Thursday, May 14, 2009

Islands of Deception

Are the president, prime minister and sitting MPs of Kenya aware that there are things happening in Kenya that are far more important than the ownership of a small island in Lake Victoria? In Uganda, too, this island is not really a priority. Both countries have large numbers of poor people, internally displaced people, sick people, children out of school, environmental problems and numerous other problems.

For example, both countries have a serious and worsening HIV epidemic. Prevalence stands at over 7% in Kenya and has been increasing for several years. Prevalence is under 6% in Uganda but there signs that it is increasing and the safe sex messages of the nineties are being forgotten.

Kenya and Uganda rank 127th and 132nd in the gender development index, suggesting that they have done little to improve the status and conditions of women and girls. In Kenya, only 7% of parliament seats were held by women in 2007. The figure was nearly 30% in Uganda. But the gap between female and male earnings is bigger in Uganda.

Health in general is poor in both countries. Expenditure on health is 1.8% in Kenya and 2.5% in Uganda, both figures well below an ideal target of 15% of GDP. There are hundreds of thousands of children still not receiving immunisation to TB and childhood diseases. The figures are especially high for the poorest Kenyans and Ugandans.

Infant mortality and under five morality are very high. These figures have only reduced a little since the nineteen seventies and, in some cases, have increased after an initial drop. Life expectancy is around 50 or below in both countries, despite showing improvements after independence. Again, the situation is far worse for the poorest people.

There are 14 doctors per 100,000 people in Kenya, only 8 in Uganda. 20% or fewer births are attended by skilled health personnel in the poorest sectors of society. Unsurprisingly, percentages of low birthweight, underweight and underheight children are high, as is undernourishment.

Uganda fares a bit better than Kenya in that only 37% of the population lives below the poverty line compared to over 50% in Kenya. But the level of inequality, the difference between the rich and poorest people, is higher in Uganda as well. In terms of gross domestic product and human development, Kenya fares better than Uganda but neither countries have much good news for the majority of their citizens.

Military expenditure is higher than health expenditure in both countries, despite both countries being, nominally, not at war. But Kenya has its simmering disputes, such as the ongoing battles among pastoralists in the north, the land disputes around Mount Elgon in the West and the various tribal disagreements. Although there is technically no war in Kenya, the police act as judge, jury and executioner; shootings and beatings are very common but how common is hard to say. No one is counting.

Both Kenya an Uganda have adult and youth literacy problems. For various reasons, many children are not at school or their attendance is poor. The aim to send every child to school is not being matched by adequate numbers of teachers or resources and many families cannot afford the costs. Some cannot afford to have all their children at school and some of them have to work. The ones who go out to work or stay at home to work are almost always female.

Many people, especially women, have little regular access to media such as TV, radio or newspapers. Access to mobile phones is often good and highly publicised, but access to electricity can be low. As for credit, many carry phones that can receive, if they have friends who have credit. Internet use is very low, despite much publicised increases. Infrastructure is too weak and people's knowledge of and access to technology is low.

Improvements in technology, communications and other things would be great but no one is worrying as long as they have no access to clean water and good sanitation. People who are dying of easily prevented and treated conditions, such as diarrhoea, have little use for high technology. As access to electricity is low for both countries, technology is almost irrelevant to many. Ok, many have access to electricity, but only in between the frequent power cuts.

If these overpaid, undertaxed Kenyans and Ugandans can't find things to do with their time, perhaps they should be introduced to their electorate. They don't seem to know much about them. But ordinary Kenyans and Ugandans will be able to find enough work to keep them occupied until the next elections. There probably isn't enough work to justify their inflated salaries but I think they could gain a lot of good will, perhaps even the confidence of their electorate.



apostleshadamishe said...
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Anonymous said...

Do you think it cures inequality, poverty and political stupidity too?

Simon said...

Thank you Anon, I get them from time to time, but good question.