Poverty in Kenya is a complex paradox which requires an in-depth look to appreciate and understand. In 2013, this East African nation of about 40 million was ranked 145th among 186 countries in terms of Human Development Index by the United Nation’s Development Programme. The index ranks countries around the world in terms of standards of living, life expectancy and educational attainment.
In order to shed some light on the often controversial and politically divisive issue of poverty in Kenya, we have put together a set of ten issues that define the poverty levels in Kenya.
1. About a half of Kenya’s Population Live in Absolute Property
While Kenya made very admirable strides in reducing absolute poverty after it gained independence from the British in the early sixties, this momentum waned off in the late seventies. By 1981, about a half of Kenya’s population were living under the poverty line. This statistic has remained fairly consistent ever since with about 51% of the population today living in absolute poverty.
2. Most of Kenya’s Poor Live in Rural Areas
About 79% of Kenyans live in rural areas where they depend on subsistence agriculture for their livelihood. While most of these people live in areas which have good to high potential for agriculture, this land only comprises about 18% of the entire territory of the country. As such, the resources are overwhelmingly stretched to provide any meaningful income for the vast majority of the population. In fact, the population density is so high that in areas with a high potential for agriculture, it is about 6 times higher than the country’s average of 55 people per square kilometre.
3. Erratic Weather Patterns and Climate Change Have Contributed to High Poverty Levels
The rural economy is almost entirely dependent on subsistence farming which accounts for about 75% of the county’s entire agricultural output. Most of these rural farmers depend entirely on rain with very little irrigation or modern animal husbandry taking place. In recent years, erratic weather patterns and the effects of climate change have wreaked such a havoc on the lives of Kenya’s poor in the rural areas.
4. The HIV/AIDS Pandemic Has Driven Even More Kenyans to Poverty
Since the mid-1980’s, the scourge of HIV/AIDS has dealt the Kenyan health sector and economy a big blow. HIV/AIDS prevalence rates are highest among youthful and middle-aged Kenyans who comprise the most productive segment of the population. Largely owing to the pandemic, life expectancy in Kenya fell to 46 years in 2006. While life expectancy has since risen to over 55 years, the economy is yet to recover adequately enough to make up for the lost productivity.
5. Explosive Population Growth Has Strained Infrastructure and Services, Driving More Kenyans to Poverty
Kenya has one of the highest population growth rates in the world. This puts enormous pressure on infrastructure and resources as everyone seeks to eke out a living.
6. The Arid Northern Regions of the Country Are Populated by Abjectly Poor Communities
Vast regions to the north of the country, especially near borders with Southern Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia are populated by nomadic communities. Dependent on rearing livestock and living in areas neglected by both the colonial and subsequent independent Kenya administrations, these communities are desperately poor. Most of them are entirely dependent on food aid by the government and international humanitarian organisations.
7. Rural Women Are a Vulnerable Group When it Comes to Poverty
Mainly owing to ingrained traditional cultural values, the vast majority of women living in rural areas are deprived of a means to earn an income. With most communities barring females from owning property, women living in rural areas constitute a specially vulnerable group. Matters have been compounded by the HIV/AIDS scourge which has contributed to a sharp rise in the number of households headed by impoverished women.
8. Ingrained Corruption Impedes Efforts to Fight Poverty
According to Transparency International, Kenya is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. With a large proportion of government money intended for social and development spending ending up in private people’s pockets making it even harder to end poverty in Kenya.
9. Lack of Economic Diversity Leads to High levels of Poverty
While Kenya has a relatively more vibrant economy than her immediate East African neighbours, it is too reliant on agriculture. To reduce poverty levels significantly, more needs to be done to diversify industrial production and the services sector in order to absorb more Kenyans into formal employment and therefore guarantee them a stable source of income.
10. Increased Literacy Levels Have not Affected Levels of Poverty in Kenya
Kenya has one of the highest literacy rates in sub-Saharan Africa with over 85% of the population above 15 years able to read and write. Despite such impressive statistics, poverty in Kenya has remained doggedly at the same level down the decades.