Sky-high prices of virtually everything are forcing an increasing number of Kenyans to make tough decisions, leaving even middle-class families choosing between buying the food they need most for survival and honouring everyday bills.
Pain, tears, hardships, and to a great extent outright conmanship is the choice one has to make to see oneself safe and sound the next day.
Take Timothy for instance. Experience has taught him cutting back on discretionary spending and focusing on prioritising necessities is the only way to manage ceaseless cost-of-living ordeal. Living in a one-bedroom apartment in Nairobi’s South B with his wife and two children, his earnings as a plumber can only do so much.
Besides his close-knit nuclear family, Timothy shoulders the needs of four others while picking up monthly bills of Kes6,000 rent, and water bill of Kes500 to highlight but a few.
Besides cutting back on non-priority expenses, Timothy has been forced to find alternative solutions to raising income and taking care of various pressing needs in his household.
His wife is self-employed and runs a grocery kiosk where she has to wake up early to purchase vegetables and fruits for resale to customers in their estate. According to Timothy, he can only afford to pay for school fees and rent, and therefore, his wife steps in to buy food for the house.
Further afield, Jessy is a bus conductor, who earns his keep working long hours in one of the popular bus service companies in Kenya’s capital.
It is an open secret that transportation costs can be a significant drain on one’s finances. And whereas carpooling, biking, or public transportation can significantly cut costs, Jessy tells me young men on campus often get away without paying a penny for bus fare during peak hours of travel.
They do so by ‘editing’ the payment confirmation code that comes with M-PESA transaction reverse SMS, he tells me. In fact, on our agonizingly slow drive to Nairobi’s CBD, Jessy’s Sacco arrested one campus-bound chap, who had tried to pull that exact silly trick.
Such actions, he said, are not taken lightly by his Sacco. In tackling the menace, the Sacco would ordinarily force him to take one for the chin by deducting the amount ‘lost’ from his daily wage, if he doesn’t catch the perpetrator’s pants down. Such a dent leaves him in a bind because his family expects him to pick up all the hefty bills.
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On average, Jessy and conductors working on city PSV buses make an average of Kes1,000 per day. But with the proposed fuel VAT, which is likely going to see buses pay more for fuel and consequently hikes in fares, the conmanship in the industry could intensify, further risking his job if he’s not hands on the deck.
For Nick, selling fresh juice by the roadside has been his business of choice for years. His customers now know him by his name, referrals keep coming, and he has to shore up his offering every day to keep satisfied his growing client base.
However, the reality is that he has had to drastically cut the amount of sugar he adds to his juices. Indeed, he is considering going sugarless while at the same time revise upwards his juice prices from a minimum of Kes70 to Kes100.
This is the difficult choice that Nick is forced to make because he can no longer afford to buy a 50Kg bag of sugar currently retailing at Kes10,000. The roiling scam of ‘mercury-laden’ industrial sugar that has crept into supermarket shelves, health standards notwithstanding, simply leaves him nursing a nightmare.
What’s more, Wangari is a baker, who is having a rough time convincing her customers to buy her cakes since it is now the third time this year she is revising her prices up. Previously, she used to sell a kilo of cake at Kes1,500 but now Kes3,000 is the only acceptable price point for her to remain viable in business.
These examples highlight the plight of the common mwananchi and just how bad, workers struggling with stagnant incomes as well as entrepreneurs, have to navigate to remain in business in the country.