Author: Munene Kilongi

Quail farming: The new ‘side hustle’ in Kenya

While Kenyans went about their daily lives, a flock of birds, hidden in plain view, fluttered onto our dinner plates and captured a nation’s imagination.

Social media pundits describe them as a pyramid scheme. Skeptics sneer at this idea. Locals in the markets, at chama meetings and around their dinner tables never tire of discussing them. You see, these little wild things are at the epicentre of a health revolution in this nyama choma country. They should be. We Kenyans take ourselves too seriously and build too many castles in the air to notice nature’s solutions all around us. This time it has come in the form of a bird the size of a small fist.

A helping of two quail eggs a day is said to be the answer to multiple problems. One of its benefits is a rather well-known secret on the streets. Every witchdoctor’s cut-and-paste poster that hug school walls, lamp posts and every nook available, emphasises an endemic problem. “We cure male weaknesses!” is their tagline. Well, a simple quail’s egg is said to improve blood circulation as it strengthens the heart muscles, increasing the male libido and stamina.  Packed with protein and low in carbohydrates and fat, a quail egg is not only considered a superfood, but an aphrodisiac too. Don’t overdo it though. A poor chap from Nairobi’s Komarock suburb gulped – on a friend’s advice – 30 raw quail eggs during a sleep-over at his girlfriend’s house. He woke up on the other side of town where people rest in peace.

The nutritional value of quail eggs is said to be about three times greater than chicken eggs. (Pic: Flickr / ilya)
The nutritional value of quail eggs is said to be about three times higher than that of chicken eggs. (Pic: Flickr / ilya)

Like everyone else, we dread poverty and aspire to the good life. We have to. The ugly face of poverty tends to relentlessly peep into our living room windows, its ugly grin announcing the fate that awaits anyone who slips. From local politicians, office workers, informal workers, public administrators, and even the jobless, every Kenyan is a hustler. The broke sod in the pub has to run errands, wash cars and wipe tables to earn just a cigarette or drinks.

Now quail farming is the new side hustle. It has attracted thousands of would-be entrepreneurs who have been bitten by the famous ‘wildebeest migration’ bug. Here’s how it works: One person tells his friends that his half-acre strawberry farm brings in a million bob every three months. The next thing you know, his friends have taken up strawberry farming and it becomes the in thing.

A quail farmer was featured in the local newspaper last year. His quail business was minting a fortune and incurring negligible expenses. You see, a quail bird is low-maintenance: it gobbles 20 grams of feed a day, unlike a chicken that consumes 120 grams. Within a few weeks, there were small banners on shop fronts, walls, and, street light pillars proclaiming the magical powers of this brown-freckled bird. Enterprising Kenyans quickly did their research and sent off their applications to the Kenya Wildlife Service to become… quail farmers.

Quail farming is a million-shilling business with the promise of boosting many incomes in a country where the masses are constantly chasing the elusive shilling. To qualify to be a quail farmer, one completes an application form from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), a government agency in charge of the country’s wildlife. Their officers then come around to inspect the cages for housing the birds. They need to be kept in a warm and dry place in well-ventilated cages that are far from modern pollutants. After their applications have been approved, farmers pay a fee of R150. Permit holders are also subject to impromptu inspections and any violations of the permit’s conditions can result in the licence being revoked.  Last year the government handed out more than 5 000 licences, and thousands more are still pending.

The opportunities are boundless if one can capture the still young Kenyan market. However, KWS say the market is becoming saturated, so many farmers are now eyeing the more lucrative Chinese market. There are over 172 000 Google search results about quails from Kenya. The quail farming business has also taken off online – you can now purchase chicks or eggs from a number of sources.

In December 2013, a single tiny quail egg was retailing at slightly more than a dollar in Kenya. Considering a chicken egg costs 8 US cents, quail farmers were making a killing. A day-old quail chick was retailing at an average of R45. The problem with the wildebeest migration bug is that now the lucrative quail market is flooded by too many entrepreneurs and we are experiencing a glut. Like a gift from the skies, now the common man can enjoy the benefits of this bird which was previously only affordable to the middle class. Now, you can purchase a day-old chick for R15 while a quail egg costs between R2 and R3.

The gist of the matter is that this quail business is not only about money. As any health and nutrition buff will tell you, natural food is best! Lately our country is experiencing a surge in lifestyle diseases as western corporates scramble to satiate our rising appetite for junk food. The rich AND poor are dying in droves from cancer, diabetes, hypertension and heart-related ailments. Our government has actually banned the importing and selling of GMO food products.

The reality is that cheap processed food is available everywhere, and is easier on the pocket, but the Kenyan middle-class is awakening to the fact that money is not true wealth, health is. Going green and eating healthy is the new rave. And consuming quail meat and eggs promises a plethora of health benefits. It’s said to be a detoxifying agent, an immune booster and stress reliever. It helps with digestive tract disorders, stomach ulcers, anemia, tuberculosis, heart problems, bronchial illnesses and diabetes. It can alleviate migraines and give you healthier hair, while keeping hypertension, digestive disturbance, gastric ulcer, liver problems and blood pressure under control. A quail egg a day may indeed keep the doctor away.

With all these ‘super natural’ powers, I suggest government should fund two quail eggs a day for each child in public school instead of wrestling with a costly laptop project that’s way beyond their depth. The quail phenomenon is a healthy socio-political, economic, and spiritual answer to Kenyans’ problems. Right now, I’m off to have my own dish of fried aluru (quail) accompanied by wild vegetable herbs and brown ugali (a cake made from corn).

Munene Kilongi is a freelance writer and videographer based in Nairobi.

Stretching resources in Kenya’s ‘kadogo’ economy

We Kenyans are always in a rush. Life in this country is an unending quest to make that extra coin or stretch the available one in our booming economy. Consider the situation three years ago when Kenyans were constrained by the rising global prices of fuel and maize, the national staple food. The price of maize flour squeezed hard at the already empty pockets of slum dwellers, who responded in the popular Unga revolution street protests.

A woman waits for customers outside her shop in a Nairobi slum. (Pic: Reuters)
A woman waits for customers outside her shop in a Nairobi slum. (Pic: Reuters)

While urging the government to reduce the price of maize flour from a high of 120 Kenyan shillings (around R12) to 30 shillings (R3), slum dwellers invented the “kadogo – or small – economy to stretch their fast-depleting resources. Not only could they now afford three square meals on less than a dollar a day, but the country’s manufacturing industry followed suit.

In the kadogo economy you get to eat according to the amount of money you have. With one rand, you can slurp on steaming bone soup and a mound of ugali, a cake made of corn. A dish of sardines costs nine shillings (50c) and for the same amount one can afford cooking fat. A spoon of sugar costs a shilling (11c), tea leaves are doled out in ever smaller packs for the same amount. Margarine, detergents, soaps, and candles, are halved and quartered to ever smaller amounts that range from a few grams to a hundred grams. “Fifty bob” – 50 shillings or about R5 – would be enough for three square meals a day. Manufacturers have taken note of the kadogo economy and these days even shops in middle class neighborhoods stock products in medium, large, and tiny packs.

Kenyans also noticed that sending money to friends and relatives using Western Union, MoneyGram, and the national postal service was costly. We skirted around this problem and bought phone credit instead, then sent it to the receiver who would convert the credit into cash from the nearest shopkeeper, who earned a small commission. It’s how the world’s first and most successful mobile money transfer system, Mpesa, was born. Every year billions of dollars are exchanged on the platform.

Judging by the numerous civil servant salary strikes, we have landed on the hard times yet again. In a country blessed with entrepreneurial zeal and ingenuity it came as a surprise when the government last month arrested five officials of a group that had found a solution to its neighborhood’s economic woes. The destitute residents of the sprawling Bangladesh slum near the coastal resort of Mombasa, a place where jobs are scarce and the Kenyan shilling is uncommon, introduced Bangla-Pesa (“Bangla-money”) as an alternative currency.

Informal currency
Bangla-Pesa is a voucher or promissory note, which can be exchanged for cash or services at a later date. The system has been seen as an effort to strengthen the economy of the informal settlement.

For instance, a bicycle operator may have the capacity for 20 customers a day, but in general only has 10. He can give rides to other people in exchange for Bangla-Pesa, which he can trade for goods or services – like tomatoes or a haircut – that another Bangla-Pesa vendor may offer. This increases the overall efficiency of the market and helps the community during tough economic times.

Some 200 businesses have agreed to accept the currency, and in return, each has been awarded a credit of 400 Bangla-Pesa. These credits circulate among registered members only. Bangla-Pesa charges no interest on transactions and its membership comprises 75% women, who live below the poverty line and run their own small businesses. Participating businesses include laundries, tailors, builders, salons, and people providing mechanical, electronic repairs and farming services.

Bangla-Pesa is an informal currency, which can be exchanged for cash or services.
Bangla-Pesa is an informal currency, which can be exchanged for cash or services. (Pic: Koru Kenya)

In June, six members of the initiative found themselves guests of the state, and were held in police cells for three days. They were initially jailed on suspicion of being members of a secessionist group. When this was found not to be the case they were charged by the Central Bank of Kenya with forgery for holding a printed voucher. The penalty? A possible seven years in jail.

One of Africa’s top investment bankers, Jimnah Mbaru, rubbished the accusation, saying on Twitter: “Bangla-Pesa is just a promissory note liquidatable at a later date. It is discountable in the secondary market. It is not illegal.”

In fact no one has ever been arrested for using Bangla-Pesa’s predecessor, Eco-Pesa, which was formed in Kongowea in 2010, to help clean up trash in the crammed settlement whose dense population lacks the infrastructure to dispose of trash and sewage. Local youths were paid five Eco-Pesa for each trash bag they filled and deposited at the nearest landfill. They then spent this cash at local businesses to buy goods and services from other local sellers or exchanged it for shillings. After three months of using Eco-Pesa, the monthly income of businesses in Kongowea rose by 22%, and the settlement rid itself of 20 tonnes of trash.

Now tongues are wagging among Nairobi’s chattering class that the financial institutions are leaning heavily on the government to come down hard on the Bangla-Pesa founders and members because they fear the alternative currency may appeal to the masses who are daily looking for a way to escape the excruciating high interest rates charged by banks.

In August, the director of public prosecutions dropped all charges against the Bangla-Pesa group members on the basis that they have not broken any Kenyan laws. They are currently waiting for the Central Bank to release their confiscated vouchers and for the government to officially recognise the programme.

In the meanwhile, the 12 000 inhabitants of the Bangladesh slum will have to continue hustling, hoping for an opportunity to make an extra coin or to stretch the ones they have.

Munene Kilongi is a freelance writer and videographer. He blogs at The Peculiar Penguin.

Jesus Inc: Paying for miracles to happen

A man wobbled across the podium leaning heavily on his crutches as the preacher beckoned to him with outstretched hands. The mammoth crowd at the Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi fell silent in anticipation. The preacher asked the man a few questions and then boomed into the mic: “In the name of Jesus I command you to walk!” The man immediately threw down his crutches and trod unsteadily around the stage. The crowd burst into delirium. Some people fainted.

My colleague who was standing besides me shook with quiet laughter. He knew the “disabled” guy, Joel, since they both live in the Kangemi neighbourhood. Joel is a hopeless drunkard. To finance his drinking habit, he takes on casual jobs – like this one.

Kenyan worshippers are seeking divinity in “miracle” churches and dubious pastors who’ve sprung up all around the country. They command a huge following and are raking in money – millions, even – through, among other things, their claims of miracle healing. One session can cost as much as R300. In addition to this and weekly donations from congregants, the pastors sell anointing oils which cost between R15 to R50 a bottle. The oils have a short shelf life – anything from a few days to a month – so believers have to stock up on them regularly to keep “miracles” flowing in their lives.  No wonder, then, that these religious leaders can afford posh mansions and Range Rovers – and that they make the news for the wrong reasons.

(Graphic: Kenny Leung)
(Graphic: Kenny Leung)

Take Pastor Michael Njoroge of Fire Ministries, who reportedly slept with a prostitute last year and then hired her for R200 to attend his Sunday mass service with a disfigured mouth. With a cloth covering her mouth, sobbing because of her shame, the woman performed like a pro in front of cameras. Njoroge, who has a slot on a Christian TV station, prayed for her at his service. The next day she was back in his church with a perfect mouth, giving testimony of the miracle in front of a transfixed crowd. Soon after the incident Njoroge was exposed by Kenyan news channel NTV but his loyal congregants stood by him.

Then there’s the billionaire businessman, politician and pastor Kamlesh Pattni, who was charged with conspiracy to defraud the government of Sh58-billion in the Goldenberg scandal. He was cleared of the charges in April 2013 but not of his notoriety.  Pattni has established his own church and provides a free lunch to his growing congregation every Sunday. Who doesn’t want a free meal?

Pattni could soon be receiving a hefty Kh4-billion of taxpayers’ money after winning a legal tussle over exclusive rights to duty-free shops in two Kenyan airports. The hefty award, however, is being challenged.

Let’s not forget Pastor Maina Njenga, the former leader of Mungiki, a criminal gang known for extortion, ethnic violence, female genital mutilation and other horrific crimes including the beheading and skinning in its strongholds in Nairobi and central Kenya.  He spent a long stint in jail and was released from prison in 2009. Njenga then became a born-again Christian, and set up Hope International Ministries. He professed that he changed his life around but few believe him

Like many Kenyan pastors, he was quick to enter business and politics too. Last year he threw his hat into the ring for the presidential race but quit due to a lack of funds.

Money troubles are not something Bishop Allan Kiuna and his wife Reverend Kathy have to worry about. The influential, doting couple run the Jubilee Christian Centre in Nairobi which has an ‘international media ministry’ with video and music production and book publishing. They’ve come under fire for their luxurious lifestyle on social media, but Reverend Kathy makes no apologies. “We serve a prosperity God,” Kathy said in an interview with True Love magazine. “God wants us to be prosperous in every single way. His desire for us is to walk in abundance. I am praying for church people to show the likes of Bill Gates dust!”

But the gold prize for the miracles business goes to Kenyan Archbishop Gilbert Deya, who was previously based in Peckham, UK. The evangelical pastor who has been photographed with European royalty, prime ministers and presidents engineered a miracle babies scam, claiming to be able to make infertile women fall pregnant. British women travelled to Kenya to “give birth”, but were actually given babies that the pastor and his wife Mary had stolen or abducted. Suspicions were raised when a woman claimed to give birth to three ‘miracle’ babies in a year, prompting an investigation. DNA testing also revealed that there was no genetic link between the women and the babies they’d apparently given birth to.

Gilbert Deya arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in central London on 1 November 2007 to fight an attempt to extradite him to Kenya to face child theft charges. (AFP)
Gilbert Deya arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in central London on 1 November 2007 to fight an attempt to extradite him to Kenya to face child theft charges. (AFP)

Mary was eventually arrested in 2004 for stealing a baby from a Nairobi hospital and passing it off as her own. She is currently in prison for child-trafficking.  Deya was arrested in 2006 in London and has since been fighting his extradition from the UK to face charges of child theft in Kenya. He has denied the charges, but this particular quote stands out –  of course, it was all God’s idea: “I have been judged by the media as a child trafficker, which is a slave trade, but miracles have happened. God has used me and I tell you God cannot use a criminal. They are miracles.”

Given the numerous scams orchestrated in the name of God, it’s no surprise that a generation of young Kenyans is becoming increasingly sceptical about religion. However, it’s a pity that there are still plenty of desperate and ignorant Kenyans around to keep the Jesus Inc industry flourishing.

Munene Kilongi is a freelance writer and videographer. He blogs at

The long but eventful wait for a P3 form

Human traffic flows into Nairobi’s traffic department every morning from 4am, well before the sun is out. The compound is vast. It has cells, a restaurant, a police station, the police doctor’s office and a huge parking lot.

I stood in the freezing weather with my friend Mike behind a queue of people who seemed to be in different stages of pain and healing. We were here for the all-important P3 form, a medical examination report. The police doctor has to complete and sign this form before victims of crime can report to the local police station and press charges. It is produced in court as evidence.

A guy called Jontes stood behind Mike, twitching like a leaf in the cold weather in a faded T-shirt. The day before, Mike had arrived late – 7am. He was number 66 in line so he never made it into the office of Kenya’s only police doctor, Dr Zephaniah Mwangi Kamau.

Mike was assaulted by his ex-wife. She punched and scratched his face at a bus stand, and verbally tormented the poor guy until he left her and moved out with his kids. She continued to stalk him so Mike wanted an end to this. I was here to give him moral support.

At 6am, a woman selling tea, uji (porridge) and mandazis (fried buns) walked in. We bought some for ourselves and for Jontes, who had a bulging black paper bag filled with humongous cabbages. We turned down his offer to buy, but he did manage to sell some to a woman with a bandage around her head.

We rushed back to the waiting lines, where some guys in smart suits were lurking. They looked like police officers but they were brokers –  for a fee of R10 to R20, they would arrange for latecomers to cut in line ahead of those of us already waiting. Jontes advised us to ignore them; no one would be planted in front of us.

As we waited, rumour spread that Dr Kamau had gone to his father’s funeral but Jontes, a hustler who changes professions wherever opportunity knocks, told us to sit tight. He’d been here many times before and he knew the doctor might appear at any moment.

Today Jontes was here because he’d recently been beaten by five guys in a drunken bar brawl. His face and hands were scarred with numerous dents. Jontes could be described as … deliberately belligerent. Once someone had beaten him in a drunken brawl. When he got his hands on a P3 form, his assailant paid him R8 000 as an out-of-court settlement. In three previous incidents, Jontes was paid amounts of R3 000, R4 000 and R2 500 to drop assault charges against his attackers. This time Jontes was anticipating a big cheque: five guys, R3 000 each.

When news that the Dr Zephania was attending his father’s funeral spread, some people dispersed. One of the brokers who had been pocketing twenties ran away so he wouldn’t have to do refunds. Twenty minutes later he removed his coat and tie and came back to the lines, looking for new arrivals. A disgruntled ‘customer’ shouted, pointing  him out, and soon he was at the receiving end of some harsh slaps.

Meanwhile the crowds continued streaming in. The rich came in their Benzes and BMWs and the poor arrived on foot, some adults being held like babies. There were victims of road accidents, domestic violence, street fights, robberies, arson, sexual violence and other kinds of violent attacks that made my stomach queasy. Young children clad in school uniform were here too, but the majority of people were women.

There was a spirit of equality and justice at the station. This is one place where Kenyans, despite being politically divided, can share common troubles. The rich and the poor queued as equals as they shared their life stories. It was a form of while-we-wait therapy: a poor guy who’d survived a brutal assault would chat and laugh with a rich guy who had endured a harrowing robbery ordeal. Some people had travelled hundreds of kilometres  from the arid Turkana county near the border; Nakuru, famous for its flamingos; and the semi-arid Maasai land of Narok in the Rift Valley province.

The doctor finally arrived around 9am from his father’s burial. He asked who had been unattended to the previous day. Mike’s card showed he had been number 66, but after the brokers added more people to the lines, the prospect of waiting yet another day seemed very real. There were loud protests from the crowd. The good doc shushed us, smiled and asked if there was anyone among us who had ever lost someone close.

Mike raised his hand. Doctor Kamau asked him which ethnic community he came from. Then he asked how long it took for him to get back to work after grieving.

“A week,” Mike said.

“I have just buried my father two hours ago and I’m back at work,” the doctor said, still smiling.

He listened to us and recommended our names be written down for faster dispensation of our case. Eventually, Mike went into the old colonial office for his medical check-up. I waited for him outside. Five minutes later, he came out with the all-important P3 form. He told me that the doc had asked him, behind plumes of cigarette smoke, why he did not hit his ex-wife back. They had both laughed at the awkward question. Now Mike was ready to go to the local police station to file his case and have his attackers summoned for a date in court.

Jontes was next to see the doc. He asked us to wait for him as he went in with his paper bag of vegetables. A little while later, he came out holding his P3 form like it was a lottery cheque. He had a spring in his step as he told us how he was going to make at least R10 000. He was certain he would win his case because there had been many witnesses , and his attackers – office workers – would have to pay him off to avoid losing their jobs.

Having got what we came for, it was time to head our separate ways. We gave Jontes 200 bob for transport. He jumped onto a moving bus, shouting promises of buying us more beer and nyama choma (braai meat) than we had ever seen in our lives – once he’d been paid out, that is.

Munene Kilongi is a freelance writer and videographer. He blogs at

99 problems but love ain’t one of them

I moved with a spring in my step, a bunch of fresh red roses in my hand from the city market, and a heart-shaped chocolate bar. It was Valentine’s Day and I had the proverbial 99 problems but the lack of someone special to spend it with was not one of them. I passed a few women in flowery red dresses on the city streets, but in my neighbourhood – Tena estate, Nairobi – it was only the employees at a hairdressing salon who were dressed for the occasion. For most, it was just another humdrum day.

There’s an increasing cynicism about relationships among young men and women in the city. Women are sick of the traditional role society has expected them to play over the ages, and they’re fighting back by becoming more independent. It’s unsettling to some men, who feel threatened by their partners’ careers and independence. A common, blunt refrain among women is: “All men are players” while men retort: “A girl is yours only when you are with her.”

If love is in the air in Nairobi, it’s a very suspicious kind of love.

On Valentine’s evening, my girlfriend Karen and I joined my buddy and his girlfriend at Tribeka, a popular club in the city. The atmosphere was romantic and electric; everyone here had come to celebrate. Across the table, a guy had swept his girlfriend off her feet and they were kissing like there was no one else was in the room. Another guy near our table wasn’t so lucky – all he got on this special night was a thunderous slap from his partner.  She probably found out that the rose he’d given her wasn’t really from him.

You see, it’s silly season in Kenya: election time. The front-running Jubilee party took the opportunity to hand out free roses to Nairobi residents – which guys readily passed on to the girls they had their sights set on, relieved that they didn’t have to fork out for them. Most people are still recovering from the Christmas shopping sprees that have left holes in their wallets.

Meanwhile, women expect men to woo them on Valentine’s Day – and every other day. My male friends blame the barrage of Mexican soap operas on our television screens for creating unrealistic expectations of them and their budgets. We would never be caught dead watching The Power of Destiny with our girlfriends, so we’re totally clueless about how to be a knight in shining armour, Don Juan and Bill Gates all rolled into one.

Businesses in Nairobi are quick to capitalise on Valentine’s Day with promotions and gifts galore. (

Earlier that day I stopped at the supermarket for ice cream. The store was draped in red, and two women in red T-shirts were managing a stall at the entrance, selling teddy bears, chardonnay, whisky, cards and chocolates. I bought chocolates – but they told me I was only the second guy to have purchased something from them that day. They’d received most of their support from women.

I learnt that some women had a trick up their sleeves for this day. They run to the shops before work to purchase expensive flowers and fine wines. At noon, the delivery man arrives at their offices to deliver a “surprise”, while their colleagues ooh and aah at their treats. These women are paying for their own gifts if only to keep up appearances.

The night before Valentine’s, I went to the local pub to watch the Real Madrid and Manchester United game. One guy left early, saying he promised his partner he’d be home by 7pm. Another lamented having to budget for school fees and a special gift for his wife. An older guy said his wife of nine years, who’d never demanded gifts or expressed interest in celebrating Valentine’s before, was now expecting him to come home with something big.

I consider myself lucky then, to have a girlfriend who was sincerely happy to receive just a bunch of red roses and chocolates on February 14. In return, she gave me a single red rose and a big smile. No matter how cynical I am about love, I think I may have found the rare woman most of my friends are searching for.

Munene Kilongi is a freelance writer and videographer. He blogs at