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

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora