Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Kenyan Inequality

Kenya is ranked by both the World Bank and the CIA as among the 50 most unequal countries in the world. Kenya is experiencing some of the highest growth rates of its 50 years, but the distribution of the proceeds of this growth has been very different across the different segments of the population.

Nairobi is a tale of two cities. For the connected few, it is the best of times; for the disconnected many, it is the worst of times. It is the richest county, capital's capital, but it is also among the most unequal, with grinding levels of poverty. It is where inequality is distilled and concentrated and most visible; where the haves are having more and the have nots are not, and both exist in close quarters. Nairobi has the country's most expensive real estate and the most expensive rents, but it also has the highest number of the homeless.

Nairobi is home to both the richest and some of the poorest locations in the country. In some locations average wages are north of Sh100,000, and in others they are a fortieth of that figure, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Nairobi may be growing faster than any other region in the country or the region; we learnt that the capital has more dollar millionaires than Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia combined. It is so rich that it can comfortably be weaned off the national teat during county disbursements, according to the Commission for Revenue Allocation. The problem is that the wealth doesn't spread.

Kenya's rich hold at least Sh51 billion in just one Swiss bank, HSBC. Most dollar millionaires make their loot, not from finding innovative solutions and spectacular products, but from speculating on land. Nineteen per cent of the country’s 8,500 dollar millionaires minted their money from flipping property; the second highest number of millionaires is from finance. The problem with the rich is that they lack the noblesse oblige. They have no concept or care of the wider society.

 The state is helping the rich accumulate more. Policies that favour grand projects and huge kickbacks are drawn up before ones that actually help people. There still is no cost-benefit analysis for the Standard Gauge Railway line, but already it is rising up from the dirt and the bill is being drawn up.

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