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As social inequalites in Kenya continue to widen, Samuel Abonyo argues in this week’s Pambazuka News that policies that encourage the redistribution of wealth are what the country needs if it is to achieve economic growth and reduce poverty.

The search for an equal society is perhaps futile. Some theorists like Kingsley Davis and Wilbert E. Moore even opine that social inequality is beneficial to society. But a society having too much inequality is doomed. That is why, unless we Kenyans radically reduce the horrendous inequalities afflicting us, our country is heading to certain doom.

Inequalities in Kenya, measured by income distribution, are so wide that even rabid advocates of inequalities cannot approve of them. According to the figures from the 1969 World Income Inequality Database V2, the bottom 10 per cent of Kenyans obtained 1.8 per cent of income. By contrast, the top 10 per cent got 54.9 per cent. The corresponding figures for 1999 were 0.76 and 42.7 per cent.
Poverty rates in Kenya are revoltingly high. In 2005, according to Growth, poverty and income inequality in Kenya: Suggested policy options, by Anthony Wambugu and Boaz Munga of the Kenya Institute for Policy Research and Analysis, 45.9 per cent of Kenyans were poor. And the population of the poor is swelling. The percentage of the rural poor rose from 46 per cent in 1992 to 53 per cent in 1997, and the percentage of their urban counterparts increased from 29 per cent to 49 per cent in the same period. Not surprisingly, poverty in Kenya varies with factors such as region, education, occupation, human capital and household size.

Regional variations in poverty constitute clear calls for action against inequalities in Kenya. With an estimated poverty rate of 74.9 per cent – a figure that is 52.6 per cent higher than Nairobi, which had the lowest poverty rate in 2005/2006, the year for which there are poverty data about all the provinces – North Eastern is being treated most unfairly. These highly aggregated figures, also obtained from the work of Wambugu and Munga, conceal more than they reveal about the contours of Kenyan inequality. But they clearly show how far Kenya has run towards death. And if Kenya does not pay heed to the voices telling it to fight inequalities, then, as Proverbs 29:1 says, it will ‘be destroyed, and that without remedy’.

To alleviate poverty, experts say, Kenya must have sustained economic growth. Economic growth is important with regard to alleviating poverty; however, poverty is primarily a problem of distribution. If distribution is made fair and just, it will in fact contribute to economic growth, lowering poverty rates. There is even empirical evidence suggesting that inequality negatively impacts on economic growth. What we should therefore do is to redistribute what we have, to achieve both economic growth and poverty reduction.

We should establish legally guaranteed and protected minimum standards of living for all Kenyans. We should introduce maximum income – both wage and capital income – that one may lawfully earn, the highest limit of space one may be allowed by law to live in, etc., in other words, we should establish the highest limit of resources that an individual may legally own or use. We should use the state to govern and regulate greed, because, if it is not governed and regulated, greed destroys society.

The redistribution and poverty reduction in Kenya would rest on the progressive taxation of personal and corporate wealth and earnings. Everybody and every business should contribute to the redistribution and poverty reduction. But the more you have, the more you should contribute. That is the main way in which societies reduce inequalities and alleviate poverty.


* Samuel Abonyo is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Oslo.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.