On the first day of Ramadan in Kenya, the Eastleigh suburb in the capital Nairobi was teeming with Muslims from all walks of life.
Dubbed “Little Mogadishu” by locals, the Eastleigh suburb is the center of Nairobi’s commercial life. It is predominantly made up of ethnic Somalis who arrived in Kenya decades ago.
Excitement over Ramadan in little Mogadishu has always attracted Muslims from all over Kenya. Many come for the irresistible discounts and offer on different goods and services.
“Hot fresh bread, come and get your hot fresh bread at only 150 Kenya shillings,” one trader can be heard shouting at his stall where shoppers have already thronged.
Nearby, others are selling various merchandise — shoes, cellphones, home appliances, clothes, handbags, jewelry, food — confirming a Kenyan saying in Kenya that states if you do not find what you look for in Eastleigh then probably you will not find it anywhere else in the country.
Across the road, a man is holding dollars in one hand and Kenyan currency in the other. He shouts: “Change your dollars at very good prices, change your money to dollars, you won’t find these prices anywhere else.”
Behind him, hundreds are busy buying food supplies in preparation for the year’s first iftar, the meal Muslims eat after sunset during Ramadan.
The prices are quite low because of Ramadan. But, as low as they may be, food is still not affordable to many as prices have risen substantially compared to past years.
Price of food in Kenya has shot up to alarming rates due to shortages caused by the drought affecting over 11 million people in East Africa — 3 million living in Kenya.
Hassan Juma, a local resident tells Anadolu Agency, that some food products now cost double compared to two years ago.
“Last year and the year before, things were okay. Now there are so many people in the market right?” Juma asks pointing to an area with hundreds of people.
“Double that number…no triple, that was how many people were on the same street in previous years. People have no money to buy food,” Juma says.
“Bread, which is very important to us, is very expensive. Cereals have skyrocketed. Personally, because I earn only 500 Kenya shillings (roughly $5) I am not able to feed my family[…]. Now that we are fasting I am not sure if I will maintain and remain committed to the fast,” he adds.
“Imagine this. After fasting instead of eating you have nothing to put on the table. See my point why this will hinder many Muslims from remaining committed?” he asks, noting that he was well off and that there were others who were suffering more than him.
According to the Kenyan government records, 23 counties out of 47 are affected by the drought, the worst hit areas being Northern Kenya and the coastal region, both predominantly inhabited by Muslims.
Halima Osman, 31, who sells fruit in Eastleigh, tells Anadolu Agency that the government should reduce the prices of food during Ramadan.
“The price of maize flour, which is our staple food, is so high. We don’t have enough to buy food. Some suppliers are taking advantage of the drought to increase the prices,” she says. “We should not use the period of food shortages to make us rich. The government should lower the prices of essential foods during Ramadan, especially dates.”
“A bucket of potatoes which was going at 500 Kenya shillings (roughly $5) early this year is now 1,000, […] nothing is affordable,” Osman laments.
Sheikh Hamisi Mungai, chairman of Kenya’s Council of Imams and Muslim Preachers, told Anadolu Agency that the rising food prices will tamper with how Muslims observe Ramadan this year.
Mungai adds that even though Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta had waived duty charges on dates during Ramadan, more needs to be done as the prices are still quite high.
On May 23, the Kenyan leader gave a personal donation of 36 tons of dates to needy Muslims in all parts of the country.
The food burden is not only being felt by Kenyan Muslims but also by those living in Somalia, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Tanzania among other East African countries that have been hit by more than a year-long period of insufficient rain.