Eric Kinaga, Oxfam Kenya’s Tax Justice Program Officer, highlights the fact that communities most affected by inequality and tax injustice in Kenya are still without a voice in the debate. Eric is blogging in support of Tax Justice Blogging Day, an international initiative of the EU-funded 'Tax Justice Together' project, a collaboration of 24 partner organizations across 16 EU countries and 3 in the Global South working together to put tax justice at the heart of the European agenda.
I recently had the opportunity to visit Lopiding, a quiet and scenic village just outside Lokichogio in Turkana County, Kenya. My colleagues and I were here to conduct a baseline study for the Tax Justice program currently being run by Oxfam in Kenya with support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. The project is aimed at contributing to a more progressive, transparent and accountable tax mobilisation and expenditure regime that contributes to reduced inequality and improved quality of life for poor, vulnerable and marginalized women and young people in Kenya. It’s currently being implemented in Nairobi, Wajir and Turkana counties.
Lopiding, located 95 kilometers away from Kakuma town sits at the bottom of a valley sandwiched between two hills that overlook South Sudan. The villagers there seemed quite hostile at first, but are actually very hospitable. I later came to realise that the hills that border them, over the years, have been used as a perfect hideout by the Toposa (an ethnic group from South Sudan), who besides the Pokot, are every Turkana’s worst nightmare, due to livestock raiding, which is usually very violent. They are the reason why the Turkanas living in Lopiding are cautious about who walks into their village for whatever reason. Luckily for us, we had no intention to take away their only remaining herd of goats.
One of our first respondents, an old woman in her early seventies, was excited to participate in the baseline survey. She told us her name was Akiru and that she had just returned home from a county government food distribution program that happens once in every month. She had spent the entire morning walking back home from Kakuma. As we carried on with the interview, a dog came and quietly sat next to her. Ten minutes later, our conversation was suddenly interrupted by loud wails. Akiru was vainly trying to get on her feet, reaching for anything she could to throw at the dog which now sat a few metres away from us, crouched onto an old sack. It was feasting on her dry maize!
Two things; First, dogs don’t eat dry maize. And two, people don’t eat GDP.
Rising economic growth is not being felt by most East African citizens
In July this year, a report by SID (Society for International Development) revealed that despite the narrative being peddled on the rising economic growth for East African countries over the last few years, little change is being felt by the average citizens living in these countries. As their economies have grown, so in fact did the inequality, leaving behind a wider gap between the rich and the poor; a gap that might take decades to fill. It is here that Akiru and millions of other Africans today rally behind what is now becoming a global clarion call – that people don’t eat GDP.
As most governments today rally behind economic models dominated by free-market policies, which eventually undermines equitable revenue collection and bolsters inequality, the poor are left more exposed to manipulation than ever before. However, the most unfortunate thing is that the subject of inequality remains very high levelled, with only a few having discourse on this matter and unless we continue bringing more women like Akiru into this debate, it may never be inclusive.
Giving a platform and voice to young people and women
Fortunately, the SDG agenda and Financing for Development now put domestic resource mobilization at the heart of service delivery. They are giving a platform and a voice to young people and women like Akiru to participate in the structuring of their own models of governance. Proof of this is found in the enshrining of public participation as one of the constitutional pillars driving the Kenyan Constitution of 2010. The objective of social contract is finally starting to gain wave across the African continent. As a result of this, communities are starting to question their places in the economic models adopted by their respective governments.
The story of Akiru reminds us of the millions of women across the globe who live everyday staring at death and are resigned to silence and indifference by the misery that abides around them, leaving them in constant motion; running away from hunger by day and from the Toposa by night.
If the war on inequality is to be won, then we must ensure that the ‘Akirus’ of this world are empowered to take up their rightful spaces in this campaign, so as to call out for more equal and inclusive governance models. This world belongs to them equally.
This entry posted by Eric Kinaga, Tax Justice Program Officer, Oxfam in Kenya, on 7 September 2016.
Photo: Pupils at Reuben Baptist primary in Mukuru informal settlements, Nairobi, Kenya. Enrollment and attendance in the school has improved since the installation of fresh life toilets. Credit: Allan Gichigi/Oxfam
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