Underdevelopment in Kenya caused by inequity

A motorcyclist struggling to pass a muddy section of a road in Mt. Kenya. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

No country in the world has developed when there is a huge disparity in access to wealth and services.

A study commissioned by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) jointly with the University of Nairobi titled, ‘Inequality Trends and Diagnostics in Kenya’, published in 2020, explains this fact more elaborately.

The report analyses inequities from different dimensions within households in Kenya. The research further focused on counties as a unit of study.

Even within counties in Kenya, there are indicators of inequalities. Urban centres such as Nairobi are the most unequal, showing Gini Coefficient close to 0.47 whereas the national average is much lower. However, there is a sharp paradox in the inequity coefficient in counties that are underserved mostly in northern Kenya.

These relatively poorer counties are the least unequal. It is not what you think though, people in these counties are generally at an equal level of poverty. The county with the least inequality is Turkana with a Gini Coefficient of under 0.3.

If these disparities are to be reduced, the government needs to enact sound policies and create goodwill to implement such legislation. So far, in Kenya, this goodwill has been lacking. On the contrary, the Kenyan government since independence has put in place policies that have hampered any attempt to put meaningful development in these underserved counties. When a government is willing to create an enabling environment for equalising the country, this leads to a general increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Elsewhere in the world, plans to bridge the gap in inequities have worked. A good example is Germany, which increased investments in regions that have been underserved in the eastern parts and the state of Bavaria. Over the years despite having been disadvantaged for many centuries, the government’s decision to create an enabling environment has turned these previously disadvantaged regions into one of the wealthiest regions in Germany. The German economic miracle locally referred to as Wirtschaftswunder is based on the social market economy christened Ordo liberalism model. 

For Kenya to achieve her desired plans such as Vision 2030 or the Big Four agenda, the government needs to develop the necessary infrastructure for the less developed regions. This intervention must be deliberate and carefully suited to the needs of such a region. Northern Kenya is rich with natural resources and a livestock economy.

Investment in this region will in the long run increase the overall GDP of the country. So far, investment in infrastructure in Kenya has been concentrated in areas that have already developed such as Nairobi and other major towns. These continued investments in urban centres are what are perpetuating inequities.

The county governments are also guilty as far as unequal investments are concerned. Devolution of funds needs to be felt in all parts of the counties instead of county governments investing at the headquarters and neglecting villages and communities that do not have political linkages. The minority are often forgotten.