BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 January 2008, 16:39 GMT
Kenyans who live on a dollar a day
By Mike Wooldridge
Kaimosi, Kenya

Isaiah Mawangu and his family
Mr Mawangu has a total of seven dependents
One in five of the world's population lives on less than a dollar a day - yet even this statistic fails to capture the humiliation, powerlessness and brutal hardship that is the daily lot of the world's poor.

In Kaimosi in Western Kenya, Isaiah Mawangu knows all about this sort of existence. His disabled wife and six grandchildren live on the little they can grow on their small plot of land.

"How to get food is the difficult thing," he says.

"We grow just a little maize. The soil is not very fertile, which is why we are not really getting anything from the land.

"We just eat the maize ourselves, there is not enough for selling."

Extra costs

In the garden they grow tea leaves. "A long time ago they gave good money - but these days we don't get anything for it," Mr Kaimosi says.

He shows me the payment slip which details his monthly income for tea. It is the equivalent of slightly less than six dollars.

On that - plus the few vegetables can sell - he has to support eight people.

Crowds gather in Nairobi
Recent violence in Kenya is linked to tensions over land
And he has debts to pay too. When collects tea to give to Kenya Tea Development for processing, they recover the costs of fertiliser, tax for transportation.

And while primary school is free for his children, the uniforms cost - 200 shillings, around $3 - or half the money earned in six months from selling tea.

The problem is that children without uniforms cannot go to school.

Similarly, medical treatment must also be paid for.

"If you have no money, it becomes very hard," Mr Mawangu says.

"In December, a little child of mine was sick from malaria. I had no way to treat him. He died."

Protective nets which stop the malaria-carrying mosquitoes getting in cost nearly a dollar - which Mr Mawangu says is simply too much.

Drinking from the river

By contrast, Mr Mawangu's neighbours, Francis and Christine, are both able to work - growing and selling maize, mending bicycles and making bricks.

Between them they make about two dollars a day, and own one mosquito net.

Francis dreams of one day building another house he can rent out to get more income, and has plans for his future.

Man driving cattle in rural Kenya
Those in authority have not really understood the problem affecting the common man
Josem Keseko, pastor in Kaimosi

But although they live on a main street close to a town, they have no electricity or running water.

The water they do use comes from the river. "It is not safe, it is not treated, but we just drink it like that," Francis says.

"We are poor people - too poor to have electricity."

The next rung

Despite this, they are off the bottom rung of the poverty ladder. Their income has given them new opportunities, and allowed them to make future plans beyond a day-to-day existence.

"Our plan is to make money - enough to build a range of houses to help our children when we get old," Francis says.

He feels that the root cause of Kenya's poverty is overpopulation - there is simply not enough land for everyone to make money. Kenya has 35 million people - 10 million more than just a decade ago.

In a country still largely dependent on agricultural production, this means the soil cannot be improved, because it is constantly being used.

While it is possible to get a loan from the government to get the title deeds to a plot of land, Francis says that many find that the interest is too high.

If it cannot be paid back, the government reclaims the land.

No improvement

But he also stresses that the people need to be helped.

"[Donor countries] need to see how we live," he says.

"MPs in the Parliament stay there - they do not come here. But they get money from outside Kenya to help us here.

"We do not see that money. They are not speaking the truth. They tell lies to the Europeans, and then they get more money. They buy big vehicles in towns there, and we have nothing here."

Malnourished Kenyan child receives a wash
Overworked land leaves Kenyans very vulnerable to drought

Josem Keseko, a former teacher and NGO worker who now works as a local pastor, explains that for similar reasons, economic growth in Kenya has not filtered down.

"Those in authority have not really understood the problem affecting the common man," he says.

"Down here in the rural area, it does not show that the economy has improved at all."

He further argues that from his perspective, the current approach of aid organisations is wrong - and that there is little chance of meeting the United Nation's goal of halving the numbers living on a dollar a day by 2015.

"The amount of money that has been pumped into development projects in this country is enormous - and yet when you look at the impact, it cannot be felt, it cannot be seen," he says.

"Somehow, inbetween, this money does not reach the target. I feel there is a need to have a radical examination of the approaches which they wish to employ in designing and implementing the projects.

"If the partners took the trouble to come down and discuss with these people, they would be able to spell out their priority areas, rather than impost something."

Mike Wooldridge visited Kenya before the recent troubles caused by the disputed presidential election. A Dollar A Day is broadcast on BBC World Service at 2005 GMT on 9 January 2007.

When a dollar a day means 25 cents
02 Dec 07 |  Business
Miliband urges Kenya co-operation
04 Jan 08 |  Politics
Kenya stokes tribalism debate
04 Jan 08 |  Africa
Mobiles for the 'world's poorest'
10 Sep 07 |  Technology
Country profile: Kenya
05 Jan 08 |  Country profiles

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific