News / Africa

Cost of Living Rising in Kenya

Kenyan protesters hold placards during a demonstration against food and fuel prices hikes in Nairobi, Kenya, April 19, 2011 (file photo).
Kenyan protesters hold placards during a demonstration against food and fuel prices hikes in Nairobi, Kenya, April 19, 2011 (file photo).
Michael Onyiego

Shortages of food and fuel in Kenya are sending the cost of living upwards, threatening political and social crises.

One mango and three bananas at Nairobi's City Market costs 50 shillings, or about $.60. While such prices would certainly attract shoppers in the developed world, many of Kenya's residents live on less than $1 per day, keeping these fruits off the plates of many.

Now, food prices are skyrocketing across east Africa - by some estimates as much as 30 percent since January - putting "luxury" items such as fruits firmly out of the question for a large segment of the country.

And small-scale vendors are also feeling the pain. A vendor at the City Market, Howard Mutua, says the rising costs are cutting into his profits as well as his customers' baskets.

"The normal price I have been taking from the farmers, it has gone up," said Mutua.  "By the time I take it from the farmers up to here I am using transportation and the transportation is also high. So I end up increasing my price and that will affect also my customers. They are taking less."

Mutua, like most Kenyans, holds the high taxes imposed by the government on fuel imports responsible for the rising cost of living.

"The best thing I would advise the government to do? They should tackle the fuel problem," Mutua noted.  "If they could [work] on that fuel problem, I think everything will be well."

With the government heavily taxing oil imports, the cost of petroleum in Kenya has risen from around $1 per liter to over $1.30 in just the past few months.

But high taxes are not solely to blame for the rising cost of living.  Kenyans have been hit from all sides by rising inflation, government tariffs, import mismanagement, Middle East conflict and climate change.

As economic analyst Robert Shaw explains, Kenya's underproduction of staple items has placed it dangerously at the mercy of local and global economic instability.

"In the case of oil it is the volatility that has been taking place in North Africa and some of the Arab countries," noted Shaw.  "On the other side of the coin, a number of these countries, including Kenya, are particularly vulnerable to those increases because they are major importers of not just oil but also food. Kenya imports three quarters of its wheat, three quarters of its rice."

Kenya produces an estimated 200,000 tons of corn each year, but consumes nearly twice as much.

And the country may not be able to count on the corn it does produce. Kenya is in the midst of a worsening drought, spurred by the failure of the country's traditional "short rains" season. The "long rains," traditionally expected in March and April, have only just begun and are expected to fall short of historical averages. The price of corn has tripled since last year, forcing the government to remove the 50 percent tax on imports.

In late April, hundreds of Kenyans gathered in front of Parliament to demand action on the rising cost of living.

But so far, government response has been slow.  Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta announced a 20 percent tax cut on fuel just two weeks ago. The subsidy has come into effect just in time for a fuel shortage across the country.  In Nairobi, roads have been gridlocked from morning until night as customers queue in front of petrol stations in the hopes of finding fuel.

And Shaw says the measures undertaken by the government may end up distorting Kenya's markets in the long-run.

"These fuel shortages are not just happening because there happens to be no product," noted Shaw.  "According to the government there is plenty of product.  The reason is probably because to sell the fuel at the price that has been regulated by the government is really not a viable option."

All of these factors have in turn triggered inflation, which threatens to strengthen the rise in prices. April saw a 12.05 percent inflation rate, the highest in nearly 18 months.

Kenya is not the only country in east Africa feeling the effects of global and local instability. Rising prices in Uganda have triggered protests and demonstrations over rising costs. Over the past month, the protests have been crushed with the full force of Uganda's military and police. But scenes of opposition leaders being arrested and beaten have triggered international condemnation and pushed the country to the brink of a political crisis.

Kenya is hoping to avoid the same fate, but may not be able to stem the rising tide of discontent. Workers are becoming increasingly fed up and organized labor is beginning to demand higher wages to cope.

On Labor Day, the leader of Kenya's Central Organization of Trade Unions, Francis Atwoli,  threatened strikes and protests if demands for a 60 percent increase in the minimum wage were not met.

But Shaw says raising wages could make matters worse.

"You can understand the demands but, quite honestly, in the bigger picture it's very difficult because you will actually create an even greater spike in inflation. In the end, it's likely that there won't be any major winners," added Shaw.

As prices continue to rise, Kenyans are watching and waiting to see if the government can head off what some are calling a looming crisis.

You May Like

800-Pound Man Determined to Slim Down

Man says he was kicked out of hospital for ordering pizza; wants to be an actor More

Australia Prepares to Resettle 12,000 Syrian Refugees

Preference will be given to refugees from persecuted minorities, and the first group is expected to arrive before late December More

S. African Miners Seek Class Action Suit Against Gold Mines

The estimated 100,000 say say they contracted the lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis in the mines More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs