Mobilising for budgets which fight inequality

Kenya, 17 June 2018 by Nyambura Maguga

Nyambura is a Fight Inequality activist in Kenya, and one of the organisers of the #UsawaBudget (“Budget for equality”) mobilisations.

It’s a shocking indictment of our society that just 8300 people in Kenya owning more wealth than the rest of the Kenyan population of over 44 million. For inequality to be reduced, a government budget that actively tackles inequality is vital to help close the gap by taxing the rich more than the poor and spending this on services such as free education.

But government budgets will never seriously tackle inequality until the pressure from below, from ordinary people, starts to match the pressure that governments are under from the rich. We need government budgets by and for people. Friends and allies of the Fight inequality alliance came together and took part in activities that were aimed at sensitizing the general public on the importance of public participation in the budget process - if the budget was developed by ordinary people, it would work for ordinary people. We didn’t wait to be invited by government or rely on formal processes alone. Instead as citizens, we in the Kenya FIA reached out to the general public through themed pictures featuring "mama mboga" (vegetable sellers), touts, drivers, students,doctors, nurses, artists, farmers and security guards as a way to connect the budget with individual Kenyans, and imagine a budget by and for us.The alliance took the conversation to social media throughout the day, encouraging public participation in their expression of what an inclusive budget would mean to them, building up to the 14th when the budget was read.

We knew that we could not shift this year’s budget - our aim instead was to start building up the grassroots collective power of ordinary people so we can shift the direction in the years ahead. That starts with ensuring that people understand just how unfair the budget is. Throughout the mobilization, we directed the public's attention towards the importance of a grassroots budget that was inclusive of the ordinary Kenyan as opposed to a budget created by the rich for the rich. Corruption and debt in Kenya is a huge problem that affects taxation and budget allocation by the government which chooses to balance the books on the backs of the poor, by increasing the cost of basic goods like cooking fuel. The current way in budgets are drawn up will do little to reduce the growing gap between the richest and the ordinary Kenyans.. Instead, we are building up pressure for government to increasing revenue by cracking down on corruption as well as ensuring the richest pay more taxes. At the moment, a billionaire pays the same tax rate as a headteacher, and while parents buying books for their kids to learn get taxed with VAT, rich people replacing their helicopter parts get tax waved!

The usawa budget mobilization which took place in Kenya just before the official budget reading, was topped off with a press conference by grassroots activists on 12th June followed by a peaceful demonstration from Holy Family Basillica to Kencom in the centre of town. The public now know just how unfair our budgets are, and decision-makers know that we are here and growing in strength. The power of the people is greater than the people in power.

Nyambura Maguga