The Kenyan middle class needs to awaken to the challenges facing this beloved country of Kenya
Written by Steve Biko Wafula
Read 2050 Times
Looking through the kaleidoscope of history in the last few months of what has been happening in this country, you will be tempted to think that the Kenyan people are the most humble and resilient people in the face of a myriad challenges. This is a mirage that doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground.
Lower Class people have their own market that they go to buy stuff that they can afford / Kimilili Market Day.
Today we celebrate 48 years of independence and freedom in every aspect of our lives but a spot check around my county reveals a beaten and dejected people who cannot afford the basics of life and to make matters worse, they have no healthcare as the government has been unable to solve the doctor’s impasse.
A lot of thoughts are going through my mind. Am not at peace. Have not been for a while. I used to be in the middle class but now am in the upper lower class. A group of demoted upper class members, a situation that points to grim statistics.
Is the Kenyan middle class joining the ranks of the poor? Are we listening to the complaints of this social group? What are the political consequences of this situation if it stays unaddressed? What is to be done? Let’s look at the example of Mr. Kimani. His daily expenses total a little over $20 a day. According to a recent report by the African Development Bank (ADB), that puts him in the “high income” or rich class — in the same ranks as Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote, the richest man in Africa with a net worth of about $13.8 billion.
Mr Kimani doesn’t agree with that categorization. “Twenty dollars a day is not rich. Certainly I’m not poor, but there are people in this city that can comfortably spend more than Ksh 15,000 ($175) a day. Those people could be called rich. I think of myself as somewhere in the middle.”
Africa’s middle class has been growing modestly in the past decade, but ADB admits that it is difficult to define who exactly falls into this group, and even harder still to establish how many middle class people there are in Africa. 34% or 313 million Africans are now middle class (living on $2-$20 a day). Africa's middle class has risen to about 34% of the continent's population, or about 313m people in the last decade.
The growth rate of the middle class over the past 30 years was about 3.1%, slightly faster than that of the total population. The middle class was responsible for at least half of Africa's GDP of $1.6tn in the last five years.
This definitely shows that the middle class is import in any set up as they are the agenda setters and they determine the consumption habits of products and services and definitely matter when it comes to issues that affect them, especially matters on politics and investments. But then why is the Kenyan middle class so laid back while the majority of the population wallows in the dungeons of poverty and misery? Why is the Kenyan middle is class selfish at only protecting their interests and not bothered about others?
In 2007 the country almost went to the dogs as the lower class fought for their political class god fathers without regard to consequence and yet the middle class was not bothered. Currently the country is going through some serious social economic strife that will either make or break it yet the middle class are just silent about it. While majority of the population cannot afford the basics of life like food, healthcare, education, security and shelter, the middle class are ok, they protecting their turf and don’t care to see that a suffering lower class will definitely prey on their safety and security for survival.
The silence of the middle class, which most times is mistaken to be the resilience of the Kenyan people, is not a true reflection of the reality on the ground. The middle class seem to want to protect their interests from the political class as they want to enjoy the same status in business and lifestyle, forgetting of a worse prey, the lower class is getting rapidly restless and their point of interest is the comfort of the middle class.
The security of the middle class will be in jeopardy, their comfort zone will be rattled with an anger of jealousy and need for survival by the lower class. Tier kids will not be safe when going to school. The casual labour force they employ will turn on them for nothing but survival purposes for them and their starved families.
The middle class forgets that with spiraling inflation and a weak shilling and an indifferent leadership and a dying public health care system, 48% of the lower middle class just became the 48% upper lower class and this forms a new breed of class that the middle class, the upper class, the super rich class and the political class should be totally afraid of. This class of Kenyans that is between the lower and middle class is now being called the catalyst class.
This is the idea: the catalytic class is a group, whose expansion triggers internally driven, self-sustaining, political and economic change, a group whose exertion of pressure for better governance and economic reform leads to change when the class hits a certain size (in population or economic or tax revenue size). The interests of this class coincide with the interests of the poor.
As noted in the Globe and Mail, the catalyst class (a) has an interest in accountability because they pay more taxes; (b) probably don't work for the state and thus don't see their loyalty and interests tied to the status quo; (c) have parents who led quite different consumption lifestyles to them; (d) probably have internet (cafe) access and cell phones; and (e) want "open business conditions, fair and honourable contracts, and a route to employment unclotted by corruption".
Egypt’s new bottom-rung middle class, much like its Chinese counterpart, had nothing to gain from supporting either the regime or its hard-core Islamist opponents. What they want are open business conditions, fair and honourable contracts, and a route to employment unclotted by corruption.
Is the catalyst class big enough in Egypt or China to create similar change? We don’t know yet. In Egypt, it was big enough to expel a dictator. And it’s changing the world: Turkey, Brazil and much of Latin America are now dominated by this class, whose demands for transparency and competition are creating democratic ability, economic growth and shrinking inequality. It’s a worldwide revolution of angry apartment owners.
In Kenya, this catalyst class has shown its sign of existence on social media, as they exchange ideas, share frustrations, help each other get jobs, discuss ways of paying mounting debts and digitally mapping on how to solve issues and find solutions to shortages of basic commodities. They are mostly on twitter and they do not take prisoners especially when they amalgamate themselves into digital groups that tend to support their interests. This is the group that is trying to create in roads with the mass rural population to hold accountable the political class and teach the middle class a lesson on never being lazy again to fight for our basic rights.
There are at least five reasons why the middle classes (variously defined) might matter for poverty reduction. First, as small business owners their potential to hire employees. Second, their higher disposable income, a share of which could be saved and invested domestically. Third, their higher demand has potential to drive economic growth and attracts private investment. Fourth, their investment in human capital for children potentially leads to higher participation in education and a larger pool of skilled labour. And fifth, they're more likely to hold the government accountable for decisions.
This is something that middle classes all over the world have been responsible for, but the Kenyan middle class has turned into a curse and the curse is about to come true unless they awaken to the harsh realities facing the lower class and they have the guts to face up to the injustices that the upper class read the super rich and the political class are causing to the mere ordinary Kenyans.
As the country celebrates 48 years on independence, this is the make or break point for us a country. The middle class will either keep on doing what they do best; go watch movies, meet in clubs and talk of deals, drive around fancy cars as the lower class people die for not being able to access basic healthcare and for not being to afford basic foods and hence consign this country to a menopause period that will be a bitter pill for generations to come or they will awaken to the dangers they are faced with and join hands with the rural populace and hold accountable our political class on their delivery to our country.
The middle class needs to break the curse of resilience and the old adage that the more things change; the more they remain the same. They hold the key to the future of this country.