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

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid