Last week, a World Bank report revealed that Kenya has the sixth-highest number of poor people in the world. The report revealed that 17.6 million Kenyans are living below Sh200 a day. Although they are nearly half of all Kenyans, these poor people are the forgotten millions in this country.
Do you hear politicians talking about them relentlessly during weekend rallies? Is their plight debated consistently in Parliament? To make matters worse, even the climate seems to have lined up against them. Earlier this year, the long rains delayed considerably and adversely affected millions of smallholder farmers across the country. In Kenya, 98 per cent of agriculture depends on rain.
To absorb millions of young, talented Kenyans into the job market, we need to create nearly one million tangible additional jobs every year between now and 2025. Catastrophically, though not obviously reported, we are losing some existing jobs. It is no wonder then that almost half of our fellow Kenyans are living below the poverty line.
Against this miserable backdrop of rising poverty, leadership must rise to the challenge and face the bull of poverty by the horns. This lesson crystalised in my mind in a talk that I had with Retired Bishop Moffat Kilioba of PEFA Church.
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He told me how his son used to have a tremendous phobia for chicken during his childhood. The good bishop decided to end his son’s phobia conclusively. One day, he picked the biggest jogoo (cockerel) in the home and locked it in one of the rooms in the house. He then locked up his son in the same room with the cockerel. Predictably, the boy screamed at the top of his voice.
When the man of God returned later, he found his son sleeping peacefully despite the presence of this same jogoo that he dreaded. From that day, his son never feared chicken again because he had realised how harmless they were. Today, this little boy is Reverend Dr Paul Habwe, a Bishop of PEFA Church Donholm. He is still facing challenges head-on and not fearing them.
Destined to be poor
Millions of Kenyans think they are destined to be poor. They find themselves in the same room with poverty but unlike Rev Habwe, they continue to believe that they are helpless in the face of poverty.
After all, they see their sons and daughters graduating into a job market that is bleeding jobs. This pushes millions across the country into deeper poverty. It is therefore not surprising that we now have the sixth highest number of poor people in the world.
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A time has come for all our political leaders to debate and enact unambiguous poverty alleviation bills. Going by our results what we have done is not good enough hence we are in a crisis.
If Kenya were to be attacked by a hostile nation (God forbid) whose army would penetrate our borders, we would not go on with business as usual. We may not have hostile armies attacking us, but we are at war with poverty and we are losing big time. If having almost 18 million Kenyans living below the poverty line is not a terrific national disaster, then I don’t know what is.
Eliud Kipchoge has now become a global icon. When he ran the marathon in under two hours, his inspiration transcended sports and nations. As he himself acknowledged, the 41 pacesetters played a critical role in his success.
All the 47 counties and the National Assembly are like pacesetters to the nation. That is why they must lead the way in tackling poverty at the grassroots level.
We must therefore say a thunderous ‘NO!’ to politics that focus on some future dates when 17.6 million Kenyans are living in disastrous poverty that robs them of basic human dignity.
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As a leader in the environmental and automotive sector, I must provide leadership in creating green jobs that will land knockout blows on poverty. If I don’t do so, then I’m not worth your time.
The same bar should apply to every leader in Kenya today. Kenyans should constantly say to them all – show me the concrete poverty solutions, and I will give you my time and later on, my vote. Think green, act green!
– The writer is founder and chairperson, Green Africa Foundation. www.isaackalua.co.ke