Inequality festers as Kenyans hold State to account

Saturday September 29 2018

inequality

Ms Elizabeth Adongo, Senior Policy Adviser at the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs, comments on the report by Twaweza East Africa about inequality in Kenya, on September 26, 2018. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

PATRICK LANG'AT
By PATRICK LANG'AT
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On July 23, Reuters photographer Baz Ratner captured an image depicting Nairobi as the poster boy of inequality in Kenya.

In the photo, widely circulated on social media, a golfer tees in the background in a lush green course completely removed from the happenings just a few metres away.

These two completely different worlds stared at each other — on one side was golf, an exclusive sport, and on the other, distressed residents of the Kibera slums counting losses after a move by the government to bring down buildings to pave way for a road in the slum.

Between them stood a short wall, part of it burnt.

Broken down in numbers, and given the specific figures that people earn, and why the photo generated so much debate, is a story of a society where 95 percent of its citizens say the gap between the rich and the poor is “too large".

EDUCATION

It is the story of a country where global charity organisation Oxfam in 2017 said 8,300 (less than 0.1 percent) own more wealth than the bottom 99.9 percent numbering more than 45 million.

The photo tells the story of a country where its richest 10 percent earn an average 23 times more than the poorest 10 percent.

It is a story of despair, and one which a study by Twaweza East Africa released on Wednesday says is only getting worse.

In the study dubbed “A fair slice?” and which looks at people’s views on poverty, fairness, and inequality, at least 85 percent of those polled said it is the responsibility of government to reduce the gap.

But while they said the gap was too high, more than half of Kenyans believe working hard, as opposed to getting an education, is the most important thing one needs to improve their status.

While 58 percent of Kenyans cited hard work as the key to changing their lives, only 17 percent cited education, with a paltry six percent citing the availability of a job.

“This indicates escaping poverty and getting ahead are seen as different things: A job is what you need to escape poverty, and then, once you have a job, hard work is what gets you what you need to get ahead,” Victor Rateng of Twaweza said.

JOBS

The study was done between April 18 and May 15, and sampled 1,672 respondents based on data from Sauti za Wananchi, a mobile phone panel survey.

And while they cited unemployment as one of the three main reasons many households are poor at 48 percent of the respondents, they still argued inequality was a big issue in the country.

However, six out of 10 of them still believe inequality creates competition and encourages hard work.

To address the gap, the study found, Kenyans would prefer the government to invest in social safety nets like the women and youth affirmative action funds and quality schools and health facilities.

So far, the government has disbursed a total of Sh31 billion since 2013 to a total of two million beneficiaries in the women and youth funds.

Half of those polled in the survey, as opposed to 37 percent, said it was not shameful for them to receive social benefits from the government without doing any work.

TAXES

At least 47 percent of them disagreed with an assertion that social benefits from the government make citizens lazy.

In what shows just how unequal Kenya is, Oxfam, in its 2017 report titled "Taxing for a More Equal Kenya: A five-point action plan to tackle inequality", noted that while the gap between the rich and the poor was still growing large, the number of the few rich was ballooning.

By 2027, the global charity organisation predicted, Kenya’s millionaires will have grown by 80 percent, with 7,500 new millionaires set to be created — one of the fastest growth rates in the world.

Globally, it is even worse. Eight people — six from the United States, one Spaniard, and one Mexican — own the same wealth as the world’s poorest 3.6 billion people.

And while the number of the super rich increases in Kenya, Oxfam says, more and more corporates are evading taxes, estimated at more than Sh100 billion a year — further compounding an already bad problem.

The report defines living in poverty as households earning below Sh5,995 a month in major urban centres, and Sh3,252 a month in rural areas.

MILLIONAIRES

This is happening in a country where top executives of leading firms earn more than Sh1 million a day.

Co-operative Bank chief executive Gideon Muriuki last year walked home with Sh370 million, Sh99.8 million in salary and allowances and a Sh270.7 million bonus, with mobile telephone services giant Safaricom paying Bob Collymore Sh196.5 million, up from Sh168.5 million he earned in the year ending March 2017.

In the same year, ARM Cement chief executive Pradeep Paunrana was paid a total of Sh114.7 million, with former Kenya Airways chief executive Mbuvi Ngunze walking away with Sh104.8 million.

To document just how unequal that is, take this against the minimum wage in the country.

Though it has risen from a paltry Sh1,700 in 1994, the minimum wage, now at Sh13,572, is still a representation of how far the country needs to go to bridge the gap.

POVERTY INDEX

A Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) survey of the richest counties showed Nairobi County has the lowest share of poor people. Only 17 of every 100 people in Nairobi live in poverty, followed by Nyeri and Meru with 19 each.

Even then, the 2016 statistics report showed 40 percent of Nairobians at the bottom control a depressing 0.4 percent of the total expenditure.

The agricultural county of Kirinyaga comes fourth, with Narok, blessed with the expansive Maasai Mara Game Reserve and good weather for wheat and barley growing, closing the tally of the five richest counties with 22 and 23 of its 100 people living in poverty, respectively.

Kiambu, Machakos, Tharaka-Nithi, Murang’a and Mombasa close the top 10 rich list with averages of between 23 to 27 of 100 people struggling to put food on the table.

Turkana, Kenya’s largest county, and which often receives the second highest amount of shareable revenue, at Sh10.7 billion this year, is classified as the poorest county in the 2016 survey with more than 79 in every 100 of its population living in poverty.

The other devolved units in the bottom 10 are Mandera (78), Samburu (76), Busia (69) and Garissa (66), as well as Marsabit, Wajir, Tana River, West Pokot and Isiolo where 63.7, 62.6, 62.2, 57.4 and 51.9 percent of its residents, respectively, struggle to meet basic needs.

WOMEN

But it is not all gloomy. While the World Bank says Kenya might not eradicate poverty by 2030 as it hoped in its Vision 2030 blueprint, it will have made great strides.

Since 2005, the number of Kenyans living on less than Sh190 (US$1.90 per day), has declined from 48.6 percent to 36.1 percent in 2015.

In absolute numbers, however, this still is a marginal, almost negligible, improvement — from 16.6 million in 2006 to 16.4 million two years ago.

It is not only on income that Kenya is unequal. In March, a review of data by the Kenya Land Alliance showed women were allocated only 1.6 percent of about 10 million hectares of land that was registered between 2013 and 2017.

This is despite the World Bank saying women run more than three-quarters of Kenya’s farms.

Women are also discriminated at work, with twice as many men as women in the Kenyan workforce, and in a world where nine out of every 10 billionaires are men, the journey is still long and torturous for women.

PRIORITY

But in what might show great strides in gender equality, only 13 percent of Kenyans, the Twaweza study showed, said it was OK to prioritise taking a boy to school over a girl in case of availability of funds to educate only one child.

Only 28 percent took the same view in terms of resources.

“These are very important strides to achieve inclusivity and equality in Kenya. And we are happy that women are perceived a lot more as capable of playing a critical role — especially when resources are not enough. We are happy fewer people are saying they’ll prefer one gender to the other,” Ms Elizabeth Adongo, the senior adviser to the Public Service Cabinet Secretary, said after the release of the Twaweza study.

To fight rising inequality, Oxfam in its 2017 report called on governments to limit the returns of shareholders and top executives, close the gender pay gap, crackdown on tax avoidance, and increase spending on healthcare and education.

INNOVATION

Similarly, in the Twaweza report, 40 percent of Kenyans said increasing funding for social safety nets was an important thing to reduce poverty, with 36 percent, 23, and 19 percent citing provision of quality education and healthcare, raising of the minimum wage, and reducing taxes on small business as the four best ways to reduce the gap, respectively.

One in 10 Kenyans said taxes should be raised for the rich, while nine per cent proposed a regulation of how much money and property one should have as some other ways.

Sir Angus Deaton, the British American economist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare, advocates more innovation.

“A rising inequality that probably wouldn’t have bothered people before does become really salient and troublesome to them (during periods of low growth),” Sir Deaton said in March 2017.