Africa, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Financial Crisis, Headlines

KENYA: Inflation Deflates New Year Joy

Miriam Gathigah

NAIROBI, Jan 2 2012 (IPS) - Kenyans entered the New Year with less pomp and colour that has characterised previous new year celebrations. Due to the harsh economic situation and the fact that it is time for most students to go back to school, many families shied away from entertainment places to save that elusive shilling for their school-going children.

One of the many displaced families in Kenya.  Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

One of the many displaced families in Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Muchai Waruhui, a business analyst in Nairobi, says “It has been a difficult year for millions of Kenyans breaking their backs for long hours just to put food on the table. With an unemployment rate of 40 percent, many can only meet the very basic needs.

“And even for the employed, times are hard as salaries remain the same against a skyrocketing inflation rate.”

According to the Central Bank of Kenya, in just one year, the inflation rate has risen from 3.84 percent to the current 18.91 percent. This has been attributed to the rise in food and fuel pries, a trend seen all across East Africa.

Consequently, there is a looming crisis in Kenya, and economic analysts predict that the country is about to experience unparalleled labour unrest.

There has already been a series of strikes in the public sector.

While the inflation rate surges into double digits, economists predict that the worst is yet to come. Only three years away from the 2015 deadline for the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by United Nations member states in 2000, it looks increasingly unlikely that Kenya will meet the targets.

The MDGs are geared towards improving livelihoods and accelerating development. But unfortunately, sectors key to the socio-economic wellbeing of Kenya’s people continue to experience serious challenges, unrest and instability.

“It has been the objective of U.N. member states committed to the MDGs to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. But in Kenya, as is the case with many African states, the cost of living has risen to unprecedented levels,” Waruhui explains.

In September 2011, more than 200,000 teachers in public schools across the country went on strike for reasons that included poor pay and poor working conditions. After a series of negotiations with the government, they returned to school.

Daniel Mungai, a business writer and consultant in Nairobi, says “But this was only the beginning, the month of November saw lecturers in public universities down their tools for nine days.

“This was followed by the staff at the Kenyatta National Hospital, the largest referral hospital in the country. The Postal Corporation of Kenya also followed suit, while the public service vehicles also went on a go-slow.”

But it was the strike by doctors in December that had the heaviest impact, with scores of patients languishing in hospitals, and several succumbing to their ailments due to lack of medical attention.

“Kenyan doctors are the most poorly paid in the region. We are receiving the same salary we received when the inflation rate was at three percent. Our pay is so poor that we cannot afford to seek the decent medical services that we offer our patients,” says Dr Ken Ondicho, a pediatrician in Nairobi.

Politics as usual

Despite the difficulties faced by people in a country where more than half of the population lives below the poverty line, politicians are busy launching new parties and holding political meetings ahead of the general elections due this year.

Their seeming indifference to the suffering masses has not gone unnoticed, however. Kenyans have been sending them a message demanding political change. After the disputed 2007 general elections, the number of election petitions has been higher than in previous years.

Of the 11 members of parliament who had election results nullified by the high court due to irregularities leading to a by-election, only three were able to recapture their seats. Kenyans chose to replace the others with leaders who were newcomers in the political arena, in the hope that the new legislators would help improve their lives.

But it is still business as usual for the government, which is currently refurbishing the parliamentary debating chambers for an estimated 12 million dollars. The project is expected to be completed in March this year.

“Even more serious is the fact that corruption is still rife, as donor funding is used by government officials in various government ministries for personal gains,” says Mungai. “Key ministries such as those of water, education and land have been fighting allegations of misuse of public funds.”

Besides the high cost of living, thousands of Kenyans in slums like Kyangombe and Mitumba in Nairobi have found themselves homeless for settling on what is said to be illegally acquired land.

The government has also continued to demolish homes worth millions of shillings in places such as Syokimau on the outskirts of Nairobi, for similar reasons.

Consequently, this fresh group of evictees joins scores of other Kenyans who continue to live in dilapidated camps after they were displaced by internal conflicts, particularly at the height of the 2007-2008 post-election violence. Others were evicted for settling in woodlands areas such as the Mau forest.

Waruhui says an unsympathetic government is only fuelling an already simmering crisis: “The recent strikes are just the tip of the iceberg. More labour unrest will also begin to be felt in the private sector. This country will continue to experience unprecedented labour instability.

“Kenyans feel that the government is unconcerned with their plight, as political leaders are only preoccupied with political rallies to drum up support for their parties ahead of the 2012 general elections.”

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