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Kenya celebrates 53 years of independence with more challenges

By Steve Mkawale | Published Mon, December 12th 2016 at 09:54, Updated December 12th 2016 at 09:59 GMT +3
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta waves his trademark flywhisk during Kenya’s independence celebrations at Uhuru Park on December 12, 1963.

It’s a bag of mixed fortunes as the country marks her 53 years of independence today. While politicians will troop to their county headquarters to mark the celebrations, millions of citizens  will be glued to their television sets to listen to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s messages to the nation.

It will not be an easy speech in the face of growing challenges the country faces. Some say the ongoing strike by health workers that has affected many and the grand corruption at both levels of governments have cast a pall on the festivities.

For the past eight days, provision of health services have totally collapsed in government facilities as doctors and nurses downed tools to protest against poor pay. The nurses have since resumed following an agreement with the Government.

A number of deaths have been reported in various hospitals with President Kenyatta’s only intervention being an appeal to the health workers to have mercy on suffering patients.

The strike by doctors and nurses comes at a time when data available shows that progress towards realising many health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was slow and achieving them will be an uphill task.

UPHILL TASK

According to the World Health Organisation’s report on the progress on the health related MDgs, Kenya experiences an uphill task in achieving the goals notwithstanding the fact that there is significant progress being recorded towards realising some of them.

“For example goals 2 (Achieve Universal Primary Education) and 6 (Combat HIV/Aids, Malaria and other diseases). But generally, the performance of the country towards realising the goals is still low,” reads part of the report published in the WHO website.

Kemuche Masese, a programme officer with Centre for Democracy and Good Governance (CEDGG) said while access to quality health care is a constitutional right, millions of Kenyans cannot afford to pay for health services at public or private clinics.

“Even with public health insurance available since 1966, only 20 per cent of Kenyans have access to some sort of medical coverage,” Mr Maseses observed.

He added: “With the population at over 44 million and rising, it means as many as 35 million Kenyans are excluded from quality health care coverage. In addition, a quarter of total spending on health care comes from out-of-pocket expenses.”

Mr Masese further said the country will continue to struggle to meet many health-related MDGs, despite progress in a number of areas.

“Yes, child mortality rates, for example, have dropped significantly since independence. In 1963, about 175 children under five were dying per 1,000 live births; by 2011, that figure had fallen to less than 73,” he said.

Further, the proportion of people living with HIV, meanwhile, has fallen from a high of 10 per cent in the late 1990s to 6 per cent in 2012, said Mr Masese.

A World Bank report released early last year shows that inefficiencies within sectors adversely affect the poor.

Apurva Sanghi, the lead economist for Kenya at the World Bank cites the example of spending on primary health, which is highly pro-poor but receives 29 per cent of the total health budget, while 40 per cent of the health budget is spent on curative health, which disproportionately benefits.

There are still fewer than 20 doctors per 100,000 people in Kenya, though this is significantly higher than in the 1960s, when that number was closer to eight.

Both politicians and ordinary citizens agree that key development indicators show that Kenya has changed over the past years.

Veteran politician Koigi wa Wamwere recalls that the rallying call at independence in 1963 was a country free of illiteracy (ignorance), poverty and disease.

“Although as a country we have developed and achieved a lot, like the expansion of education, improved democracy and infrastructure development, we are still struggling with new and emerging challenges,” Mr Koigi said.

The democratic space has greatly expanded, the 2010 Constitution has greatly impacted on the politics of the country and also its management.

“People can freely speak their mind without worrying about being detained or harassed by the establishment. Anyone can criticise the Government when it does wrong and speak openly about corruption in government, “ observed the former political detainee.

Economically, the country is one of Africa’s “lion economies”, according to businessman Peter Kinya who trades across the continent.

“We are still East Africa’s largest economy. But we need to create more job for the youth and have more opportunities for small and medium size businesses,” he said.

 REAPING FRUITS

The World Bank Group report supports this argument stating that the country is reaping the fruits of its transformative devolution programme and also from increased investment in infrastructure to improve its prospects for economic growth and shared prosperity.

According to the WBG report , the Kenya Public Expenditure Review, also notes that opportunities for broad-based growth have expanded, underpinned by macroeconomic stability.

At the same time, the report says the Jubilee government is experiencing budgetary pressure from rising spending.


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