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Poverty in Kenya: Causes and Effects

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Poverty remains a challenge to the country 50 years after the founding fathers declared war on it. According to the Society for International Development, 60% of Kenyans live below the poverty line (SID, 2005). This paper aims to discuss poverty in Kenya, its causes and effects: I believe that understanding these causes will help policy makers tackle the root causes of poverty; while the citizens will see the effects of poverty and push for action.

Definitions of Poverty

Poverty is a financial inability to meet the costs of living. There are two main types of poverty – absolute and relative – frequently, poverty is defined in either relative or absolute terms. Absolute poverty measures poverty Vis a Vis the amount of money necessary to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Relative poverty defines poverty in relation to the economic status of other members of the society: people are poor if they fall below prevailing standards of living in a given societal context’ (UNESCO, 2019) This inability must be experienced over some time (Spicker, 2019) and is not restricted to one dimension, e.g. income, but manifest in all domains of life, such as housing, education, health (DELEECK, BOSCH, & LATHOUWER, 1992). Lack of opportunities is a dimension of poverty that affects the youth of Kenya.


The causes of poverty range from colonialism to industrialization, from political institutions to geography, corruption and so on. We need to examine each closely to better understand why there is still poverty in Kenya today.

The Heritage of Colonization

Countries that started their modern history with great inequalities evolved into societies that often maintained the pattern of biased wealth distribution. Kenya has been unable to, even with a new constitutional dispensation, get rid of the inherited institutions and to gain her aspiration to equal distribution of wealth and resources. Plunder and the use of force (to protect the plunderers) lead to poverty (Dr. Oscar Guardiola-Rivera). Indeed, according to Oxfam’s Report – extreme inequality in numbers, less than 0.1% of the population (8,300 people) own more wealth than the bottom 99.9% (more than 44 million people); and earn 23 times more than the poorest 10%. Kenya has the fastest growing number of the super-rich in the world at 80%. It is predicted that over the next 10 years 7,500 new millionaires are set to be created. This in a country spending less on education since the 2000s began leading to over 1 million primary school age children being out of school, and 2.6 million people falling into poverty every year due to health reasons. Corporate tax dodging is undermining Kenya’s tax base. Kenya is losing $1.1bn a year to tax exemptions and incentives at the expense of basic needs like health care. Corporates and the super-rich also own large tracts of arable land of which most is undeveloped. Kenya’s arable land according to the Kenya Land Alliance stands at 17% of which the super-rich own 65% (Odidi, 2014).


Corruption is one of the main causes of poverty in Kenya. Funds for basic needs like Maize and oil are often lost through corruption (Migai, Winter, 2011). Prices of commodities increase by more than 200% overnight (AfriCOG, 2009), leading to the costs going out of reach for many Kenyans. These funds are loans, which have to be paid. Kenya’s debt has hit the five trillion mark (Odipodev, 2019). This leads to higher tax that pushes poverty levels up. The loss of the money set aside for the development 24 dams means the trend of dwindling arable land will continue and food security will not be achieved (Owino, 2019). Opportunities for the youth are scarce; the tender process is laden with corruption. Indeed 70% of government entities never receive a clean bill from the auditors-with some so bad that the auditors do not even bother (OdipoDev, 2018). Kshs 608 000,000,000 is lost annually to corruption according to the EACC

Population Growth and Movement

Population growth in Kenya has brought put pressure on the agricultural land resource as more land is put into settlement use. The reduction of agricultural land has led to less rotation leading to loss of soil fertility. Most peasant farmers are not able to afford the fertilizers to enhance the soil fertility (Ogechi & Waithaka, 2014). In addition, the trend of people, especially the youth, moving to the urban areas has reduced the labor force for agriculture. Indeed, agriculture is not viewed as a fashionable undertaking for the youth. The Kenya Youth Agribusiness Strategy 2017-2021 by the ministry of agriculture, livestock and fisheries indicates that youth would rather take up jobs like boda boda and sale of mitumba and other quick cash ventures (Nyasuguta, 2019). These factors among others have led to less agricultural productivity and prices of food commodities rising. This has put pressure on the food security of families leading some into poverty and making the ones already poor, poorer.

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Ethnic Divisions and Conflict

Economics are agreed that tensions from ethnic differences, religious and racial divisions in the society, cause and enhance poverty. During tensions businesses remain closed and during clashes, property is looted and vandalized. Most businesses never recover from the blows that have become the norm every election circle (Kahura, 2017). People lose their productivity and homes as they become internally displace persons IDPs falling into poverty sometimes irredeemably. According to IDMC Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre there were 162 000 IDPs in Kenya by December 2018. Militias, like Mungiki, are mobilized to protect their respective ethnic groups. This gives them credibility so that when later they become feared extortionist gangs; Kenyan’s lack the moral high ground to fight them. The extortion is illegal taxation on the people who part with their incomes in fear of their lives and so becoming poorer in the process. Some of these tensions are avoidable. Politicians whip up emotions and fund youth ‘majeshi ya mzee’ (Njonjo, Kitonga, & Ponge, 2011).

Unemployment and Lack of Employability

A key challenge facing the Kenyan youth is lack of appropriate education, relevant training and the knowledge and skills required to enhance their absorption into the labor market (Youth Research Compendium Katenda Sivi Njonjo et al, Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) 2011). This has rendered a majority of youth jobless. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 9 out of 10 unemployed people are below the age of 35 (WERE, 2019). Unemployment puts pressure on family income. Other factors leading to unemployability are –the insistence of years of experience by employers and lack of a co-ordination framework between leaning institutions and industry.

Effects of Poverty in Kenya


According to Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government of Kenya reports, crime is more prevalent in areas where there is evidence of poverty: These are areas like Kibra, Moshomoni, and Bondeni. These are slums in urban centers and, due to their unplanned nature have little access to state security agencies (Musoi, Muthama, Kibor, & Kitiku, 2014). On people Apart from depression, which is the most common effect of poverty, fear of self-actualization has hit the people of Kenya. This is producing a people without ambition, people who think that without money to bribe your way you will never amount to anything. In addition, since most do not have, they just resign to the fates (Gachie, 2019). As a result, the country is then suffering from a poverty of ideas.


The elite of Kenyan society live in fear and form dynasties to protect their wealth. This leads to a stratified society with an ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. The World Bank reports that the inequality in daily consumption is as high as 20-1 in Kenya (Region, June, 2008). Kenya has become a second hand society –we wear second-hand clothes ‘mitumba’ and drive imported used cars (Gachie, 2019). There has been a rise of independent preachers and prophets in the country. This is as a way of silent resistance to the system that makes and keeps the people poor and a search for solace in misery (Ndeda, 2013).


The effects of poverty on children are profound. Hunger and malnourishment are the most visible effects. However, less visible is the realization that one may never get out of poverty due to their parents’ inability to pay fees for education this leads to an alienated childhood.


Kenyans are reluctant to take up modern medicines due to fear of cost and so get cheap over the counter medication leading to medication resistance by diseases or opt to go the traditional healer – prayers and herbs – method (Awiti, 2014). This is a backward step in the development of the country.


The causes of poverty though complex in nature are manufactured and therefore avoidable. The political elite need to re-examine their will to fight corruption and grow a willingness to let every Kenyan grow out of poverty. For their part, Kenyans should not give up but work hard and question the government to get rid of poverty in Kenya.

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Poverty in Kenya: Causes and Effects. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 30, 2023, from
“Poverty in Kenya: Causes and Effects.” Edubirdie, 28 Oct. 2022,
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Poverty in Kenya: Causes and Effects [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Oct 28 [cited 2023 Mar 30]. Available from:
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