Kenya at a Glance

Why is Kenya poor? The short answer to this question is “geographic displacement”. However, this is not a satisfactory answer when looking for a solution to poverty in Kenya.

Kenya is a country of many contrasts, from its landscape to demographics, and more so its social and economic inequalities. Kenya is one of the most unequal countries in the sub-region. Forty two percent of its population of 44 million, live below the poverty line.

Access to basic quality services such as health care, education, clean water and sanitation, is indeed a luxury for many people living in Kenya. Large segments of the population, including the burgeoning urban poor, are highly vulnerable to climatic, economic and social shocks. As such, progress on the Millennium Development Goals, especially in regards to social security, is mixed.

Today, Kenya continues to face humanitarian challenges, particularly the presence of over 500,000 refugees from Somalia and 30,000 new arrivals from South Sudan. In June 2011, Kenya faced formidable hurdles with the Horn of Africa drought that left 3.75 million Kenyans and 150,000 refugees mostly from Somalia, in need of humanitarian assistance. UNICEF and partners responded effectively to this emergency bringing the humanitarian crisis largely under control. However, significant challenges still remain as a result of the 2011 refugee influx, increasing insecurity and ongoing food insecurity.

Some Fast Facts


38.3 million


19.15 million

People living below the poverty line:


National HIV and AIDs prevalence (age 15-49):


Under 5 mortality rate:

74/1000 live births

Immunization coverage:


School enrolment:


The Children of Kenya

The children of Kenya are growing up in a time of profound political, economic and social transformation. The introduction of devolved governance in 2013, along with increasing urbanization and uneven economic growth, compounded the challenges of historical inequalities and marginalization, persistent internal conflict, cyclical drought and other disasters, adding up to a complex and challenging environment.

Children below 18 years make up 49 per cent of the population of Kenya, and 62 per cent of the population is below 24 years old. Over 75 per cent of children and adolescents experience one or more deprivations of their rights, including limited access to safe water and improved sanitation, education and health and nutrition services.

Children in poor households and those living in the arid and semi-arid lands and in urban informal settlements are the most likely to experience multiple deprivations. Children in the bottom quintile have one eighth the access to improved sanitation, compared to the national average. Over 1 million children are out of school, over 2 million are orphaned and 700,000 children live with a disability.

Modest progress has been made towards achievement of #2 in diagram above (universal primary education) and #6 (combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases). However, major gaps remain with respect to poverty and child malnutrition (#1), gender equality and women’s empowerment (#3), infant mortality (#4) and maternal mortality (#5).

So why is Kenya poor?

In Kenya, about 75 percent of the population relies on agriculture to make a living. Yet Kenya’s erratic weather and arid climate make it a very unstable living to rely on. Jobs outside the agriculture industry are rare, and the education required for such jobs is even rarer, especially for poor families. The lack of economic diversity, opportunity, and education along with rapid population growth are crippling for the average citizen.

On the other hand, the flower industry in Kenya is flourishing especially with exports to European countries, along with coffee and tea farming. Another industry currently on the rise in Kenya is the tourism industry. The government recently introduced free and mandatory education which will lead to further development.

HIV/AIDS Pandemic

Since the mid-1980’s, the scourge of HIV/AIDS has dealt the Kenyan health sector and economy a big blow. HIV/AIDS prevalence rates are highest among youthful and middle-aged Kenyans who comprise the most productive segment of the population. Largely owing to the pandemic, life expectancy in Kenya fell to 46 years in 2006. While life expectancy has since risen to over 55 years, the economy is yet to recover adequately enough to make up for the lost productivity.

Arid Northern Regions of the Country Are Populated by Abjectly Poor Communities

Vast regions to the north of the country, especially near borders with Southern Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia are populated by nomadic communities. Dependent on rearing livestock and living in areas neglected by both the colonial and subsequent independent Kenya administrations, these communities are desperately poor. Most of them are entirely dependent on food aid by the government and international humanitarian organisations.

Lack of Economic Diversity Leads to High levels of Poverty

While Kenya has a relatively more vibrant economy than her immediate East African neighbours, it is too reliant on agriculture. To reduce poverty levels significantly, more needs to be done to diversify industrial production and the services sector in order to absorb more Kenyans into formal employment and therefore guarantee them a stable source of income.

Lack of Opportunity

Weak overall infrastructure for the country means that nearly all the rural population are forced to rely on their own subsistence farming for their own food as well as monetary income. Jobs are scarce, leaving people with little opportunity for employment. There are considerable obstacles for starting a small business yourself in Kenya as well. Micro credits may be one way to foster small entrepreneur. They will be important when eradicating poverty in Kenya.

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