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Poverty is growing in Kenyan slums
By Mudega Oscar | Updated Dec 11, 2016 at 12:23 EAT

The level of unemployment and poverty in Kenyan slums is reaching frightening heights as millions of youths find it hard to cope with the high standards of living. Two weeks ago I went for my routine hair cut at a barber’s place in Imara Daima. It was around six in the evening and loud reggae music blasted the air as cheap alcohol and eatery joints all competed to attract some revelers. The on-going light showers and the flickering light along the dilapidated path leading to the highly poverty stricken Kwa Reuben slum made it difficult to access the barber’s corrugated mabati shanty located next to a sewer line.

A few youths sat at the entrance of the barber’s mabati structure all chewing veve in desperation. As usual I wanted to connect with them and had to adopt some slang commonly used by these youths. “Mi rastaman come in peace. Long live Emperor Selassie.” I said in a rather awkward accent as I reached my fist for a “gotta” greeting. As usual the boys acknowledged greeting without giving any facial contact partly because they wished to hide their pain, anger or frustration from strangers.

As I sat for the hair cut I noticed how young Kenyans are seeking solace in chewing the addictive miraa, sipping cheap alcohol and smoking cigarette. They talked about betting for a Man-City game and laughed while teasing each other. At some point one of them got emotional and punched the other on the cheek but the rest stayed calm and reflective; maybe because of the hard life they had to bear every day. To my amazement none of them talked about politics or rampant corruption in the government, the things I am accustomed to as a journalist. Albeit, these things were too far and all they needed was food and shelter and betting seemed the easiest way to earn some money.

The barber himself, in his mid-thirties was rather calm that day and partially hummed gospel song ‘mama’ by Bahati. He occasionally stopped and mumbled while lazily stretching his tiny black hands into the air. He would then ask me how my day was but I could tell he was not interested in the answer I gave. He was pre-occupied and something was deeply nagging him. At last be broke the silence “Hawa watu wa Kenya power kweli watatumaliza. Imagine kutoka morning sijafanya kazi. (Kenya power will surely end our lives. I have not worked since morning.)” He said in a chilling and broken voice.

He talked at length about his family living in the slum and the new born baby and the ailing mother in-law until my heart melted in pity. He told me of his dream to open another hair cutting station to employ some youths loitering at his place but jokingly asked if I believed in betting games to which I only responded with a big shy smile. It was time for to leave so I gave him two hundred shilling note and parted him at the back telling him to keep change. As turned to walk into the darkness, I saw a bulged smile on face as he waved frantically at me.

A walk in any Kenyan slum would reveal massive poverty and a huge discrepancy in the standards of living as the gap between the rich and the poor gets bigger every day. It’s now common to find slam families begging for anything from passers-by. Kenyans livings in the slums have definitely been ignored by the government. They lack basic amenities like running water, toilets and passable roads to mention just a few.

Frankly speaking, they are secondary citizens who only come into picture during the electioneering period. They live in deplorable conditions and their children grow up knowing poverty as their second names. This lot of forgotten Kenyans only wishes that the government would do something to alleviate them from abject poverty. The poverty they know has been created by poor governance and run-away corruption.

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