Women can help bring shared prosperity

Women leaders at Bomas of Kenya./COURTESY THE STAR KENYA

Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania are often hailed as Africa’s success stories. But Kenya is never left too far behind. Consistently, we have exhibited hope and positive prospects. Huge development opportunities abound. Our challenges persist.

A relatively well-educated youthful population, expansion of access to education and huge investment in infrastructure present great opportunities. Intractable poverty, growing inequality and ethnic discord pose the greatest challenge to our progress. These are challenges of our own making. And only we can and must resolve them.

Reducing inequality is perhaps Kenya’s single most critical challenge and, it is integral to delivering shared prosperity. According to the New World Wealth 2014 report, 8,300 people, or 0.02 per cent, own about 62 per cent of the country’s wealth. It is estimated that the poorest 10 per cent receive only two per cent of the national income.

The emergence of extreme wealth among the African elite, after Independence, was driven by systematic and sustained political culture in which personal interests of politicians, their families and lackeys influence state decisions and abuse office for personal business and financial gains. Things have not changed. The stakes just got higher with new opportunities through large infrastructure and public sector service deals.

Regional inequalities are equally stark. These inequalities map neatly along ethnic and political cleavages.

Geography, as expressed by natural endowments – rainfall, temperature, vegetation and soils – exerts a huge influence on livelihood options. The inequalities also track the footprint of the commercial and administrative interests of the British colonists.

In counties such as Wajir, Mandera and Turkana poverty rates are above 80 per cent. Maternal mortality in Mandera is 3,795 per 100,000 live births; giving birth is a death sentence. In Turkana, a skilled birth attendant delivers less than 25 per cent of babies. At 227 deaths per 1,000 live births, Siaya county has the highest child mortality in the world. The country with the highest child mortality in the world has 156 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Devolved governments, working in partnership with the national government, must double down and grapple with the challenge of creating shared prosperity. Citizens at the county level must now begin to ask questions about public spending priorities. Their voices, backed up by their taxes, must count. Government, national or county, must be about equitable service delivery.

While the big project investments are critical, the household level, especially the role of women, is vital to stimulating and driving shared prosperity.

We must pay attention to women, increasing their participation in education, training, business, leadership and employment. The minimum acceptable level of women participation must be parity.

It is estimated that less than 30 per cent of those earning formal employment wages are women. And even the few women in formal employment don’t receive equal pay for equal work compared to their male counterparts

Moreover, we have to take away the shackles of culture and tradition. Issues around property rights and assets for rural women must be attended to urgently. Women must have unfettered access to productive assets.

Alex O Awiti is the director of the East African Institute at Aga Khan University