According to a new report, nine in 10 Kenyans- specifically 94 per cent of the population - are poor or vulnerable to poverty, laying bare the burden awaiting State welfare programmes.
The report prepared by the World Food Programme and Unicef paints a gloomier picture of poverty levels than official national statistics, which put the population living below the poverty line at 46 per cent.
But irrespective of which statistics are correct or closer to reality, it is undeniable that a huge chunk of Kenya’s population is languishing in poverty. And although things have improved since independence 56 years ago, the pace of change has been extremely sluggish.
Unfortunately, despite this sad state of affairs, a small fraction of Kenyans is obscenely wealthy. In a nutshell, Kenya remains a country of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars, as described by the late JM Kariuki. This is shameful.
But this cannot persist forever. That is why it is important for the country to hold candid a discussion on how to get out of this sticky rut. And there is no better time to do that than now, as the country tries to chart its future through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
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Many people are pegging their hope for a remedy for this malignant disease on the initiative, which has been branded a ‘cure-all’ by some.
It would be interesting to see if the BBI realises ‘shared prosperity’ for all Kenyans. However, even without the initiative, Kenyans already understand what ails this country and what can be done to fix the poverty problem.
Governance. That has been Kenya’s problem since independence. Fix governance and Kenya will be on the path to greatness. Poor governance breeds corruption, which leads to endemic poverty. That is why the reinvigorated war against the vice is important.
As long as some continue to plunder public coffers with impunity, Kenya will remain grounded. As long as the government continues to have its priorities upside down, poverty will keep tightening its stranglehold on the country.
But make no mistake, it is not impossible for Kenya to achieve prosperity. China managed to reduce its poverty rate from 88 per cent in 1981 to 0.7 per cent in 2015, in the process lifting 850 million people out of extreme poverty.
Malaysia and Singapore were playing in the same league with Kenya at independence but the two are now light years away economically.
To achieve ‘shared prosperity’, we only need to learn what these countries did right. But we must shed our bad manners first. That includes the urge to amass wealth through illegal means.