|FOR SAM MWALE WHO WORKS in State House and probably does not walk to work or buy his lunch, the increase in poverty in Kenya over the last five years is a myth.
For Sam Njuguna Njoroge who lives in Kangemi and walks to the industrial area to eke out a living and only eats one meal a day, the increase in poverty is a reality he has to confront daily.
In 2002, the cost of a kilo of maize-flour was Sh20; today it is Sh32.50. In the same period, the price of bread has increased from Sh18 to Sh30; sugar from Sh43 to Sh70; kerosene from Sh34 to Sh55; super petrol from Sh55 to Sh75, and tomatoes from Sh33 to Sh55. In poor neighbourhoods like Kangemi where tenants are vulnerable to greedy landlords, rents have more than doubled.
All these price increases are occurring when salaries among the lower classes are stagnant, informal sector jobs are disappearing, and growth in the economy is affecting very few sectors such as construction, leisure, and services where job opportunities are very limited.
THERE ARE TWO THINGS I DID AS minister for Planning and National Development, and when I warned Kenyans very early about what I called the dangers of jobless growth.
One was that as we started the process of economic recovery, industries which “had gone to sleep” during the Nyayo era due to the hostile business environment would now “wake up” to re-employ the same number of people they had dismissed and not necessarily expand their capital base.
The second was that in this era of sophisticated technology, an industry like construction can bloom and show us wonders but employ relatively very few people.
The glossy buildings in the new financial and administrative district in the Upper Hill area of Nairobi perhaps use a lot of prefab material as compared to the tenements put up in Mathare North. The latter provides much more work for those urgently in need of money.
Kenya needs massive investments in public works and lower income housing to provide real jobs for the needy and to register real economic growth.
When we launched our report on Pulling Apart with the Society for International Development in 2005, Mr Mwale was still an economic advisor in the Ministry of Planning and National Development.
In this report, we noted that social and economic inequalities had actually increased, and hence poverty had increased. We did this as a reality check for our development process. It was a wake-up call for us to think about issues of growth with equity and not simply to glorify growth for its own sake.
The report on Pulling Apart was very candid. Having revised our measurement of GDP in line with international standards, the GDP measurement was re-based and automatically moved upwards without changing the reality on the ground. This had an automatic positive influence on GDP per capita, per capita incomes, debt as a percentage of GDP, etc, making us appear better off than we really were. As minister, I explained this very clearly to Kenyans. I did not want us to claim easy victories as this Government is now fond of doing.
In any case, a 46 per cent poverty level is not something to be proud of.
Mr Mwale says that there has been increase in investments in agriculture. The current budget tells a different story. More money has been put into “Youth Affairs” than in Agriculture.
The nebulous Special Programmes ministry guzzles more money than Agriculture!
The Western part of this country boasts of tea, sugar, fish, dairy, and horticultural production. Currently it has no road connection with Nairobi or Mombasa.
Mr Mwale should try travelling by road from Eldoret to Kisumu. If he could visit the Muhoroni, Chemelil and Miwani sugar-belt, he will discover that there are no access roads into the sugar plantations in both dry and wet weather.
It could easily be the case that this Government does not need to fight poverty in these areas!
I WOULD ALSO LIKE MR MWALE TO provide Kenyans with data on rural electrification constituency by constituency. It is interesting to compare rural electrification connectivity in North, South and Central Imenti with Igembe and Tigania, and even more interesting to compare the connectivity in the three Imentis with that of Karachuonyo, Kuria and Laisamis.
When we talk about the eradication of poverty, the devil is always in the details. Life is not a dress rehearsal; we live concretely today. Let us all share the burden of building our economy while ensuring that we fight poverty by fairly using and distributing national resources.
Prof Nyong’o is ODM secretary-general and former minister for Planning and National Development