If you live in or have an interest in Kenya, it has been one of the defining issues of the country’s 50 year history as an independent nation. From the heady heights of the 1965 Sessional Paper No 10: African Socialism and its application to Planning in Kenya, to ordinary pork barrel politics of county government politicians demanding “loneliness allowances,” for their spouses, to entire chapters of the recently passed Constitution. Distribution of resources pretty much influences or defines every aspect of Kenya’s politics.
On the whole, Kenya is supposedly a middle income country. According to the latest GDP re-basing results, released on Monday the 30th of September 2014, Kenya crossed over from being a low income GDP, to the group of nations known as lower middle income countries. According to theses figures, Kenya now has a GDP per person of 1246 US Dollars.
According to data, released by The Standard Bank Group however, less than 4% of Kenyans households earn enough income to qualify as middle class. That is households that earn ~670-3400 US Dollars a month. Approximately 45.1% of Kenya’s population live in dire poverty and by some estimates, something in the way of 42% of Kenya’s total wealth is controlled by 10% of the population
Furthermore an older report, the Food insecurity Assessment in Kenya, indicates that in 2008 approximately 51% of all Kenyans were chronically undernourished, while something the the way of one third risk obesity from eating too much.
So how are such extremes possible in a country such as Kenya? With a economy that has historically been more market oriented than many others on the continent (See Ujamaa in Tanzania), and pro west bias in its diplomacy, Kenya’s government initially set out to pour its resources primarily into areas of the economy that would generate a high return, and use the proceeds to lift up other areas.
This meant regions producing agricultural commodities like tea, coffee, and lately flowers and horticulture, as well as in dairy farming, were to receive the bulk of the government’s economic support, and the success would raise the rest of the country up. This also meant policies supportive of tourism and financial services.
That was and has turned out to be the sanitized explanation for economic policies that skewed money, infrastructure and services in favor of regions whose native communities, had used their numbers to put KANU, and later on NARC, PNU and the current Jubilee governments in power, or the business interests of top politicians, their friends and families..
On the flip side, with the winding up of the cold war and the expansion of political space of the 1990s, the calls for multiparty democracy and political reform were loudest, in those parts of the country which were most neglected by government, and investment. The ‘It’s Our Turn to Eat‘ mantra so well captured by Michaela Wrong’s book of the same title.
The two issues pretty much dove-tailed into one another, opposition politicians used redirection of state resources (money, jobs, services etc) to their homelands as a means to drum up popular support for themselves.
Even now there are two separate moves for constitutional referendums, Pesa Mashinani (Money for the grassroots) and Okoa (save) Kenya both of which have made increasing the allocation of funding from local governments a central plank of the amendments they are calling for. Will it make much of a difference to the ordinary citizen? Probably not