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Kenyans struggle to celebrate Easter amidst economic hardships

 

A maize vendor selling dried maize (maindi choma) along Ngong road. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Traditionally, Kenyans used to look forward to the Easter season. 

The merrymaking, the travel and family reunions. To spice it up, there was Safari Rally. Rally cars would traverse different upcountry routes and drivers skidding in the mud or blowing clouds of dust would thrill Kenyans, at times in the sleepiest of villages, wowing many, even those who are not fans of the sport.

But today, many Kenyans will tell you that Easter holiday is not the same. Even after the organisers of the revived rally taking place in Naivasha indulged the Kenyan government, changed the dates to coincide with the Easter Weekend as was before, most Kenyans are too broke to be excited.

Despite confidence exuded by the President William Ruto’s administration that country is in the right direction, companies are laying off staff, uncertainty has now enveloped parastatals after the recent State House meeting which sent a message of changes that will come with job losses, some employees facing delayed salaries, health workers strike that has caused ineptitude in service delivery, school principals deciding to close early for April holidays because of fear of further costs.

A cross section of Kenyans polled by The Standard said they would spend the weekend at work, at home or in church and let it pass like any other weekend. 

“The Easter Holiday is for sharing with the less fortunate. Unfortunately, the hardships facing many Kenyans, including me, will not allow us to engage in charity events as huge as before. I will spend the period with my family at home, attend church events and let the holiday pass like any other weekend,” Andrew Nyabuto, a Nakuru resident said. 

For Eunice Wanjiku, a business lady in the Rift Valley city, she cannot afford to spend on any celebration and would be at work. 

“I will be celebrating the Easter Holiday within Nakuru. With the tough economic time we are in, I won’t skip a day at my work place. It is difficult to engage in avoidable spending at this time though as a Christian I recognize the meaning of the Easter period,” she said. 
 
In Mombasa, Harrison Mutembei said: “I would have wanted to take my family out to recreational places like the Jomo Kenyatta public beach at Pirates, eat well and have drinks but there is no money. My focus is to raise the normal meals and school fees. Nothing else.”
 
And this nonchalance about an important occasion in the Christian calendar is not without basis. 

Two weeks ago, a few days to Easter the annual World Happiness Report 2024 edition ranked Kenya at position 114 out of 143 surveyed countries, having dropped three places from 111 in last year’s report, marking the reversal of a five-year trend where the country’s score had been on a sustained improvement trajectory. That meant that Kenya is predominantly, today a unhappy country.

And the gloom is also not unfounded. 

The cost of many basic items has stayed up, while the earnings of many Kenyans have been eroded by high taxes. 

The cost of electricity, for instance, has increased 42.7 percent in February this year compared to February last year for households consuming 50 units a month, which is the subsidised band of electricity consumers. For consumers using 200 units of electricity a month, their cost of power has increased 31.8 percent within a year. 

It is the same case for fuel, which though has declined in recent past, the prices are yet to hit the levels they were last year February when a litre of super petrol retailed at Sh177 in Nairobi, compared to today’s Sh199.

The rains towards end of last year and this year have helped bring down the cost of some food items, which is the reason that the inflation rate — which is a measure of increase in the cost of goods and service – dropped to 6.3 per cent in February this year from a high of 9.2 per cent last year. 

The drop in prices of food items has however not been across board, with the cost of beans, meat, carrots and potatoes, having been on the rise compared to where they were in February last year, according to data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

The gloom is also seen in labour disputes with the biggest one at the moment being the strike by health workers who have for weeks now downed their tools. 

Companies are planning to further layoff employees and civil service jobs are also looking bleak, with the government implementing recommendations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the government already laying ground for shutting down state corporations and merging others, spelling doom for many state employees who could be declared redundant.

The high cost of living is perceived as the biggest challenge that the Kenyan economy is facing today. According to a report by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), more than half of Kenyans that were interviewed during the survey for the report said they perceived the high cost of living as the most critical problem in Kenya. This is followed by employment and poverty, which looked at from a certain angle are all related. 

The high cost of living has led to the rise of other ills and it is also to a large extent to blame for high instances of corruption, according to EACC. 

“High cost of living (50.6 percent) was perceived as the most critical problem facing the country today followed by unemployment (46.3 percent), poverty (41 percent), corruption (33.3 percent), unfavourable climatic conditions (11 percent), inadequate health care (10.8 percent) and unfavourable economic conditions (9.1 percent),” said EACC in the National Ethics and Corruption Survey (NECS) published Wednesday.

“High cost of living, unemployment and poverty are the most critical problems facing the country today, with a majority of Kenyans decrying poor government efforts in tackling these problems,” said EACC.

And it is more reason why this Easter weekend does not offer any joy.

“My struggles only enable me to feed my family and cannot afford luxuries. I run a small business and a few other hustles and I cannot afford to celebrate. To me, Easter will pass as any other day. I will spend it while running my small business,” Jeremy Mati, a resident of Mombasa, said.
For Mercy Nassuuma from Kakamega, he will ignore Good Friday and go to church on Sunday.

“Initially I could go to church on Friday then have a meal in town with my family but this time round I will only go to church on Sunday and ignore Friday as I will lock myself indoors because I need money to get out,” she said. 

But Rethen Andala, a youth leader in the town, he will not even go to church since he has no money to tithe or offer. 
 
To cut on spending I will not go to church. I don’t have tithe or offering to give.

Traders rush to salvage their property after one of the premises caught fire. [File, Standard]

“I will nonetheless mark the end of the holiday on Monday by having a sitting with friends as we do every evening around the Lurambi bus stand and enjoy a cup of coffee and mandazi that go for Sh20,” he told The Standard. 

Other than the general increase in the cost of most goods, Kenyans are also grappling with reduced incomes. This is on account of factors such as higher taxes that have led to lower earnings for employed Kenyans as well as those running small businesses. This is even as many Kenyans lost their jobs.

The high cost of living has pushed many Kenyans deep into debt, with many of them borrowing especially mobile loans for consumption while in other cases, they are borrowing to help out friends that appear to be worse off than them.

A February report by Old Mutual showed that nearly half of Kenyans are in financial distress. The report showed that 38 per cent of people who took part in a survey said they are borrowing for everyday expenses. Another 33 per cent are borrowing for an emergency while 11 per cent of the respondents in the survey were borrowing to repay a loan, while another six per cent were borrowing to lend money.

Only 40 per cent are borrowing to buy stock or equipment for their businesses.

“Almost half (48 per cent) of working Kenyans are financially stressed. An overwhelming nine in 10 Kenyan consumers are earning less than or the same as they did before Covid. This means that the majority of these consumers currently have less money in their pockets than they did before being impacted by the pandemic,” said the Old Mutual Financial Monitor.

It added that Kenyans had resorted to borrowing to make ends meet. While some Kenyans in formal employment have such options as credit cards that charge lower interest rates and repayments are staggered over time, many are borrowing from friends and family, who are equally struggling and the amount advanced is marginal. Others have emptied their savings.

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