Last week’s widely circulated images of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg tearing delicious deep-fried African Tilapia fish with ugali in at Mama Oliech Restaurant in Nairobi set social media on fire.
As the youthful, casually dressed billionaire swallowed the last lump of ugali and licked his fingers, his pictures from the historic lunch had made a million laps across the globe and thrust Lake Victoria Tilapia on top of the world.
But if the billionaire’s simplicity caught my attention, it was his choice for ngege (Luo name for Tilapia) that left my mind racing. Why Tilapia? I asked myself repeatedly until I remembered that just the other day, Kenya’s political honchos from both Cord and Jubilee destroyed plates of Tilapia and kuon kobali (white ugali) to reconcile after weeks of harsh political exchanges that saw six of them spend three days wooing lice and bedbugs in filthy police cells.
As I watched Gatundu MP Moses Kuria carefully dismantle the tilapia’s head - known as ‘engine’ by my lakeside brethren, I remembered that it was over Tilapia that Cord leader Raila Odinga and former Attorney General Charles Njonjo bonded over lunch at Ronalo Restaurant in the run-up to the 2013 poll.
Then something struck my mind. How come fish is increasingly becoming a popular dish in Nairobi as the fishing communities feed on mboga and omena 24/7?
From Wuoth Ogik (the journey has ended) in the pre-historic Muhuru Bay through Homa Bay to the picturesque Winam Gulf and Marenga beach in Busia, dug out fishing canoes dot the expansive shoreline, yet fish is becoming an extremely rare commodity in most households of Nyanza and Western Kenya.
Suddenly, fish has become too expensive even for the very people who toil in the lake, braving mosquito bites to haul catches ashore. The fish has become a preserve for the elite in Kisumu, Nairobi and even overseas. The tilapia leaves the beaches as soon as it is landed; middlemen haul it into waiting vans to supply it to leading hotels in major towns.
It is shocking that Lake Victoria, which measures a staggering 68,800 square kilometres and a breath-taking shoreline stretching some 3,450 square kilometres, cannot supply the 30 million East Africans in the Lake Basin with fish.
Conservative figures from the Kenya Marine and Fisheries research Institute show that catches of Nile Perch, Tilapia and dagaa fish (omena) which are the most popular varieties of fish, dropped from 153,000 metric tonnes in 2014 to 118,145 metric tonnes in 2015.
The Nile Perch and Tilapia total catch estimates decreased by 34.2 per cent, from 251,063.3 to 165,084.3 tonnes and by about 65.9 per cent from 59,681.3 to 20,371 tonnes in 2014 and to 165,083.4 tons in 2015 respectively.
I heard from fisheries experts that the fish population is dwindling because of over-fishing and destructive fishing methods. Aggressive fishermen are catching under-size fish. They are destroying the fish breeding zones and no one is concerned. The County governments have also gone into deep slumber as Lake Victoria is turned into a giant sewer due to massive pollution.
As a result, fish has become scarce. Prices have more than tripped as demand grows. For a poor fisherman, he rather sells the fish to the high demanding market and buy sukuma wiki rather than eat the delicacy and go without unga and other essentials.
In Kisumu and other lakeside towns, many residents removed fish from their menu long ago because of the high process. This explains why the government rejected calls by Nyanza politicians to ban the cheaper fish imports from China. At this rate, we may soon stage street demos.... ‘No Samaki! No peace!
Source- The Standard