Living cost up for eighth straight month on high food, fuel prices

The rising cost of living has hurt more Kenyans. [iStockphoto]

Kenyans endured a successive rise in the cost of living for the straight eighth month in a row - after the removal of maize flour and fuel subsidies - which saw the costs of the commodities surge amid a weakening shilling.

Official data released Monday showed the cost of living crisis worsened in October on runaway prices of food, energy, transport, and housing.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data showed yesterday that inflation rose from 9.2 per cent in September to 9.6 per cent in October on the back of a sharp increase in the prices of essential commodities.

The rising cost of living has hurt more Kenyans like Damaris Wamuyu, a single mother of six, who has earned a living doing laundry in the sprawling Githogoro slums in Kiambu County for over seven years.

And even though her earnings were meagre, she was always able to provide her children with two or three meals a day. But not anymore.

Like her, many fellow poverty-stricken slum dwellers in Githogoro - which neighbours the posh Runda Estate, where thousands of workers go to offer menial roles for the super-rich - are feeling the pinch of the high cost of food and other commodities, which have skyrocketed globally.

And Ms Wamuyu, the sole breadwinner in her family, said she is unable to afford their upkeep.

“I am unable to buy basic essentials like maize flour and cooking oil because their price has gone up beyond my reach,” she said, capturing the feeling across many Kenyan households that have been pushed into a tight corner by ever-rising costs of goods.

No longer able to bear the cost pressure, Ms Wamuyu recently resorted to giving her family one meal a day instead of two or three.

“I have to choose between them sleeping hungry and managing what little is available. Life is difficult for us at the moment,” she said yesterday.

Ms Wamuyu is among millions of hapless Kenyan families around the country who have increasingly found it difficult to put food on the table in the face of unprecedented high prices.

These families are looking to President William Ruto's new administration to soften a severe cost-of-living squeeze. “The new government has to do more to help us as we struggle with the rising cost of living,” said Ms Wamuyu.

KNBS Director General Macdonald Obudho said in a statement yesterday the rise in inflation was largely due to an increase in prices of commodities under food and non-alcoholic beverages (15.8 per cent), transport (11.6 per cent) and housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels (7.1 per cent) between October 2021 and October 2022.

At the same time, prices of commodities under furnishings, household equipment and routine household maintenance recorded a 10.9 per cent increase over the period, he said.

The housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels’ index, increased by 0.5 per cent between September 2022 and October 2022 due to increases in prices of 50 kilowatts and 200 kilowatts electricity units, which increased by 2.4 per cent and 1.8 per cent, respectively, said KNBS.

This has forced many households, especially in the low-income segment, like Ms Wamuyu's to reduce their shopping basket as they look up to the new government to ease their burden.

The shilling has been under pressure against the dollar, setting up the country for more expensive imports and debt servicing distress.

The CBK quoted the shilling at 121.3324 to a dollar Monday. The weakening of the shilling has triggered fears of a fresh round of inflationary pressure.

This is because the country relies on imports for key industrial inputs such as fuel and raw materials like wheat and edible oil, as well as farm inputs like fertiliser.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) recently asked developing countries like Kenya to strengthen the social safety nets to protect the most vulnerable citizens like Ms Wamuyu.

But offering the social safety nets, as the Bretton Woods Institution and Pan-African financier are urging, may be hard for a county in a tight fiscal space with debt repayments taking up a big chunk of the revenues generated.

"We are not the ones to tell the government what to do. The main issue is that the government should not plan to spend money that it does not have," the AfDB director-general for East Africa Nnenna Nwabufo told The Standard on the sidelines of the bank's annual economic report which painted a gloomy outlook for Kenya and the region. "The current fiscal situation calls for prudence."

The push comes at a time when President Ruto’s administration is facing mounting pressure to address the high cost of living.

President Ruto removed fuel and maize subsidies on September 13 when he was sworn into office, in a bid to trim the fiscal deficit, saying they are unsustainable.