Glaring inequalities affect Kenya's growth rate

Wednesday March 18 2020

A child receives polio vaccination in Dadaab, Garissa County. The region has a basic vaccination rate of 62.1 percent. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria ruffled feathers early in the month when he touched on the question of inequality. Yet the debate generated should provide a chance for introspection.

The Commission for Revenue Allocation, with its instrument — The Equalisation Fund — was created for purpose of equity.

As much as inequalities will exist, there should be a reasonable chance that a person born without advantages can excel.

There is also a growing body of literature that suggests inequality has a negative impact on poverty reduction, economic growth and the country’s stability.

In more unequal societies, growth tends to reduce poverty at a slower rate than in more equal ones.



Third, sector focus has a huge influence on levels of inequality.

Are we then an equal society? Not according to Mr Kuria and a large number of Kenyans.

Inequality is demographical, meaning it cuts across social classes, gender, age and physiologically disadvantaged groups. It is also geographical.

The discussion therefore is not about Mt Kenya; it is about the people of Kenya.

About 45.2 percent of Kenyans live below the poverty line, or less than a dollar a day.

In counties like Nairobi, however, just 22 percent of their residents fall in this group, almost a quarter of the 88 percent in Turkana County.


The worst performing county in Mt Kenya is Tharaka-Nithi, with 41 percent of its people below the poverty line.

This is below the national average but better than the best in Ukambani — Kitui and Makueni at 48 percent.

Regionally, the Mt Kenya average of those below the poverty line (31 percent) is almost three times the 87 percent mean of northeastern.

Household expenditure in Kenya per month averages Sh3,440 per adult.

However, there are disparities between urban, rural areas and regionally. Average adult household expenditure per month is Sh2,270 in rural areas and Sh6,010 in towns.

Only 12 counties (25 percent) have a mean monthly expenditure above the national average.

These are: Nairobi, Machakos, Kisumu, Vihiga, Kajiado, Mombasa, Uasin Gishu, Nakuru, Lamu, Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Kiambu.


The county with the least monthly expenditure in Mt Kenya — Meru at Sh3,100 — spends Sh1,400 more than the average in the northeast.

On average, households in Nairobi spend Sh7,200 per adult but the figure is Sh1,300 for Wajir.

Of the five poorest counties in mean expenditure, four are in the north — Mandera, Wajir, Turkana and Marsabit — and the other is Tana River in the Coast.

One quarter of Kenya’s population has no education. Slightly more than half has primary education while only 23 percent have secondary schooling and above.

In villages, a third of the population has no education and slightly over half the residents have primary education.

Only four out of every 25 people in rural areas have secondary education. Most (38 per cent) of those with secondary education and above live in towns.


A Nairobi resident has 15.4 times more access to secondary education than a Turkana County local.

The Nairobian has 2.2 times more access to secondary education than the average Kenyan.

On the other hand, Turkana County residents are seven times less likely to acquire secondary education than the average Kenyan.

The proportion of people with secondary education in male headed households is higher than that in female headed homes.

Turkana County, which has the highest percentage of illiteracy, is eight times that of lowest ranked county, Nairobi.

Kiambu, which has the least percentage of people with no education in Mt Kenya, has a percentage that is almost a seventh that of Turkana, a sixth for Garissa and a third for Baringo.


Since it is difficult to find health data desegregated by county, the discussion begins at regional level or the former provinces.

Nationwide, the infant mortality rate is 36, making Kenya number 48 globally.

Under five mortality rate in Kenya stands at 52 per 1,000. The highest under five mortality rate is in Nyanza at 82 out of 1,000 children, followed by Nairobi at 72.

Central province at 42 has the lowest under five death rate in the country. Child health is a reflection of the health and wealth of the community.

Vaccination is vital to the health of a child. Some 79.4 percent of children in Kenya have had basic vaccination.

The county with the highest vaccination percentage is Kirinyaga (100), followed by Kiambu (99), Nandi (96.3), Tharaka-Nithi (95.3) and Nyamira (95).

Three of the top five counties leading in basic vaccination are from Mt Kenya.

West Pokot has the lowest basic vaccination rate of 35.9 percent, followed by Mandera (43.2), Kajiado (58.5), Garissa (62.1) and Narok (66.4).


Three of the five counties at the lower level of vaccination are from the Rift Valley.

Differences exist per constituency, ward, income levels, level of education of house head and gender of household head.

Nationally, the median of first sexual intercourse for men is higher at 25.3 years than for women (20.2).

Nairobi has the highest median age for female first sexual intercourse at 22.1 years, followed by Central (21.4).

At 18.6 years, North Eastern and Nyanza median ages are the lowest.

For males, Coast has the highest median age of 26.4 while Nyanza has the lowest.


In terms of hospitals, out of 12 beds per 100,000 people in the country, Makueni at 29 has the highest number.

It is followed by Embu (23), Nyeri (21), Kisumu (20) and Tharaka-Nithi (20).

Of the 1,447 laboratories in the country, Nairobi has the highest number at 487. It is followed by Kiambu (103), Mombasa (84), Nakuru (74) and Kajiado (63).

It means Nairobi has 33.6 percent of the lab, Rift Valley (19.9), Mt Kenya (16.7), Coast (7.8), Nyanza (6.2) and North Eastern (1.2).

The level of women control of men’s (family) income is low.

However, a high percentage of women admitted to controlling their husbands’ income though a much lower percentage of men accepted that.

The bigger control of husband income is with men. Interestingly, women from Nyanza enjoy the biggest control of their spouse income at 9.7 to 14.6 percent.


According to the United Nations, Kenya has a human development index of 0.52. However, more revealing are the disparities across regions.

Nairobi has an index of 0.773 and is comparable to high HDI countries like the Seychelles (0.773) and Mexico (0.770).

Mt Kenya at 0.637 can be compared to medium HDI countries like Egypt (0.644) and Botswana (0.633), while parts of northern Kenya (0.417) can be compared to low HDI countries such as Malawi and Afghanistan.

Regions considered to be doing well on average also have huge disparities within them.

The Rift Valley has an average HDI of 0.574 but Turkana registers 0.33 while Uasin Gishu’s is 0.63.

There exists differences in indicators like access to water, improved sanitation, electricity and quality housing.

These extremities make it imperative to revisit the issue of regional inequality, especially now that devolution has taken root in the country.


So, while this analysis is largely about the software, outcomes and not hardware, is there inequality in Kenya?

The study demonstrates that there exists huge disparities with respect to human development. The disparities are by no means restricted to region, county, constituency or wards.

Some disparities are historical. Others are due to demographics — age, gender, education, social class and physical/psychological disadvantages.

Regional analyses show real time human development indicators that overwhelming favour Mt Kenya.

The analysis though did not compare development trends in Mt Kenya and nationally inter and intra political regimes.

What sticks out is the fact that Baringo has an illiteracy percentage of 36 (the national average is 25 percent), 23 percent of improved water supply (national average is 50) and just 39 percent improved sanitation with the national average being 61 percent).


Baringo has only nine beds per 100,000 people and 0.6 percent of the national distribution of labs. Baringo is the home of Kenya’s second president.

Equitable resource distribution is largely political. The government must design pro-equity policies.

Studies have shown that real production — agriculture, extraction and manufacturing — is equity-friendly but the service industry is not.

A bank manager takes home Sh300 million annually while a teller gets just Sh500,000.

The huge gaps do not exist in agriculture. The government should not abdicate its responsibility of providing social services to private entities.


It must be involved meaningfully in health, education, water and transport.

The involvement must go beyond policy and facilitation. These services are what manifest alarming levels of inequity.

In addition, the government cannot deal with equity as ‘relief’ or token to single issue interest groups.

The key role of the government is to manage the extreme excesses of the market place, left alone market forces are very inequitable!