Take urgent measures to address inequality

Saturday January 13 2018

Children play in Kibera slums, Nairobi. The inequality levels in Africa are among the highest in the world with the poor becoming poorer while the rich get richer. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Children play in Kibera slums, Nairobi. The inequality levels in Africa are among the highest in the world with the poor becoming poorer while the rich get richer. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By GABRIEL DOLAN
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Youth unemployment in Kenya stands at 40 per cent, yet two sectors of notable expansion are religion and security.

Every street corner thunders out messages of repentance, redemption and a prosperity gospel. Preachers learn the trade in one church, then purchase a suit, an enormous loudspeaker, a few second-hand mabati sheets and you have a church.

I guess this would be called a Small enterprise in the business world.

Security companies have greatly expanded too. Currently, there are over 3,500 registered companies employing up to 400,000 guards; that figure is four times as high as the regular Kenya police. The continuous growth in local churches and private security firms is perhaps the greatest indicator of inequality in our society.

MIRACLES

Churches that promise miracles and wealth are found in the poorest areas where their message has the greatest appeal.

Security companies operate in the wealthiest ends of town to protect businesses and property. Put another way, security companies protect the wealth of those who have acquired it, while religion comforts those who survive on a hand-to-mouth existence.

This is true not only of Kenya but even in the developed world. There are 5.2 million security guards in the USA, while in a more equal society like Sweden the number is four times less per 1 million of the population.

Kenya is an unequal society, frequently ranked third behind Brazil and South Africa in terms of disparity of wealth.

If in doubt, just remember that MCAs earn 10 to 15 times more than the teacher to whom you have entrusted your child’s education.

EXECUTIVES

County Executives earn 20 times more than clinical officers and company executives often take home 100 times more than their employees.

So what is being done to redress this horrible injustice? The country is awash with microfinance organisations but there is not a shred of evidence to prove that microfinance has helped to reduce poverty.

In fact microfinance often increases personal debt burdens even in countries like Bangladesh where they are lauded.

The various Uwezo funds for youth and women have just been cash cows for well-connected individuals that teach young people to be dishonest and unaccountable.

Well-managed cash transfer programmes provide a much better stimulus to local economies. Jaindi Kisero recently wrote about the impact that such a programme made in one community in Nyanza.

MONTHLY STIPEND

The provision of a monthly stipend to senior citizens and the disabled is a positive move but needs to expand and the amount to be increased.

But the disparity in wages is what needs urgent attention. One proposal would be to increase the minimum wage.

Currently, the average wage in Kenya is K144 per month. The median wage is K80. Now what if we were to regulate that 50 per cent of the median wage would be the minimum wage? Then every worker would be guaranteed Sh40,000 per month.

This would not only be just but would circulate more money and stimulate local economies. It would also reduce the crime rate and provide jobs other than security. Many may argue that the country can’t afford it, but can we afford to continue in such an unequal society?

Fr Dolan is a Catholic priest based in Mombasa. [email protected] @GabrielDolan1