Kenya's Vision 2030 from an income and gender inequalities perspective

'Kenya's Vision 2030 seeks to transform Kenya into a 'newly-industrializing middle-income country, providing a high quality of life for all its citizens, in a safe, secure world. However, very little has been done to interrogate the likely impacts of the proposed strategies, particularly its abilities to tackle existing income and gender inequalities'.

by Hulda Ouma  

A recent report published by the Society for International Development's (SID) regional office for East Africa, on Kenya's long term development blue print- the Vision 2030 highlights the continued perceived tensions between growth and equity within the economic discourse. Kenya's Vision 2030 which was officially launched in 2008, seeks to transform Kenya into a 'newly-industrializing middle-income country, providing a high quality of life for all its citizens, in a safe, secure world'. Kenya is now mid-way through the first medium term plan (2008-2012) developed out of this long term blue print. However, very little has been done to interrogate the likely impacts of the strategies proposed by the Vision, particularly its abilities to tackle existing income and gender inequalities. 

The issue of income inequalities is particularly critical given that such inequalities are said to have exacerbated tensions and civil unrest, following the disputed presidential elections of 2007. Gender inequalities on the other hand, have contributed to un-employment and under employment, low education and health achievements and overall poverty. Under the economic pillar of the Vision 2030 two key issues stand out regarding the choice of priority sectors and flagship economic projects projected to bring about economic transformation. Firstly, the selection of sectors is grounded on the understanding that the chosen sectors account for 50 percent of those in formal employment. Secondly these sectors have been attributed to be responsible for 57 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (1). Yet as at 2005/6 Kenya's labour force was predominately located in the agricultural and informal sectors; not the formal sector. In percentage terms, the distribution of the working population between the modern (formal), informal and agricultural sectors, was estimated at 14 percent, 46 percent and 41 percent respectively, suggesting that the targeted sectors represent under one-fifth of the current working population, albeit they generate quite a significant portion of the countryís income. Individuals find it easier to be employed in the informal and agricultural sectors due to existing barriers or requirements for entry into the formal employment market, such as: educational attainment, training and experience. Access to finance, access to/control over capital assets, and occupational segregation, are other hindrances to participation in the formal employment market. Many of these issues disproportionately affect women. As at 2006, women constituted 30 percent of the labour force or 43 percent of male employment. Women continue to be disproportionately represented among the country's poor. A quick look at Kenya's life expectancy rates and HIV/AIDS prevalence rates by sex, shows how such inequalities have impacted upon males and females, respectively. Female mortality and morbidity, relative to male mortality and morbidity rates due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other health issues, remain a serious problem for the country. For females these outcomes are linked to their economic, political and social marginalization, but very little in terms of concrete and transformative strategies are proposed within the Vision for addressing these issues. Though the Vision does speak to the issue of gender inequalities, it unfortunately stops short of articulating sufficiently radical solutions that would offer women greater autonomy and voice and a greater ability to tackle their agency. Though the social pillar of the Vision 2030 does speak on the issue of equity and suggests some ways of tackling these issues, the solutions are limited mainly to the education and training sub-sector of the social pillar. Other sub-sectors that have to do with health, water and sanitation, housing, and environment do not provide concrete ways of engaging marginalized individuals into mainstream development processes through measures that can either improve their access to assets such as land and affordable housing. Moreover, there is hardly any attempt to challenge the institutions and processes which have served to curtail women's abilities to take advantage of opportunities to better themselves. Though there is a sub-sector under the social pillar, intended to deal with gender issues (as well as the youth and other vulnerable groups), and though there is reference to gender mainstreaming of development interventions, the fact that the proposed solutions are isolated under this sub-sector, suggest challenges for the integration and implementation of these proposed solutions within the Vision. Economists have argued that pursuing equity takes away from the efficiency of growth efforts and that once growth is achieved then countries can move on to addressing the equitable distribution of the benefits of such growth. Yet this has always been a challenge as the beneficiaries of such growth have tended to be reluctant to support such measures by government. Addressing equity is not only about ensuring 'fairness' for all- to be allowed to realise their developmental potentials; it also makes common sense in a country's pursuit of broad-based and sustainable growth and development. For the Vision 2030 and similar plans, questions need to be asked regarding the capacities of the chosen strategies to generate the kind of employment opportunities that would see a large number of Kenyans, lifted out of the poverty trap. It is also important to question how many of the currently disenfranchised will be brought on board mainstream development efforts through such strategies i.e. how many new entrants and from which sections of society. The challenges of existing inequalities to Kenya's development have been under-played for too long. Whereas Kenya has shown itself capable of generating the necessary growth to transform the lives of its people, history has also shown how such inequalities can quite quickly and effectively undermine such gains, ending many years of development investment and hard work.


Hulda Ouma is Programme Coordinator, Gender & Development, at the SID Regional Office for East & Southern Africa