor with by-products (gorogoro of maize) being sold by the door side of the plant.

In these estates such as Pipeline, Kangemi and Kawangware, one gorogoro (2kgs) of maize goes for Ksh100, and it will cost you Ksh20 extra to convert the seeds into palatable white power.

A cheeky joke once claimed that these areas have more posho mills than religious centres. 

As Kenya’s breadbasket begins harvesting in the parts of Rift Valley and Westerns, the cost of a single gorogoro will likely fall next week to around Ksh50.    

A spot check by Kenya News Agency (KNA) in Nairobi town has revealed that local residents are now milling their maize as they decried the recent rise of maize flour.

A maize flour wholesaler dealer in Nairobi and Murang’a town, Prisca Wambui said that her customers were complaining about the high prices of a bale of maize flour, forcing them to opt for alternative maize flour from posho mills.

“I used to buy a bale of maize flour at Sh1,200 and now the same bale of maize flour goes for Sh2,000,” said Wambui.

She added that fluctuating prices have made it difficult to set maintain the amount of money she charges while selling a bale of maize flour. 

There is no doubt that President William Ruto’s promise will come someday, but in the meantime, we must survive. You now know how to survive harsh economic times in Nairobi.

Deputy President William Ruto, Speaker Ken Lusaka and Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen enjoying lunch in July 2018.
Deputy President William Ruto, Speaker Ken Lusaka and Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen enjoying lunch in July 2018.


Anyways his words will keep ringing in our ears. "I told you we must reduce the cost of living and unga and that journey of doing it has started. I have already reduced the cost of fertilizer.

"We have given our farmers 1.5 million bags of fertilizers, and we are planning to give them another six million to increase the production of food.

"This will make the cost of unga come down. Those who increased the cost of unga to Ksh230 did it in four years, but just give me one year to rectify it," stated President Ruto as he visited Kibera residents.

It might as well be – the now-vicious “Mr. Reality” had caught up with the good president after he deservedly took the wins-in-a-season record from a great height of sumptuous promise to still-too draggy point of “give-me-one-more-year”.

Ever since it was discovered some 700 years ago in what is present Mexico, maize has remained one of the world’s most popular foods for humanity – ranking third as a staple food, after wheat and rice, but in Kenya, it’s almost ‘the only food’.

From a processing perspective, maize kernel comprises four primary structures: the endosperm, germ, pericarp, and tip cap, making up 83 per cent, 11 per cent, 5 per cent, and 1 per cent of the maize kernel, respectively.

This composition makes maize one of the richest cereals, with vitamins, minerals, and antinutrient factors, influencing local product preferences, which include not only the way the corn product is consumed but also what other food items or additives are part of a complete meal.