As a young activist and organiser working in Nairobi’s informal settlements, Daisy shares how Kenyan’s are struggling with the impacts of debt and austerity, and how she wants to put an end to austerity.

By: Fight Inequality

Daisy is giving testimony on Wednesday 11 October, 09:30-15:30 Casablanca Time at the Peoples’ Alternative Global Tribunal on the IMF and World Bank in Marrakech, Morocco. Watch live via Facebook.

As I pen this down it saddens me that in this time and age there are still people in communities who cannot access healthcare, children who are forced to stay out of school because they lack school fees, where some people are unable to afford a decent meal, where mothers lose their lives in hospitals during delivery because the hospitals are not fully equipped, just to mention a few. Inequalities manifest in different forms in our communities and this gap is expected to get worse in the coming months and years due to the rising cost of living. 

Reports have shown that corporate tax dodging is affecting Kenya’s tax base. The country loses $1.1bn a year to tax exemptions and incentives, which is almost twice what the government spent on its entire health budget in 2015/16, in a country where mothers face a 1 in 40 chance of dying in childbirth. Despite some improvements in health status over the last decade, the government spends only 6% of its budget on health. A quarter of the Kenyan population regularly lack access to healthcare. A recent study estimated that nearly 2.6 million people fall into poverty or remain poor due to ill health each year.

In a country that is drowning in debt it is alarming to see our top country elected leaders are constantly putting their selfish needs first and not prioritizing the hard pinch felt by Kenyans in regards to rising taxes. I have seen leaders put absurd budgets on international travels, vacations, purchase of new cars, hosting events at state house and time and again raising motions in parliaments to further increase their salaries to cushion them from the high cost of living, which begs the question, who will cushion the regular Kenyan from the sudden high costs of living?

Having worked in the informal settlements, where the majority of the people are casual workers and live from hand to mouth, I have had a feel of how the constant taxes imposed on food items have impacted their lives. People in these communities live with earnings of below 5 dollars per day and they are to use these earnings to cater for healthcare, rent, education, food and transport in the family. The government imposes uniform tax on commodities such as food and fuel on all citizens regardless of the social status and economic status of an individual. This has forced families in marginalized areas to survive on one meal a day.

Although the role of the IMF and World Bank is supposedly to support the government's economic program through financial support so as to ensure financial stability, it has brought a number of countries into a debt crisis. In order to fill in its budget deficit in various ministries, Kenya has acquired both domestic and external loans, some of which come with austerity measures from the lenders. The impacts of austerity are being felt and are having devastating impacts on people’s lives. 

However, with the debt burden being felt by most Kenyans the government still continues to acquire more loans. Despite the loans being taken to do development projects, corruption and mismanagement of these funds have been reported by government officials. The government prioritizes debt repayment and underfunds public services. The IMF and World Bank still issue more loans to countries like Kenya that are already deep in debt with increasing interest rates and more measures without taking into account that some of these funds meant for development are misappropriated by public officials and at the end of the day the public is still expected to pay back the full loaned amount.

Recently, as Fight Inequality Alliance Kenya we held people’s assemblies in 8 counties which saw diverse people coming together to share their experiences on inequality as a consequence of the economic system upheld by the World Bank and IMF together with our governments and through the conversations had at the grassroot level, the following were the common citizens, otherwise known as ‘Wanjiku’ solutions and demands:

  1. Tax justice through taxing extreme wealth.
  2. Increasing funding towards public services such as education and health.
  3. Put an end to austerity measures that come with loans from international funding institutions.
  4. The Kenyan government should not exempt multinational corporations running their businesses in the country from paying taxes.
  5. Kenyan leaders should have a voice at the negotiating table when acquiring these loans and should be keen to ensure the loan will come to do more good than harm to its people.

It is time that Kenyans raise their voices and actively take part in leadership and governance, for when we do so we shall realize that the power of the people is greater than the people in power!!