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Breakfast with Mwangi's family

 Street News Service 16 September 2019

Kenyan leaders get increasingly worried over a surging population which they say might undermine the country’s efforts to battle poverty. For one large family in Nairobi, the battle is all too real. (1162 Words) - By Njoroge Kinuthia

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Breakfast with Mwangi's family

 The Mwangi family's breakfast time.Photo: Njoroge Kinuthia

It is early Sunday morning in Nairobi and the sun is shining bright. Outside Mr Michael Mwangi's two-room rental house in Ruai, a fast growing suburban residential area, it's time for his family's daily breakfast ritual.

Mr Mwangi's children, sitting on a long log, each holding a metallic cup and looking expectantly, await their daily serving of tea. It's one of those bad days for the family for the tea is without milk. There are no solid foods to go with the tea either. Only tea, black tea.

"We usually have ugali (a popular maize meal locally) left-overs to go with the tea but nothing was left last night," explains Mrs Mwangi.

Even as the government oozes with optimism about the country's, sluggish but promising, economic fortunes and paints a rosy future as it pursues the MDGs; Vision 2030, a blueprint which promises to uplift the lot of Kenyans by making the country a middle-income economy by the year 2030 and as it moves to implement a new constitution which promises equality, respect for human rights and better sharing of the national cake, Mr Mwangi is pessimistic such interventions can change his life for the better.

"I have been struggling all my life. Life is hard. Everything-water, firewood, food costs money. Everything is getting more expensive," says the casual labourer, who mostly works in construction sites and farms. "What I earn is peanuts but I have to feed, clothe my family and pay (house) rent," adds the 51-year-old.

And he has his take on MDGs: "MDGs cannot succeed in Kenya. I think they are for the rich people. You see them buying new cars while here we are not even sure whether we will eat tomorrow." He adds: "We the poor are always haunted by death. It's always gripping us by the collar, but God somehow defends us."

He suggests that governments should consider appointing economists from among the poor arguing that the poor can save the state a lot "as they have learnt to live almost on nothing."

Mr Mwangi, the family's breadwinner, earns Sh300 (less than four dollars) a day. But it is not every day that he finds work to do. This usually upsets the family budget.

The iron-sheet shack that his family calls home costs him Sh600 every month. It has no piped water and no electricity. Its iron-sheet walls and roof makes it extremely hot during the day and very cold at night. The floor is undone and dusty.

One of the two rooms doubles as a 'living room' during the day and the parents' bedroom at night. Inside the tiny room is a bed, a coffee table and two rickety stools. The other room serves as the children's bedroom.

"I always try to ensure that there is something to fill the children's stomachs. What I can't assure them is a balanced diet. Foods like fruits and meat are rarities in this house," he reveals.

Mr Mwangi is in his second marriage having divorced with his first wife. He had two children in his first marriage and now has six with his second. His youngest child is only one-half-years old. Thanks to the free primary education programme which was unveiled by the government in 2002, all his school-age children, but one, have been able to attend school. His six-year-old son, Munyiri, has never been able to start schooling due to a recurrent chest ailment.

The Mwangis are among millions of Kenyans who live in abject poverty. Over 50 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line in East Africa's strongest economy.

The government and economists have voiced concern over Kenya's surging population which they warn might hamper the country's development efforts.

According to the recently released 2009 census results the country's population is now 38.6 million. This means that the country's population which stood at 28 million in 1999 has been rising by a million people every year over the last decade. According to the results, an average Kenyan woman is having 4.6 babies.

Further, it is projected that Kenya's population will climb to 51.3 million by 2025, if the current population growth rate obtains, making the country one of the most populous in Africa.

Among those who have warned over the country's burgeoning population is Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga who has urged Kenyans to embrace family planning in order to check the population growth. Mr Odinga said the rapid population growth posed a threat to the country's aspiration to become a middle-level economy by 2030.The PM termed as 'retrogressive' leaders who urged members of their communities to procreate so as to bolster their numbers.

The director of Kenya Vision 2030 Secretariat, Mr Mugo Kibati, has also expressed his fears about the population surge: "We urgently need a strategy to contain the spiralling population to realise the Vision 2030. This should be supported by initiatives to improve the quality of life where people have access to key services such as education and health," Mr Kibati told a local newspaper, Daily Nation.

But, still, there are others who feel that population growth would act as a catalyst for economic growth. Whether this would be the case or not is still unclear. What is clear is that poverty remains a nightmare for millions of Kenyans who have to fight great odds to just to put food on the table.

According to a UN assessment report, poverty eradication remains the country's biggest challenge in meeting the millennium development goals. The UNDP report says that poverty level has only declined by 10 per cent in the past decade. "Poverty is still at 2006 levels. While a significant amount of money and resources is required for basic social services, such as schools, hospitals and roads, a similar increase in capital expenditure is not being made," notes the report entitled Road to 2015: Driving the MDGs.

Another report released by ActionAid titled: Who's really fighting hunger? released only days before world leaders meet to discuss progress on the MDGs, shows that nearly four million Kenyans were in need of food aid at the beginning of 2010. It ranks Kenya at number 16 out of 28 developing countries assessed in the pursuit of MDG 1, with a score of 37 per cent (grade D).

"Despite recent minor reductions in overall hunger figures - due to rains returning late in 2009 - the country remains miserably off-track to meet its MDG 1 targets," says the report. MDG 1 commits countries to fight extreme poverty and hunger.

Interestingly, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has pledged that his government would allocate more resources to fund programmes that directly uplift the living standards of the people and accelerate the attainment of the MDGs. However, only time will tell whether such initiatives will help realise the MDGs when the bell tolls in 2015.

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