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The most effective strategies for challenging economic and social inequalities, a case for Kenya

In the recent past, the subject of inequalities has gained a huge focus from different quarters of the world`s politic; broadness of the subject matter referring to the measurement of imbalance or skewed distribution in a system, which may be social, economic, political, diverse and the likes.

Economic inequality thus refers to how economic metrics are distributed among individuals in a group, among groups, in a set of population or among countries. Generally, economic inequalities can be viewed in three frames; income inequality, wealth inequality and pay inequality.

Social inequality refers to unequal distribution of opportunities and rewards for different social statuses within a society.

Kenya is known to be one of the most unequal countries in the developing countries both from the world bank`s reports and UNDP development index. It has also received much focus from the Kenyan authorities and people in the recent past including the promulgation of a new constitution in 2010 that placed an emphasis on how to end inequality in its different forms.

Pundits have argued that inequality is a human development condition which can equally be undone by human efforts through a variety of strategies.

To mitigate against high poverty and social inequality faced by those in old age and with severe disabilities, the Kenyan government came up with a safety net program in the form of cash transfers where those affected register themselves and are able to receive a monthly stipend from Government channeled directly to them to help with upkeep and basic needs. This allows the affected to access basic needs despite their extreme levels of poverty and thus one way of equalizing opportunities for this set of group of people in Kenya. This program has received positive reviews from citizens and equally attracted private players through private-public partnerships with the government in support of the noble cause meant to bridge the differences in the society between those who have and those who don’t have. Though incidences of corruption and nepotism continue to be reported across the country.

A live to the fact that some parts of the country have continuously been marginalized in the distribution of state resources and public goods, Kenyans decided that through the new constitution; this reality needed to change and thus ushered in a devolved system of government where each of the 47 governments would have its allocation of resources from the central government as a percentage of the last audited government accounts. Each of the devolved government would also have a mandate to raise local revenues and partner with different stakeholders to drive their local development agenda instead of depending on the central government which seemed discriminatory on how it shared out the development budgets allowing some areas to grow, leaving other areas marginalized in the process.

To ensure that the previously marginalized areas had an equal opportunity for growth, the constitution provided for an equalization fund which can only be drawn by the marginalized areas to allow for a speedy growth investment. This strategy seems to be working well since eight years down the line, some devolved counties are rapidly catching up thus closing the inequality gap experienced in the past with the rest of the country. This has also brought services closer to the citizens because each county has similar services and one doesn’t need to travel long distances to access the services as it was prior to the devolved system of government thus leveling the ground for all citizens irrespective of your status in life. There is however a lot that still needs to be done if reports of mismanagement of the resources sent to counties is anything to go by especially from the Auditor General`s reports.

Kenya is a polarized country along ethnic lines, the largest tribe being Kikuyu and one that is considered privileged since the fall of colonization by the British regime. The founding leadership of the country was from this ethnic group that put them at the control of the country`s resources thus having access to good colonial schools, land ownership including take-over of farms that were previously owned by the colonialist. This advantage transcended into post-colonial government where Kenyans belonging to this ethnic group were the majority in the public service and other sectors of the economy to the disadvantage of the rest of ethnic groups. This even led to a post -election violence in 2007/2008 general elections that necessitated a national dialogue that resulted into the new constitution that ensured, public service jobs would factor in the diversity witnessed in the country as opposed to purely looking at meritocracy since this had ensured that other ethnic groups did not find favour of serving since the appointing authorities preferred people from their own ethnic backgrounds. Eight years down the line, one can begin to see the changes that this particular law is bringing in the country, for example; during the interviews for our supreme court`s judges, it was made clear that there was not a possibility of having two people from the same ethnic group out of the seven maximum judges. This provision has begun to bring some sort of equilibrium in the public service that shows the face of Kenya and the fact that every ethnic group has an equal opportunity during the hiring exercise.

In Kenya, women, youth and persons with disabilities have been discriminated against in successive regimes both socially, economic realms as well as in political circles. The country decided that something had to be done to end the sorry state of affairs for this group of Kenyans in different spheres of life. Through legislation, a provision was put in the constitution to ensure that positions available in the public service and appointive; that two thirds cannot be from the same gender, this has ensured a proportionate representation of both genders across the board. While this is yet to fully take effect at the parliament, there are specific seats for women in an attempt to ensure that their voice is also at the decision making arm of government. The same affirmative action is for youth and persons with disabilities where specific seats have been reserved both at the county assembly, national assembly and the senate to ensure that there is a representation of these marginalized groups to allow them voice at the decision-making organ. Previously, this was only accessible to those with financial means and wealth since they could mount expensive political campaigns to get these seats at the disadvantage of the marginalized groups. These affirmative seats have allowed the groups to have access to political representation and build up their profile before going to elective politics and increasing the voices of the marginalized groups in the decision making organ.

To ensure that women, youth and persons with disabilities are also catered for economically; the government established three different funds where these groups could access easy funding away from the bureaucracy witnessed in banks so that they can implement their business ideas and thus a source of livelihood. Women development enterprise fund, Youth development enterprise fund and National development fund for persons with disabilities were created with a yearly funding from the treasury allocated through budget votes within the relevant ministries. These schemes have enabled the affected groups to have an equal opportunity in starting businesses or projects as opposed to the past where they had to fight with other established businesses in the market for funding from the banks as loans. The National Government Affirmative Action Fund is also used to reach out to the same groups though with a keen interest in social services that affect the three groups in counties to ensure that they are at par with the rest in terms of development.

Access to Government Procurement Opportunities is another affirmative strategy that is slowly pushing the three groups (women, youth and persons with disabilities) into the limelight of doing business with the government. In this strategy, all government agencies are supposed to earmark all government tenders at 30 % to the businesses owned by the marginalized groups in Kenya where financing is also arranged for those who have won the tenders under this affirmative action strategy. This way, the groups are able to have a fighting space within the lucrative government supply business chain and thus can create an income of their own without the unfair advantage the big established businesses have over them in an open tendering procedure. This affirmative action has created numerous employment opportunities both at national and county government levels, this would not have been possible in the past and thus the right trajectory in reducing the inequalities in Kenya.

Another bottleneck that is an impediment to the ease of doing business and fueling economic inequality has been the registration of business entities that has been very expensive in the past and only open to the country`s elite. Many business permits have proven to be expensive and thus pushing small businesses to close shops rendering them poor at the expense of the rich who know how to navigate these strict regimes and thus gain unfair advantage. This has however changed due to the consolidation of permits required for conducting businesses and a change in the company act allowing for business registration without necessarily requiring a lawyer to effect legal registration pushing the cost down for any person interested in setting up a business in Kenya.

Alarmed by the growing public wage-bill, the government of Kenya introduced austerity measures to check the ballooning public wage bill which is unsustainable given the country’s gross revenues. An audit of government employees was ordered to find out the numbers of government employers, their skills and qualifications and a determination of an appropriate remuneration package commensurate with the responsibilities accorded to a job group. This led to rationalization of most salaries in the public sector where there was a huge pay inequality leading to loss in morale by other public servants who did so much but earned so little compared to their colleagues within the same ranks. An establishment of a salary and remuneration commission helped stem the disparities to an extent that even the parliamentarians were denied the right of adjusting their own pay as they wished in the past. This effort has reduced the burden faced by citizens in meeting the huge public wage bill through numerous taxation but also brought order into public service pay where perks are decided based on the level of efforts prescribed in the job descriptions that are agreed upon before a job is advertised.

Those choosing public service now know that it is not meant to confer economic benefit to them but rather it is a choice they are making to be in public service for their country and are bound by ethics and integrity standards set out by the constitution for any public servant as opposed to the past when they would load it to the citizenry demanding all manner of perks as public servants yet it is a choice they made. While all these are progressive, the extent to which they are implemented can be questioned eight years down the line.

A specific article in the constitution guarantees equality and freedom from discrimination of any nature, this goes on to lay foundation for numerous affirmative action strategies being implemented by the government to actualize this particular article that demands every Kenyan to be treated equally before the law, in distribution of opportunities irrespective of their station in life. This has enabled the undoing of past social inequalities experienced in Kenya, for example- higher education was a preserve of the rich families or political class with those from the poor families missing out due to the costs involved. This has been rectified through various scholarships available for Kenyans from poor backgrounds allowing them to access tertiary education as well as a subsidized university education for all Kenyan students in public universities making it affordable for all. The primary education has been made free paid for by the government allowing majority of students to transit without any hindrance posed by economic difficulties.

With this trend, Kenya is posed to reap the educational dividends from her citizens since education is one of the critical investments one can make in the young ones to open up possibilities for them into the coming future both within the country and outside. This also means that all Kenyans will be able to compete for the same opportunities through the lenses of meritocracy without one being at a disadvantage given their poor family background that might have led to their unfulfilled educational dreams.

Though not strictly adhered to, there has been an attempt by government to raise the minimum wage yearly for both public and private employers depending on the performance of the economy, this is meant to cushion employees in the low income-earning bundles in the country given the inflation and rise in cost living in the country. This attempt is one strategy of levelling and continuously ensuring that those in the low income strands have an opportunity to rise up through government decrees. The Kenya Revenue Authority has digitalized her taxation regime thus making it easier for people to declare and pay their taxes, this has widened the numbers for those paying taxes thus expanding the tax base making it bearable to low income earners since majority of the taxes are paid by the high income earners as a way of equalization. Anyone earning $ 120 and below are exempted from paying income tax thus a relief with a similar consideration to the mandatory monthly health insurance deductions where those who earn less are also allowed to pay less as opposed to high income earners who pay the maximum to cater for those who cannot afford it, this makes it possible for government to provide health insurance to everyone in need of it in the country irrespective to their income levels as the difference is paid for by those who earn a bigger income.

The government has also exempted persons with disabilities who are earning an income either from employment of business from paying income taxes upto $ 1500 a month, this is a relief provided for this group of citizens for them to cope with the cost of disability where they have to buy walking aids or pay more in transport related costs. This helps to reduce both social and economic inequality faced by individuals with disabilities in Kenya.

An investment in the health sector with a keen interest in maternal health has seen a huge decrease in maternal deaths because pregnant mothers can now give birth free of charge in hospitals, a phenomenon that wasn’t possible in the past and only those with means could afford hospital costs while attending pre-natal and post-natal care during and after pregnancy. Since introduction, this scheme has facilitated many women both from rural and urban areas who would have not had the possibility of the same services.  A partnership between private and public hospitals has also increased the access to health care by the citizens since the government-run health insurance didn’t work with private hospitals in the past in terms of health financing yet government hospitals were not spread across the country to serve every citizen in need of medical care. This ensures that even those without employment can be catered for through the government health insurance which is remitted to private hospitals nearest to them through very minimal monthly or quarterly contributions to the fund.

It is therefore appropriate to postulate that the trajectory embarked on by Kenya is one that is promising to fight various forms of inequalities amongst her citizens going forward should these investments be sustained over a period of time. Since some of the strategies are already working, it would take ten to twenty years to realize complete dividends of dismantling specific inequalities especially economic and social inequalities among Kenyans. These measures require both political will and policy backing to sustain them and ensure that they work towards the intended benefits as it has been shown so far.

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