There is no proof of gains in eradicating poverty

When Raila Odinga took the African Union (AU) job last year, he let us know he had opted to move to a constituency larger than Kenya. In as much as it defused tensions on the local political scene, it was a welcome decision. The precursor to the AU job was the March 9, 2018 handshake between him and President Uhuru Kenyatta. By itself, that act gave the President the legitimacy and tranquility he needed to govern.

Nevertheless, Odinga’s declaration that he had left local politics for bigger responsibilities did not dupe anybody. It was only a matter of time before he reverted, and he has not disappointed. Last week, he attended rallies in the Rift Valley and made pronouncements that upset Deputy President William Ruto.

Since insinuation drives our politics, Kenyans are aware that certain coinages refer to specific individuals. Thus, when Odinga made unflattering comments about those who give large donations to churches, there was no doubt to whom the reference was. And as one would expect, the rejoinder came swiftly. As usual, it was caustic and the sermon-like delivery so eloquent, it was impressive.

For some time now, Ruto has kept his peace, even when the unverified claim to an assassination plot generated a lot of heat. There is only so much a man can take on being publicly needled, and Raila’s recent stale jabs were uncalled for. In the face of weak evidence or the complete lack of it, the refrain that some individuals are incorrigibly corrupt is wearing thin. Such claims vindicate Infotrak’s findings that the country is moving in the wrong direction. Indeed, a country whose leaders are always at each other’s jugular is a rudderless ship on the high seas.

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Waxing lyrical

As matters stand today, it is either that government institutions charged with fighting corruption are hopelessly inept, or claims of corruption against certain individuals are driven by malice. If indeed there is evidence of wrong doing, why hasn’t the Government acted decisively?

Highly placed individuals waxing lyrical about corruption are subjecting the public to a tired charade if there are no convictions to vindicate their claims. Kenyans are getting tired of listening to an officialdom that sounds like a stuck phonogram record. That aside, the DP’s claim that the Government is committed to eradicating poverty rings hollow. A 2018 World Bank report ranked Kenya at position eight globally among countries suffering ravages of extreme poverty. With more than 46 per cent of Kenyans living below the poverty line according to the report, Kenya cannot hope to eradicate poverty by 2030, and that is by conservative estimates.

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Among the leading causes of poverty are corruption and misgovernance; attributes that define Kenya. If the billions of shillings the Auditor General keeps reporting have been misappropriated had been put to good use; improving agricultural production, education and health care, Kenya would be on the way to tackling poverty.

Extension officers

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We know that poor infrastructure that limits access to markets and regions contributes to poverty. That is a challenge the Government is still grappling with, but with positive gains in some places. Yet when the Government allows unscrupulous individuals to import sub-standard seeds and fertiliser; when the Government fails to subsidise agricultural inputs or give farmers good prices for their maize and other farm produce, it cannot claim to be taking the right steps towards eradicating poverty.

Further, when farmers rely on old farming methods because poverty leaves them no choice; when there are no agricultural extension officers or soil analyses to guide farmers, poverty will remain a part of us. Cost and stringent rules for doing business in Kenya, coupled with rampant corruption have conspired to drive or keep foreign investors away.

Attendant to that has been job losses and the exponential rise in unemployment, averaging 75 per cent among Kenya’s educated youth. Extremists are able to indoctrinate and recruit youngsters because the latter are disillusioned and jobless.  Unless conscious efforts, away from the empty rhetoric we have become accustomed to, are made to create jobs, eradicating poverty will remain a mirage.

Poor governance evident in endless politicking, particularly in the context of the Tangatanga and Kieleweke war of words can only give succour to poverty. The Government must invest heavily in healthcare and ensure universal health care goals are achieved within the prescribed time. The exponential rise in diseases is a manifestation of poverty. Poor health and the prohibitive cost of treatment in Kenya deplete family resources. Extra proof of poverty lies in the increase in criminal activities as witnessed across Kenya.

Unless the underlying causes of poverty are addressed, leaders can shout and lament how the Asian Tigers have left us in their wake, but nothing worthwhile will come out of the lamentations. What Kenya craves is focused leadership.

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Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]

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Raila OdingaAUUhuru KenyattaWilliam RutoPoverty