Catholic Priest Decries Luring of Starving Kenyans with Food During Political Campaigns

Fr. Joseph Githinji poses with residents of Turkana. Credit: Fr. Joseph Githinji

With the heated political campaigns ahead of Kenya’s August 9 elections, aspiring leaders have started distributing food parcels to residents of Turkana County who have been enduring hunger for years, a Catholic Priest in the East African country has said.

Fr. Joseph Githinji, the assistant Parish Priest of St. Joachim and Anne Kibish Parish of Lodwar Diocese that serves residents of Turkana told ACI Africa in an interview that no words can describe the hunger situation in the County. He found it regrettable that political aspirants are taking advantage of the vulnerability of the locals to gain mileage in Kenya’s forthcoming elections.

“Elections are here and they (political aspirants) are back. They are here deceiving people with food parcels. They know that the people are very hungry and they would do anything to get a day’s meal,” Fr. Githinji said in the Tuesday, March 1 interview.

He added, “Truly I don't have words to describe the current situation but what I am sharing with you (ACI Africa) is from my personal daily experiences and from my heart.”

“It breaks my heart every time I leave Holy Mass and find people waiting for me outside the church to tell me that they are starving. They never ask for food in any violent way,” he said.


The Kenyan Catholic Priest said that he mostly deals with the elderly and children, “those who cannot walk for tens of kilometers to get to the food distribution joints.”

The member of the Missionaries of St. John noted that the situation in Turkana in regards to drought and hunger “is well known” and that “it can be seen everywhere, in photos and in stories that are out here.”

“As a member and leader in the Catholic church, I am trying to do what I can with my people in our region where St. Joachim and Ann Catholic Parish covers although we do extend our concern to our neighboring parishes to see how we can fight the hunger. One can only understand fully when visiting the locations,” he said.

Fr. Githinji finds it unfortunate that leaders in the marginalized Kenyan county are doing everything possible to cover the real extent of the suffering of the people who have experienced hunger for decades.

“The situation here is a big shame to our leaders,” he said, and explained, “Turkana is one of highest funded counties in the country but the money is not put to good use. People are still dying of hunger and the scarcity of water has never found a solution.”

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According to the Catholic Priest, money intended to improve the welfare of locals is misappropriated. The rest, he says, is used on irrelevant projects.

“I walk around and see very funny projects supposedly installed with government funds. I see schools built in the middle of nowhere, with no children or people living around, with no water or anything to attract children,” he said.

Fr. Githinji says that because of the misappropriation of funds, not many people appreciate the amount of suffering that the people in Turkana face.

“When you talk about hunger in Turkana to friends and even to my brother Priests, some don't believe what we say,” he says, and adds, “My mom and a few friends understand our situation. We ask for help and sometimes get a few bales of flour, rice, maize and beans and some cooking oil.”

“Others don't trust us because many people take advantage of the Turkana community for their own selfish interests. Some time back, there was the Kenyans for Kenya campaign that was started to end starvation in Turkana. But my question to date is, where did the funds that were raised go? Some of the aid we purportedly received was just for the photo sessions. Nothing more. It's a shame,” he said.


The Kenyans for Kenya initiative is a fundraiser that was started in July 2011 by corporate leaders and the Kenya Red Cross in response to media reports of famine and deaths from starvation in Turkana county.

The native of Kenya’s Catholic Diocese of Murang’a said that unlike before when drought and competition for scarce resources led to conflicts between the Turkana and other cattle herders across the country’s border, the ongoing hunger crisis has brought the previously warrying communities together.

“The Turkana of Kenya and the Nyangatom community of Ethiopia cross the border freely in search of grazing fields. When the Kenyan government distributes food, the people from Ethiopia come to get some. The same happens when there is food distribution in Ethiopia. The Turkana go to get some for their families,” he said.

“Our great hope is God to give us rain, since we are at peace with our brothers and sisters from our neighboring countries, no more sounds of gunshot and this is our real joy,” the Priest who led a group of Turkana elders to Ethiopia for peace talks last year said.

In a previous interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Githinji said that missionaries in the region run a model farm where locals come to get farming tips. He said that locals who solely depended on cattle are learning to embrace farming as an alternative source of food.

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“We grow vegetables, tomatoes, watermelons and grains. Many people come here to get farming tips and are given seeds and other support they need to start farming. Our aim is to show them that they can get food from the farm as well,” he said.

He added that Priests at St. Joachim and Anne Kibish Parish have also introduced farming lessons in schools to help the Turkana children grow with the knowledge that they can get food from the farm.

“We have also been trying to plant trees that can survive in this dry climate especially along Lake Turkana. We hope that the community can follow suit,” Fr. Githinji said, and added, “I believe that with the necessary support, agriculture will be at the heart of this region in some 50 years to come.”

The Catholic Priest who ministered in South Sudan for 10 years before being sent to minister among the Turkana community said that the Catholic Parish supports local farmers in various ways, including the provision of farm tools as well as tips to manage their farms.

“We understand that these are pastoralists who are trying to embrace farming as the alternative sources of livelihood. The adjustment is not easy for them. We therefore try to support them during farm visits where we supply them with farm tools and also offer them training on how to handle pests and how to manage their produce,” he said.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.