For the past five years Kenya’s middle class exploded onto the scene. Seriously, I’m not making it up. The expanding middle class fueled the construction boom as the moved to own modest 3 bedroom apartments and houses, fueled the congestion problem as 3000 new cars were added to Kenyan roads per month, and fueled the growth of after work executive degree programs.

I really had a lot of hopes pinned on this growing middle class that they would prevail in politics. I had hoped that the swelling ranks of these would do two things: 1.keep the elites honest, 2. and inspire the lower classes that life’s conditions could improve in Kenya.

1. The middle class depends on efficient government systems and is so impatient to move up the ranks of wealth that I expected they would hold Kibaki’s regime to task on issues of corruption. To a large extent this expectation was borne out. Doing business did get easier in Kenya and for the first time government seemed to respond to the needs of local entrepreneurs not just the World Bank. Many of my friends started or expanded their businesses and acquired many of the trappings of the middle class.

2. The expanding middle class meant more and more Kenyans were moving up from the poorer classes. But I guess not enough of them were moving up since ODM was able to mobilize a full half of the voter register to vote for change. ODM’s rallying cry was more equitable distribution of resources. Clearly that message resonated with half the country. How come? Why does ODM draw so much of its support from this very same middle class?

Is it a case of the middle classes expecting too much and being disspointed by Kibaki’s 6% growth?

Is it that the arrogance of the Mt. Kenya mafia did not augur well with this emergent middle class with its values of egalitarianism? Did the Mt. Kenya mafia represent a glass ceiling of opportunity that the emergent middle class knew could never be broken?

Or perhaps the reason is best found the BBC report that “around 60% of Kenya’s population of 37m lives on less than a dollar a day and although Kenya’s GDP has been growing for the past three or four years, many of the other economic and social indicators have dropped.

Kenya slipped five places in the 2005 Human Development Report, life expectancy has fallen (WHO) and Kenya is seen as one of the 20 most corrupt countries in the world (Transparency International).

Still, what about that middle class?

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Kenya’s middle class has taken a real punch to the gut, I see the numbers dropping over the next few years due to the effect of the crisis on the economy.
Add to this the fact that the so called 6% economy increase was being felt by only those at the very top while on the other hand inflation continued to bite as could be seen by things like bread and unga ya chapati becoming luxuries.
The middle class in Kenya is still too small to have a major sway on things politically and at times I think the fat cats want it that way.
Things are not looking well for the middle class and I for one am worried about those that I know back home.

in a nutshell, a thriving economy depends very much on the purchasing power of the citizens in the country. Inasmuch as we would like to crow about impressive growth rate, the fact of the matter remains that market forces depends on strong demand and buying power and if the majority of the people in Kenya are still living on less than a dollar a day, who will business peddle their wares to.

Economic growth rate is a very tricky statistic. For about five years after the genocide in 1994, Rwanda experienced a phenomenal rate of growth and was hailed as one of Africa’s fastest growing economies. This growth rate however masked the fact that all that was happening was that the economy was recovering to it’s original size and vibrancy. Once that was achieved, the growth rate began to recede rather rapidly. In the same way, Kenya’s growth rate was as a result of recovery from a constrained and poorly ran economy. Once everything is in place for a take-off, what then?

Unless the ripple effects on economic resurgence reach right down to the people in the rural areas, slums and under-developed sectors of the economy, we are bound to witness a deceleration and eventual stagnation in wealth creation and economic empowerment.

I had absolutely no idea our middle class had expanded. Ironically the greatest gift that I have gotten from reading the post is that I have come to see just how blind I am to good things that happen in Kenya everyday and how I am personally prejudiced and always looking for the negative. I never in a million years would have thought to look as to whether our nations resources had been better distributed. Thanks for opening my eyes to that..

Pulled directly from today’s Business Daily: “In October last year, the Kenya Revenue Authority announced it was unable to cope with the increased demand for registration of imported motor vehicles, which stood at about 500 per day.

This translated into about 15,500 new cars entering the Kenyan roads that month. It was a simple message that the economy was doing well, consumer confidence was at an all-time high, access to personal loans was just a phone call away and lending rates were well within the reach of many”.


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