High Cost of Living: Is Kenya Courting a Revolution?
It is not in doubt that Kenya is at crossroads. The country’s economic performance is dismal characterized by spiraling inflation and a volatile shilling. Many cannot cope with the rising cost of living. It is one strike after the other from teachers, electricity suppliers, lecturers, medical practitioners, Public Service Vehicle operators to postal workers. Many more strikes are on cue.
|Kenyans protest the high cost of living Photo courtesy|
Unfortunately, in the wake of all these, the government is absent from the scene. No measures have been put in place to check inflation. Prices of basic commodities – Unga (maize flour) and Sugar are unaffordable. The price of fuel has gone up by over 30 per cent in the last few months. Life is unbearable for majority of Kenyans.
Most Kenyan leaders do not know what is it like to be poor or a debt ridden middle class worker, at least not first hand. That explains the defiant attitude adopted by the government in demolishing buildings allegedly built on public land at Syokimau, Embakasi and Eastleigh settlements.The scenes of bulldozers mowing down complex architectural structures, shanties and highrise flats have forced most of us to recognise that the government will always get what it wants.
The ruling elites in Kenya are heavily encased in their ‘comfort zones’ to appreciate the reality – that Kenyan masses are suffering and have the capacity to reclaim their dignity. Apart from Brazil and India, Kenya has the world's greatest gap between the rich and the poor. On average, there are over 50% Kenyans living beneath the poverty line. This is blamed on corruption among the country's political elite. Kenya's political elite are not only among the country's richest people, but they also control much of the country's resources.
The richest 10% of Kenya's population reportedly earn 42% of the country's wealth while the poorest 10% earn less than 1% of the income. The gap between the rich and poor in Kenya continues to widen. As the minority rich elite wallow in extreme largesse in Runda, Muthaiga, Karen and Lavington among other up-market exclusives, the majority of the country’s urban poor live in adjacent slum areas of Githogoro village, Mathare, Kibera, Mukuru and Kawangware respectively, where they are enveloped by high crime rate, food insecurity and widespread hopelessness.
The ruling elite is consequently courting a social revolution. This reminds me of England in 1215. A group of English barons cornered King John and forced him to agree to the Magna Carta, a document that limited the king's powers and protected the barons' privileges. At every point in history, the oppressed and exploited have dreamed of a world of equality and abundance. However, the outcome of the class struggle determines whether society moves forward or backward.
Are the ruling elites waiting for their ‘comfort zones’ to be violated by the poor despite their heavy security guards, electric fences and immoral abundance to realize that their neighbours from the adjacent slums cannot afford Unga? We should not come to this.
When the government accords a week-long doctors strike with apathy, its raises questions. It is not in doubt that those who visit public health facilities for services are the same poor masses. The ruling elites can afford expensive private medical services. The State apparently does not care about the well being of its citizens.
We cannot look yonder while answers of corruption and incompetency are right before our nose. The ruling elites in their ‘comfort zones’ are with impunity destroying, exterminating and extinguishing the poor in slowly by pushing them deeper in poverty using their unscrupulous business connections.
Poverty in Kenya does not stem from population growth, but poor planning and bad leadership. Marginalisation, corruption and impunity are killing Kenya’s sustainable development. It is a pathetic system that puts wealth in a few pockets of friends with their agents, leaving the majority with no employment or means for survival. The destructive effects of poverty, drought and hunger are not accidental.Corrupt and unscrupulous politicians have a hand. This is the reason why change must take effect in Kenya to disorganize their network and connections.
At present, 56% of Kenyans live below the poverty line. They earn less than I USD a day and can hardly afford food, healthcare, shelter and in some cases water. The pursuit of these leaves them with no time to pursue other economic activities, hence sinking deeper into poverty. Militia gangs, a product of class struggle between the Haves and Have-nots have emerged.
The widening gap between the rich and the poor is evidenced by the increased number of security firms; homes with walls surrounding them; homes enclosed behind huge gates and the mushrooming of shanties. It is also indicated by the increased number of NGOs from wealthy nations in poor countries; increased number of aid agencies and all sorts of busy-body conferences discussing poverty.
Inequality is not only the income gap between the rich and poor. It entails differences in access to education, health, access and enjoyment of political rights and representation.
Its sad when you go to refill gas and find that gas prices have doubled. Some months ago, KSh1000 would buy several items from the supermarket, but that’s history now. The cost of living has skyrocketed at a worrying rate.Initially, we were told that the Kenyan Shilling had succumbed to the dollar. But this has changed since the shilling is now stable. The worst is yet to come if a remedy is not sought quickly. The Kenya government’s measure to curb the escalating fuel prices only made it worse and we hope that the Energy regulatory commission will be disbanded for its failure to protect consumers.
Indeed, our leaders need to act urgently. Remember, the French never revolted because they were the most poor and most oppressed. The revolution was driven by the fact that the French had tested freedom and therefore wanted absolute freedom. It was home to most wealthy in Europe.
In France (as it is here) Louis XVI never understood and spoke the language of the poor masses He never saw life through the eyes of the poor despite warnings until his ‘comfort zone’ was invaded by the masses who couldn’t afford bread. The Queen had ironically appealed to masses who could afford bread to eat cakes.
By Kasembeli Albert
The author is a Kenyan journalist based in Nairobi.
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