ECONOMICS, LOCAL

How to Think about Kenya, Thanks to ‘Socio-economic Atlas’

About a week ago, the Devolution and Planning ministry(Headed by Cabinet secretary Ms Anne Waiguru) released what could be seen as the most comprehensive knowledge material in the history of the nation.

Even though the ‘Socio-economic Atlas of Kenya’ appears to be saying the obvious, that’s not the real reason for which it was prepared. The atlas was essentially designed to jar the citizens into thinking, critically.

Indeed, what the grand atlas says or shows is not nearly as important as to what it does not say or even illustrate. That is to say that the real and full meaning of the data can only be attained through pure ratiocination. We have to go beyond the surface, so to speak, to apprehend the realities presented by the data in the atlas in question.

Hence when I deconstructed the atlas, I gathered what I wanted to share. The main message is how to think about Kenya or Kenyans for that matter.

It is comforting to note that more than 20 million in Kenya live above the poverty line. That translates to about 55 per cent of the total population. Hence Kenya is a country where the other half is not only poor but also lives below the poverty line.

Further, if the average wealth gap between the rich and the poor is 76.2 per cent, then Kenya is a country where the poor make only a 23.8 per cent contribution to the economy. This is also to imply that the poor do not work hard. Do not believe it!

The poor work harder than the rich among us. One Jesse Jackson put it better: ” Contrary to … stereotypes, most poor people are not lazy. They work the hardest and the longest on the nastiest jobs. They sweep our streets; they raise other people’s children. They work in the hospitals, they mop the floors, and they change the beds. They empty our bedpans… you must not [forget] them!”

Again, when it is said that only 7 counties out of the 47 do not have a majority ethnic community that exceeds 50 per cent or more (possibly because of ‘negative ethnicity’), do not believe it! The seven counties are the only ones where opportunities abound. This statistic also deserves to be interpreted that way: the atlas reveals that Nairobi and Mombasa are among those that do not have a dominant ethnic community exceeding 50 per cent. Their population densities are 4,429 people per square kilometre for Nairobi and 4, 206 for Mombasa.

Also, it does not take rocket science to conclude that Kenya is a country where it is very hard to cross the poverty line. If, the atlas shows, the wealthy spend on average more than double (152 per cent) of what the poor allocate to meet basic needs, then the latter, according to the same atlas, would have to double their material or so means just to reach the poverty line. But to rise far above it? All effort is required. Yet knows what ‘all effort ‘ means and how do we measure it? Hence do not also believe that the wealthy over-spend what is rightfully theirs.

Moreover, we must never think about Kenya this way: that low birth and fertility rates is synonymous with more wealth. Rather, low birth as well as fertility rates should not be taken to mean that those factors are the real contributors to the high quality of life reported in counties such as Nairobi, Nyeri, Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Meru, and Uasin Ngishu.

The population densities of some of those counties are as follows: Nairobi (4, 429 people per square kilometre), Kiambu (630 persons). Yet their birth rates are shockingly lower: Murang’a and Kirinyaga record the lowest rates at 23.5 and 26.8 live births per 1,000 people. In addition, fertility rates are remarkably lower in the same counties.

Hence if anyone told us that the counties’ economic status is pegged on the low number of people birthed every day, we should not believe it! There are more people from outside, so to speak, who contribute enormously to the economies of the said counties.

All in all, the Social-Economic Atlas is one of the best tools available to think about our nation and the people in it. Kudos to the brains behind it!

By Moses Omusolo works at Code-4-development Laba(C4DLab)

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