Thursday, January 10, 2008

Kenya - Poverty is the cause not tribalism

Much of the popular media when debating the present Kenyan crisis has been concentrating its focus on the issue of tribalism . But just as Socialist Banner has previously mentioned , this report claims analysts point to basic economics as the true cause of the unrest.

“In the urban areas, there was a lot of senseless burning and looting, which was people taking out their economic grievances during a leadership vacuum. They just let loose and attacked any targets, burning their neighbours’ houses, regardless of whether they are Party of National Unity, Kibaki’s party or Orange Democratic Movement, the opposition,” Macharia Gaitho, a political columnist, told IRIN.

The tensions that led to such clashes were not the result of ethnicity per se, but, according to an editorial in the Sunday Nation newspaper, an almost inevitable consequence of the country’s economic system:

“Kenya practises a brutal, inhuman brand of capitalism that encourages a fierce competition for survival, wealth and power. Those who can’t compete successfully are allowed to live like animals in slums.”

In Nairobi, more than 60 percent of the population live in slums, some of which lie a stone’s throw away from the city’s most luxurious houses. According to a report (Pulling Apart: Facts and Figures on Inequality in Kenya) by the Nairobi-based Society for International Development , Kenya is the 10th most unequal country in the world in terms of wealth disparities. Of Africa’s 54 states, it is the fifth most unequal. The 2004 report, using UN Development Programme figures, states that Kenya’s richest earn 56 times more than its poorest: the top 10 percent of the population controls 42 percent of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 10 percent own 0.76 percent.

Inequality pervades every aspect of Kenyans’ lives, according to the report, citing enormous disparities – both in the capital and at national level - in almost every sphere of life: income; access to education, water and health; life expectancy; and prevalence of HIV/AIDS. A person born in the western Nyanza province, the bedrock of ODM support, can expect to die 16 years younger than a fellow citizen in Central province, Kibaki’s home turf. Child immunisation rates in Nyanza are less than half those in Central. Another impoverished region is North Eastern province. While almost every child in Central attends primary school, only one in three does in North Eastern. More than nine out of very 10 women in North Eastern have no education at all. In Central, the proportion is less than 3 percent. In these two provinces, there is one doctor for 120,000 and 20,000 respectively.

In 2007, economic growth reached 5.5 percent and before the elections was predicted to hit 7 percent in 2008. This growth has been concentrated in the service sector, with banks, tourism and communications companies making big profits. Prices of shares and property have also soared. But rather than trickling down to the worst off, this boom appears to have been very selective in its beneficiaries while the poor have seen the purchasing power of their shilling shrink.
“we used to buy sugar for 45 shillings”, Agnes Naliaka, a long-term resident of Nairobi’s Kawangware slum, told IRIN. “Now it’s 65 shillings. A kilo of cooking fat was 50 shillings. Now it’s over 100 shillings,” she said, adding that rents in the slum had doubled over the past five years.

"When a poor economy starts to grow very fast like Kenya did, levels of inequality rise .You need assets and property rights to participate in economic production and exchange. Only a few have assets, are educated, able to save and invest, to take advantage of the high growth rates of the last few years. Those who have, get more. Those who do not, lose the little they have,” MJ Gitau, a Society for International Development programme officer and contributor to the inequality report, told IRIN.

Ethnicity came into play during the election violence because of the widespread perception that those who fared best under Kibaki were his own Kikuyu group, the country’s largest, which dominated politics and the economy both under his administration and that of founding president Jomo Kenyatta.
“People reacted like they did because they were hoping for change after the 2002 election. Kibaki came and promised many things which he didn’t do,” said Agnes of Kawangware slum.

Kenya’s youth in particular, who make up a majority of the population - and of those who rioted - feel the most let down. Improved education gave them hope of a better life than their parents’, hope that was dashed, according to Kwamchetsi Makokha of Nairobi-based communications consultancy Form and Content.
"... A lot of young people who got a bit of education could not see themselves working for pittances as farm labourers. They started drifting to the cities where the opportunities are not enough to accommodate all of them. You have this massive influx of people who just can’t find work,” he told IRIN and added , "The common Kenyan citizen who does not have money or property does not have a say in how Kenya is organised. They never have. It’s always been about what car you drive, where you live, and then you have more rights than other people.”

The explosion of anger and violence Kenya has witnessed over the past week will have served as a wake-up call to all Kenyans that the yawning gap between the middle class and the poor is a powder keg just waiting to explode .

“Under colonialism, it was almost a slave labour system which grew up in the early days of the coffee estates. After independence , the white master was simply replaced by the black master..."

1 comment:

blackstone said...

Speak on it!