OBWOGO: If You Want To Be the Next Millionaire, Discover a Recipe for Making Githeri Or Ugali

Dr Subiri Obwogo • 1 May 2019

You’ve probably heard that human beings can only remember four things at once. But then, every rule has an exception.  In my case, I recalled six things from the talk by Professor Bitange Ndemo which is the subject of this blog. This was during the launch of Diary of a Poultry Farmer at the Parklands Baptist Church in Nairobi last Saturday.  

He went in full swing with this question: How many varieties of Githeri (boiled maize and beans) recipes are there? To everybody’s dismay, the answer was over 600. But what if somebody savoured all these recipes, discerned the most scrumptious and stowed it on the shelves of a supermarket?

Aha! IBM is already working on this idea and soon, you won’t have to travel all the way upcountry to your grandmother’s house for a sumptuous meal of Githeri.

The good professor asked a second question: How many ways are there for making Ugali? The obvious answer is no one knows. And yet, if you goggle the word, you’ll find that it’s the most common dish in Africa. In fact every community has a name for it.  

What he said next drew the audience into a perplexed expression. The dish is prepared by mixing flour in either boiling water, or milk until it reaches a stiff or firm dough-like consistency. However, no one could say precisely the proportion of water to flour, duration of cooking, and the heat required to make a dough with a given consistency and taste.

“How many grams of flour do you need to make Ugali for a family of 5,” he posed.

If I may inject a personal note, I prefer mine served steaming-hot with a soft-to-medium consistency. But then, the most striking coincidence is that two after the professor's talk, I visited a restaurant in Nairobi where my Ugali was served cold and firm. When I complained to the manager, I got this answer, “That’s what we serve here and you can order something else.” I changed to roasted potatoes.

Now here’s the most intriguing part. I later saw four balls of uneaten Ugali strewn into the dustbin.  I figured I wasn’t the only dissatisfied customer.

To sum up, the professor said something I’d never heard before which was that an Israeli company is fabricating a cooking pan to make Ugali of variable consistency to match customers’ preferences!

I picked two more nuggets of wisdom from his lecture. First, recent studies show that you can turn tastes on and off by simply manipulating certain parts of the brain. This means that when you get the right taste, the brain will always remember and clamour for it.

The second point is sad but not entirely shocking. As a country, Kenya isn’t self-sufficient in any food and we virtually import everything from beans (pulses), beef, chicken meat, maize, eggs, milk, fish, among others. In fact, he said that high-end hotels in Kenya buy their beef from only one farm in Naivasha.

In the final moments of his talk he explored the notion of the Fourth industrial revolution and its impact. The first industrial revolution between 1760 and 1820 relied on steam engine. The second (1820-1900) and the third (1900s) were powered by electricity and computing respectively. The fourth one which started in 2017 is about artificial intelligence and machine learning.

4th Industrial Revolution

He concluded that the only way Africans are going to benefit from technologies such as artificial intelligence, block chain, or machine learning is not by figuring out what they are but by asking this question, “How can it help make my life easier?”

Precision farming improves efficiency and involves micro-dosing of inputs such as water, fertiliser or pesticides to plants.

This brings me to my final thoughts. How can we leapfrog technologies in artificial intelligence and robotics in order to change the transfer and origins of wealth as we did with digital mobile technologies?

The story of the slow tortoise and hare quickly comes to my mind.

“The slow tortoise can never win the race,” thought the hare.

The tortoise was angry. “Let’s have a race and see who is faster,” he said.

If you ask me, it’ll require that a substantial number of people change their mindsets about what we can achieve with these technologies.