The global food crisis is depressing, to say the least. First thing on Monday morning, I heard the newscaster state over the local radio that due to the rise in the cost of food, ‘Three meals per day is a luxury that now the majority of Kenyans can no longer afford.’ Rapidly rising food and fuel costs since the election feels like the final nail in the coffin, or the ultimate insult, after Kenya attempts to struggle back from what have been a their most disastrous few months ever. Initially we were hoping that food costs would drop after the initial election disruption, but now we must face the fact that the new prices are here to stay.
Raila Odinga on his first official post election trip to the United States, reported that Kenya’s economic growth is sadly predicted to fall to 4.5 percent in 2008 against the impressive 7 percent growth of last year, ‘the situation is worsened by the rapidly rising cost of oil and the world food crisis. The political crisis and consequent insecurity and the displacement of 350,000 (many of whom are still in IDP camps), meant many crops were not planted in time, nor have the rains been kind to us. As a result, a very difficult 12 months lie ahead.’
It is not all doom and gloom. New buildings are being constructed wherever you look, there is hope, big plans for the country, new blood in Government and pledges of yet more aid money to fund development. However, the existence of an overly bloated Cabinet filled with around 100 MPs and their assistants each drawing hefty salaries and claiming hundreds of thousands of shillings in allowances, is rather disheartening for the average Kenyan on the street (not to say crippling for the country) whose monthly budget will no longer stretch far enough. It has recently been proposed that MPs pay tax on their allowances (allowances tot up to three times the MP's salaries i.e. basic salary 200,000/-, plus allowances of 625,000/-), but unsurprisingly this suggestion has not gone down very well. The Daily Nation headline today states that MPs are seeking millions more shillings (Sh650m) for refurbishing Parliament’s debating chamber, building a gym with Jacuzzi, more official Mercedes for the members, increased pensions, more money for official trips and an SUV chase car for the Speaker.
Meanwhile, everyone else is feeling the pinch. Stocking up at the supermarket costs more than ever before. There is less money available for eating out, luxury goods or entertainment. Last week the smartly dressed man queuing in front of my husband at the local corner shop found he did not have enough money for two small bags of milk, so put one back. My husband was moved and bought the second packet of milk for him as he left. He then caught up with the stranger outside and not wanting to embarrass the man, passed it to him saying, ‘I think this is yours.’ Apparently the chap was utterly bemused but my husband asked me, ‘Well, what would you have done?’