Talking about change I can be a part of: Shahidi Xcalibar
“Huwezi serve food for thought kwa tumbo empty, mamilioni kustarve na resources in plenty.”
These were some of the words of Richmond Atunga aka Shahidi Xcalibar’s rap as he got on stage during the Dandora Hip Hop City (DHC) feat. The Route to Food Initiative cypher in Dandora. Shahidi, who is 27 years old, says he has been rapping for close to ten years. He wowed and surprised many who had attended the event in a collaboration between the Route to Food Initiative and DHC led by Juliani, to deliver a message about food insecurity and systemic hunger, through music (read below for information about the two initiatives).
Shahidi is one of the artists who participated in the cypher that aimed to give urban youth a voice to the food injustices in the country by putting lyrics to the lack of political accountability and an ongoing struggle to put food on the table.
We caught up with him after his performance and this is what he had to say:
What do you know about the food (in)security situation in Kenya?
I am not fully aware of all the details or statistics surrounding food insecurity in Kenya, but what I am aware of, is that Kenya is not food secure. We still deal with challenges of accessing food, a high cost of living and corruption in the food chain. Until we have a solution to such issues, we are far from being food secure.
If I said food is a political issue, what do you understand that to mean?
The government has the responsibility to improve our infrastructure. There has been so much laxity in this that situations are bad. Roads, for instance, are the government’s responsibility. When the roads are good, the economy of a place improves and so do people’s livelihoods. In Kenya, the poor road infrastructure makes it hard for farmers to get food to local markets.
Some of our leaders are also involved in cartels in the agriculture and food sector. Politics and food go hand in hand in Kenya. This is never more evident than during the electioneering period where food handouts are given in exchange for votes.
What has been your experience of food in Kenya? In terms of availability when growing up, affordability as an adult now, and knowledge of nutrition?
Food has always been a challenge one way or another. When I was younger, I would say I didn’t feel the because I was dependant on my parents and I got food to eat when I was hungry. Right now, however, things are real. I have to hustle daily for the food I eat. I can say I am getting the first-hand experience of what it takes to put a meal on the table.
What inspired you to take part in the collaboration between DHC and the Route to Food Initiative?
Music as an art form is the strongest way to express an idea or an issue, especially to youth. Besides entertainment, music is used to create awareness. As you get entertained why not learn something from it?!
I am passionate about change and I have always been keen on opportunities to educate the public about issues affecting our daily lives. Be it violence, insecurity or corruption and in this case food insecurity, food injustices and the right to food.
Besides music, I also work at the Kajiado North County Government at the Children Office, Department of Legal Affairs. What we do there is to identify and support children who have been neglected and end up as street kids. In my line of work, I come across children who are chronically hungry, malnourished and some on the verge of death. Some of these children have parents but the household income is not enough to provide a decent meal for the family. Many children end up in garbage sites and trash cans in search of food. Many go to bed hungry. This is not a life with dignity. No one deserves to go hungry and seeing such things on a daily basis is emotionally draining. I have a desire to do something about it.
When I heard about the cypher, I saw an opportunity to use my talent and speak up on behalf of the voiceless – the children that are going to bed hungry every day; mothers who work extra hard and do odd jobs just to feed their children and fathers who have committed suicide because they could not fend for their family.
What were the main points you wanted to express, in your rap lyrics at the cypher?
In my rap, I talked about the ironies and conflicts that we are living in as a country. One example I gave was that we cannot grow our economy on empty stomachs. There are misplaced priorities and we are living in a loop that is not working and no one is offering a lasting solution.
“Huwezi serve food for thought kwa tumbo empty, mamilioni kustarve na resources in plenty“
What do you know about the Route to Food Alliance?
I know that the ultimate goal of the Route to Food Alliance is to create awareness to everyone that it is their human right to have access to food.
What motivated you to join the Route to Food Alliance?
I have always had a passion for change. Not only to see it happening but to also be a part of realising it. This is why I joined the alliance.
What’s your take home and widespread message to all on this issue?
Let’s revisit our systems. The system is not working for the mwananchi, it’s only favouring the rich or those in power. It’s very unfair that the price of unga for a rich man is the same as that of a poor man. The social and economic disparities we see in Kenya determine that one family will put a meal on the table and one family will not. Maybe it’s time we talked about a sustainable system that will cater to the needs of poor and marginalised communities and not just subsidies to market-players.
Let’s move away from rain-fed agriculture and employ other means of ecological crop production like irrigation and improved methods of agriculture.
At the end of the day, I fault the government. Lack of political commitment and lack of accountability is pulling us back from completely solving the problem. The systems put in place are not working and nothing seems to change. As citizens, we have to hold our leaders accountable on each and everything they do – it is the only way to keep them on their toes and hopefully reduce corruption.
I would also urge others to come on board and join the Route to Food Alliance kwa sababu Sio Siasa Ni Presha.
Dandora Hip Hop City (DHC) is a great treasure in the midst of garbage. On a monthly basis, DHC provides a space for upcoming and established artists to freestyle rap about issues that matter to them most. Sometimes it’s about love. Sometimes it’s about life. And, this time it was about the politics of food in Kenya.
About the Route to Food Initiative
The Route to Food Initiative relies on creative communications to promote innovative discussions and solutions to the problem of chronic food insecurity in Kenya. While Article 43 of the Constitution of Kenya recognises the right to adequate food, national legislation, policy and practice fail to implement and monitor progressive solutions to food security. Through the initiative, a Route to Food Alliance has developed and we are working towards realising the Human Right to Food. The Alliance includes members from civil society, the media, public policy practitioners and politicians, youth and members of the arts and culture community. Amongst many areas of involvement, the initiative relies on the arts to encourage members of the public to engage on issues of food security from a political perspective.
We stand for the Right to Food. We stand against the politics of hunger. Where do you stand? Here’s what you can do to play your part.
Watch Xcalibar’s music video from DHC on our Youtube channel here.
Interview by Faiba Kombo
Image: Richmond Atunga (Shahidi Xcalibar’s), Dandora Estate, Nairobi.