Why Raila Odinga’s Call To Boycott Uhuru’s Brookside Milk Is A Huge Flop
Editors note: Raila Odinga has asked Kenyans not to buy milk and other products related to companies associated with leaders in government, who he says, have a case to answer on trying to kill Kenya’s sugar sector. In an apparent reference to Brookside, a company owned by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family, Raila’s call seems to suggest that if Kenyans boycott the company’s products, Uhuru will be forced to rethink his position. So far, Raila’s call seems not to have caught Kenyans imagination. A boycott could work in Kenya for sure as as we have seen many citizen movements that have had great success. In this piece, Al Kags writes that this boycott call by Raila lacks a number of ingredients that would make it work.
Raila’s Call Lacks Snowball Effect
For Raila’s boycott to work, enough people have to care about the issue to not only boycott the product but encourage others to care enough to also boycott. Do Kenyans care about the sugar deal with Uganda? Why should they – after all there is no crisis, sugar is plenty in the kiosk and the supermarket for their morning tea. Unfortunately for many of Kenya’s opinion leaders, the sugar issue is too abstract, too removed for them to care more than to ventilate their opinions in bars or in opinion pieces like this one. Successful boycotts need a dedicated and passionate convener – usually with a well-oiled organising machine.
A boycott works because the offence is big enough and can be attributed to the company. While it is well known that the company in question is linked to the president, it hasn’t been shown that the company is involved in the sugar story. No one is offended by Brookside. There has to be a verifiable and compelling reason for a boycott. The problems have to be described alongside the intended impact of the boycott so that people know what they are doing and why. People need an achievable target – in this case, we boycott to make the president do something. It is unclear, what Raila expects to happen.
Most Kenyans Prefer Raw Milk Anyway
A boycott works because there are enough people who back it. The fact of the matter is, a vast majority of Kenyans buy raw milk – not packaged milk. It is Kenyans in urban areas like Nairobi who predominantly buy processed and packaged milk. Research by the Small Holder Dairy Project across the nation found that most Kenyans (with the exception of Nairobi) prefer raw milk because it is cheaper, it tastes richer and it is readily available in most rural areas.
Because of its price, the milk that Raila would like us all to boycott is bought by a percentage of Kenyans – mostly from the middle class. And the middle class does not care (refer to my first point). By the way, that research by the Small Holder Dairy Project also showed that as milk gets more expensive, even the middle class – who consume a whopping 100kg of milk per person per year – goes for raw milk to save up the pennies.
But Boycotts Work
Do boycotts work? The basic plan to a boycott is that a group of citizens who are mad at a company for something decide not to buy its products for a period – therefore forcing the company to act. In the past few decades there have been boycotts that have worked – Barclays had to withdraw from South Africa in the apartheid era when its customers in the UK boycotted.
In 2010, Nestlé came up with comprehensive policy on zero deforestation in its Palm oil supply chain. Greenpeace came up with a KitKat spoof advert (watch it and be creeped out) and sent 200,000 emails in protest. In eight weeks, Nestle had repented and had a new policy in place.
With all these ingredients missing in his broth, Raila’s call can only be met with “LMAO” quotes on twitter, and “Yawn!” in the sitting rooms.