These days it is a sinking feeling with which we are all more likely to be familiar. That moment at the supermarket check-out when the impact of rising prices is painfully apparent. And so it is for Jessica - a single mother of three children – at the till of her local shop. Cooking oil, salt, maize flour and some toilet tissue. Not much; but still, too much for the modest amount in her pocket. "The flour is double the price. So too the oil," Jessica tells me. I chip in a few shillings to make up the shortfall. This is Kenya’s version of the cost-of-living crisis, brewed in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic which wrought havoc on the tourist industry - the country’s biggest earner of foreign currency - and exacerbated by the war in Ukraine which has disrupted the supply of food and fertiliser and caused fuel prices to soar.
The result is rising inflation and a slowing economic growth.
Further north there’s a drought, with millions going hungry.
But we’re in Nairobi – and ordinary Kenyans like Jessica, already at the economic margins, are being pushed towards the abyss. She lives in a one room shack in Kibera, a sprawling informal settlement of tin rooves and mud walls in Nairobi. In good times, life here is tough; eked out on less than a dollar a day. But what's happening now – soaring inflation - presents a test even for their resilience.
Lunch for the family is a mix of maize flour and water and few fried vegetables. But there are days her children go hungry, she says. "That makes me feel very bad, as a mother, that I cannot always give them a meal," she tells us. I ask her how long she can go on like this. She is close to despair. "There's nothing I can do anymore. I can't take my life now. Because of the children. I'll do this for as long as I live."
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Across the capital, even for those who traditionally sit a little more comfortably, it’s the same story of hardship. From the front seat of his taxi, Godfrey has watched the ebb and flow of Nairobi’s fortunes for almost half a century. He says it’s never been harder to put food on his family’s table. "It’s getting hard on me because I stay, sometimes I stay for the whole day. I don't get a client and my family is waiting for me at home. It becomes a big problem." We’re driving though the city centre. There a many young men sitting idly around. They’re looking for work, Godfrey tells me. Most will be disappointed. "In many families, there are divorces. There are a lots of fights in families, disagreements, all these brought about by the hike in price. You find many suicides," he says.
In our interconnected world, there are few people genuinely immune to this crisis.
Russia invades Ukraine, and the consequences are felt globally. These days we share our troubles. But we don’t share them equally.
And those, like Jessica, with the least, suffer the most.
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