As tough economic times continue to bite, most Kenyans have been forced to come up with creative alternatives in order to survive. In a country where more than a half of the population lives below the poverty line, on less than one US dollar a day, it would be true to assert that a good portion of the population lives from hand to mouth.
The prices of basic products has been rising inexorably and the recent implementation of the VAT BILL 2013, just made things much tougher for the majority. For instance, the price of a 500ml packet of milk is now Sh60, up from Sh45 before the VAT rise and Sh35 last year when the price rose following a milk shortage in the country. Kenyans had been hopeful that the price would go back to its original price especially following the election of Uhuru Kenyatta (who allegedly owns the biggest stakes in the dairy industry) as President but that was not to be. Sadly, most homes will have to contend with taking white tea only on occasions as porridge, black tea/chocolate or coffee become the order of the day.
As this Kenya Forum correspondent found out, most young people have now traded having breakfast in the house for the office tea.
EMPLOYEES TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OFFICE TEA TO SAVE COSTS
According to Maryanne Mwikali, who has a decent job at an advertising agency, life in Kenya is just becoming unbearable. “It’s unfortunate that despite having a salary at the end of the month, I am feeling the pinch already. I used to buy two packets of milk every morning, one for the baby and the other for the family tea. Right now, it’s not possible, I just buy one for the baby and I shamelessly rely on the office tea to break the monotony of the black coffee in the house”, she says. It appears that Mwikali is not alone when it comes to shifting breakfast needs to the office tea.
“I think the only time I’ll be forced to prepare tea in my house is when I really have important guests over the weekend, otherwise I just buy some mandazi and go feast on the office tea, hoping that the management doesn’t do away with it” says, Frankline, an accountant at a leading local bank.
HOW IT ADDS UP
Let’s do a little math here. On average, for a Kenyan to enjoy the traditional simple breakfast of just milk and bread, it will cost you Sh105 on average to afford that daily (as long as the price of bread remains sh 45 which is unlikely because wheat is on the list of products that will now be subjected to VAT) on a monthly basis that will amount to Sh3,150 and that is exclusive of prices of sugar and tea leaves. Well, that is just breakfast alone, add the cost of lunch and dinner and you realize that you need at least Sh.300 for food only on a daily basis depending on the number of mouths you have to feed.
TAKE-IN OFFICE LUNCH
Carrying lunch to the office has become a popular trend as many people cannot afford buying lunch every day while to some, a cup of tea and a chapati or tea scones serves the purpose until the next meal.
It’s no wonder many residents have traded bread for cheaper options like mandazi, chapati or the traditional sweet potatoes and arrow roots which are actually not just pocket friendly but healthy as well. But hey! We want to eat mandazi out of choice, not because we can’t afford bread! It’s disturbing to imagine that a litre of milk is more expensive than a litre of diesel.
GOODBYE TO LUXURIES
Luxuries have also taken a back seat for most people as they struggle to afford the basic commodities.
According to Brammy, an IT technician at a local NGO, he has been forced to forgo most of his luxuries in order to make ends meet.
“The tough economic times have forced me to change my priorities. The amount of money that could initially last me for a week, now only takes me for two days. Luxuries such as going out, i.e. watching movies and eating out, have been pushed aside to afford my bills,” he says.
Giving a nod to Brammy’s sentiments is his colleague Naliaka who asserts that she can no longer afford the little luxuries she once enjoyed.
“From the time I landed my current job up to now, the price of basic products have risen tremendously; that includes transport, rent and food. For instance the price of milk has changed like four times from Sh 27, Sh 35, Sh 45 respectively to the current Sh 60. Life has become too expensive but ironically, all this has changed but the salary is still the same, which has forced me to take up menial jobs to supplement my income in order survive”, she says, adding that she has currently been forced to walk a few kilometers in order to cut the distance and reduce the cost of transport when commuting to work.
“The ratio of my income to expenses is inversely proportional. I now have to contend with a drastic change of lifestyle in order to make ends meet. Not long ago I used to be a creditor but tough times have suddenly reduced me to a debtor”, says Gideon, an employee at a local organization.
THE CORPORATE WORLD
It’s not only individuals who are feeling the brunt of the tough economic times, corporates are sailing in the same boat as they keep suffering low returns. This includes the leading local airline Kenya Airways which made headlines when it laid off 447 workers last year; mobile service provider Airtel also reportedly sacked 50 of its employees including senior staff in 2011; media houses like the recent employee lay off at Media Max, which owns the K24 TV station among others that saw more than 70 journalists sent packing last month. Other organizations which have also laid off staff in order to cut on wage bills in the recent past include the Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) and The Postal Corporation Of Kenya (POSTA) among others.
According to Francis Akuka, the Managing Director at Aura Publishers, business has been so low lately.
“Our suppliers are also having it tough to the extent that they have come up with credit arrangements to their clients including us. That was unheard off before, we had to pay in cash to get supplies but now suppliers are personally calling to extend a credit advance to us. Just the other day, we received an advance supply of paper worth Sh 115,000. We have also been forced deal with clients suspending LPO’S in the middle of a job sighting financial constraints, as well as waiting for months and doing a lot of follow-ups to clients before they can pay up after sending them invoices.” he said.
Akuka added that considering the tough economic times facing the country, the management of his daughter’s school has also increased the two weeks duration they gave parents to organize school fees to one month.
Ironically the school in question is an international school where the rich elite in the country, take their kids. So it’s not only the average mwananchi feeling the heat this time round even though the scale is variable.
EFFECTS OF THE VAT BILL 2013
The new VAT bill was effected last week and it made provisions for the once tax exempted or zero rated products to be subjected to taxation. This has seen the prices of basic products escalate and as always, unscrupulous businessmen in the country have taken advantage of this and raised the prices of products which should not be affected by the bill.
RENT RISES – AGAINST THE LAW
For this Kenya Forum correspondent for instance, a day before the VAT bill was affected, her landlord did not even hesitate to slam her together with the other tenants with a notice of rent increment, with only one justification – “the cost of water had gone up”. This was not only galling because of the extra cost, it was also illegal as the month’s notice issued is contrary to the three months notice provided by the law.
Section 13 of The LANDLORD AND TENANT BILL, 2007 maintains that;
“ (1) A landlord shall not increase the rent charged to a tenant for a rented premises without giving the tenant at least ninety (90) days written notice of intention to do so.”
THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD INTERVENE
Things are tough and the cost of living is escalating amid the rising rates of unemployment in Kenya. This article has considered the change of lifestyles that the average Kenyan who at least has a source of income has been forced to contend with but given the tough economic times it is disturbing to think of how the unemployed population (40 per cent of Kenyans) is surviving if things are this tough for those who at least have a job.
As the common mwanachi outcry goes, “tunaomba serikali isaidie / we ask the government to intervene”.