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High costs of living bite hard in Kenya

04-29-2011 17:21 BJT

NAIROBI, April 29 (Xinhua) -- As tough economic times bite across Kenya, many people are tightening their purses to ensure the little they have pushes them to the next day.

High fuel and food prices have occasioned a rise in the cost of living making life unbearable for many Kenyans.

The most affected are low-income earners, majority who live on less than a dollar a day. Many have now been forced to come up with austerity measures to enable them wade through financial difficulties.

Desterio Oyolo is one such a person. Oyolo lives in Soweto, Kayole, a semi-slum settlement on the east of Nairobi.

Oyolo arrived in Nairobi from Busia, a town in Western Kenya, about two months ago in search of work and better life. "I decided to travel to Nairobi so that I can better my life and that of my family," says Oyolo who is married with three children. "Life was unbearable back home. I was operating a bicycle transport business but things became difficult for me," he adds.

The 33-year-old old says he had done the business for four years until recently when motorbike riders pushed him out of work. "We could not compete with motorbikes because most commuters prefer them since they are first. Initially, we had fairly managed the competition because our charges were low," he says.

However, when demand for motorbike transport went down because of high charges, Oyolo says operators lowered their rates consequently driving bicycle transporters out of business.

Oyolo shared his plight with a friend who then invited him to Nairobi. "He hosted me when I arrived and showed me a factory in Industrial area where I could go and search for work. Luckily, I got a temporary job at a manufacturing industry," he says.

When he started the work, he was boarding a matatu (public transport vehicle) up to a certain point and then walk the rest of the journey. "This helped me to save a great deal. I would use the same method when returning home," says Oyolo who earn 70 U.S. dollars a month. However, with the cost of living going up, boarding a vehicle has now become a luxury for him.

Oyolo has to walk from home to work to save money so that he can use it for his other needs. "I started two weeks ago. I wake up at 4 a.m. local time then begin the journey to work at a quarter to 5 o'clock. This ensures that I arrive at my workplace on time. We are supposed to be there by 7:30 a.m.," he says.

Although the walking tires him, Oyolo says he has no choice if he is to have enough money to cater for his needs.

"I send about 25 dollars to my wife back home every month, which she uses to cater for our children's needs. She had complained that the money was not enough and I had promised to increase it but I do not think it may be possible," he says.

"I was even considering reducing it so that I can remain with some money to cater for my needs," he adds. Oyolo observes that he cannot bring his family to Nairobi because it would be costly for him.

"Life in Nairobi is expensive compared to that in rural areas. With the kind of money I earn, I will not manage to cater for their needs," he says. His predicament is shared with thousands of low-income earners in Nairobi.

The rising cost of living in Kenya has hit every sphere of peoples' lives. Gilbert Kunguru, a resident of Viwandani, a slum district in Nairobi, recently told a reproductive health meeting in the area that many people's bedroom lives have been affected by high cost of living.

"People here earn so little that with high cost of living, they have no money to spare to buy contraceptives," he said.

The father of four told the meeting organized by African Population and Health Research Center that many residents are caught between a rock and a hard place. "When you come back home, you wonder whether you should use the little money you have made to buy food or contraceptives," he said. This therefore he noted may lead to an increase in the spread of HIV and unwanted pregnancies. "It is the reality here," he said. "You cannot live your children to starve and on the other hand, you do not want the size of your family to increase. It is a tough choice to make," he said amid laughter from participants.

In an attempt to cushion Kenyans from high commodity prices, the government announced a series of measures expected to bring down the cost of living.

Among them was a reduction of taxes on maize, Kenya's staple food, kerosene, which is used by many families for cooking, and diesel.

The move was expected to bring down prices of basic commodities and the cost of transport. However, a spot check by this writer at most petrol stations shows that prices of kerosene and diesel are still more than a dollar. This is still too high for a majority of Kenyans.

Editor:Yang Jie |Source: Xinhua

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