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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid