From Poverty to Prosperity; What World Bank Wants Kenya to do

A new report by World Bank indicates that 36.1 percent of Kenyans live below the international poverty line. 
Worst affected are the north and northeast regions of the country, where arid areas are concentrated.

“While Kenya’s economic growth is commendable, it is important to ensure that it is inclusive and benefits everyone, especially the poor and vulnerable,” said Keith Hansen, World Bank Country Director for Kenya. “An inclusive growth strategy will accelerate poverty reduction and equalize opportunities through smart economic policies and efficient and equitable public spending that raise the productive capacity of the poor.”

In its report titled The Kenya Poverty and Equity Assessment 2023: From Poverty to Prosperity: Making Growth More Inclusive, World Bank has prescribed a number of measures the country needs to take in order to address poverty challenges.

In general, World Bank says Kenya has made progress in raising living standards of its citizens, supported by strong economic growth. 
The report released today in Nairobi indicates that Kenya has made noteworthy progress in human capital development and expanding access to basic services—investments that are fundamental for inclusive growth. World Bank says expanding access to health care has resulted in significantly improved health outcomes hence contributing to human capital achievements.

Positive Growth
“For instance, the under-5 mortality rate in Kenya decreased from 74 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2008/09 to 41 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2022, significantly lower compared with its peers,” says World Bank. “Maternal mortality has also declined, owing to pregnant women having access to health services during their pregnancy and delivery, with almost all births being delivered by a skilled health provider. The HIV prevalence rate has also decreased,” says the report.

World Bank notes that more households have children in school, with a significant improvement in secondary enrolment. r


World Bank has noted that the introduction of the Universal Access to Basic Education policy led to large gains in secondary school enrolment, coinciding with an increase of secondary enrolment from 18 percent in 2005 to 41 percent in 2021. “There is no national gender gap in net enrolment rates: the net enrolment rates for male and female students at different levels of education are similar, suggesting equal opportunities to access education. Even in arid counties, the gender gap has been closed, although primary
enrolment rates remain low,” says World Bank.

Improved Basic Services
The global institution adds that access to basic services has improved and, for some services, the rural-urban gap, as well as the gap between the poor and rich, has narrowed. “For instance, the share of households using improved water sources and improved sanitation
has increased. Access to electricity has improved considerably in urban areas, although it remains highly limited in rural areas,” says World Bank.

“More disposable income in the hands of more people, especially amongst those who are at the bottom of the income distribution, will create lasting pathways to prosperity. Such widespread prosperity is also good for the economy because it can translate into higher tax revenues and greater fiscal space but also support a vibrant domestic demand and private sector.” said Precious Zikhali, Senior Economist, and co-author of the report.

Precious Zikhali, Senior Economist, and co-author of the report.

Factors contributing to spatial disparities

  • Creation of paid jobs has been limited and, as a result, most of the poor remain engaged in self-employment or agriculture, activities where productivity and earnings are dependent upon the availability of assets that the poor have fewer of.
  • The services sector is increasingly becoming the engine of growth, but the returns for skilled workers are likely to be higher than those for low-skilled workers.
  • The growing incidence of shocks, especially extreme weather shocks, amid limited resilience among the poor, amplifies the negative effect of shocks on household welfare.

The report however says that despite progress in growing the economy and reducing poverty, comparison to peers suggests there is scope to do more given the country’s income status. “Although growth has been robust in Kenya, including in recent years, it lags some other fast-growing comparator countries, such as Bangladesh and India which are also both Lower-Middle Income Countries (LMICs),” the report reads.

The north and northeast regions of the country, where arid areas are concentrated, are
characterized by poverty rates that are persistently higher than the rest of the country.


Addressing the looming challenges for economic prosperity

The Institution recommends the following measures to progressively address the challenges around poverty levels in the country:

  • Connecting the poor to economic growth
  • Strengthening households’ resilience to adverse weather shocks, and
  • Leveraging fiscal policy to support poverty reduction objectives.

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