Kenya: A Development Overview

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Home to some of the world's most mesmerizing natural wonders and people, Kenya is considered a wealth of bio- and cultural diversity. The fascinating dichotomy of Kenya is that among the backdrops of the savannah, mountains, and coast are some of the most devastating problems of environmental degradation, infectious disease, and corruption. Beauty and poverty work in tandem to overwhelm and disarm any visitor to this unparalleled country.

Historically, Kenya enjoyed relative peace compared to other African nations. Arabs settled the area in the 10th century for trade and were violently taken over by the Portuguese in the 16th century. By the late 1800s Britain took the colonial lead, settling into the region and establishing railways into the interior under weak resistance from the native tribes. British rule lasted until 1963 and included the deaths of tens of thousands of Kenyans who resisted white settlement.

Following independence, the Kenyan government was most notably dominated by the iron grip of Daniel arap Moi, whose 24-year presidential run created a fear in Kenyans that prevented the formation of dissenting opinions or political parties to rival Moi's own party, the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU). In 1993, after protests and pressure from major donors, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank, Moi called open elections and was controversially elected with only one-third of the vote. The eventual retirement of Moi in 2002 signified the end of KANU's 40-year stranglehold on Kenya and began the current president Mwai Kibaki's bid to end much of the nation's corruption, provide free primary education, and revive economic development. Kibaki's peaceful election to the presidency in 2002 gave hope to many Kenyans for a better future, but Kibaki is currently struggling with lingering corruption, limited growth, and minimal foreign investment.

In 1994, 47 percent of Kenyans fell below the poverty line—$17 per month in rural areas and $36 per month in urban areas. As of 2003, 56 percent of the Kenyan population lives below the poverty line. Current trends maintain that 65.9 percent of the population will live below the poverty line by 2015. According to the Human Development Index (HDI), Kenya has experienced steady declines since 1980, with only the goal of universal primary care showing positive growth. Extreme poverty, which is defined as those living under $1 per day, includes almost 30 percent of Kenya's current population. These staggering statistics, combined with future predictions, paint an extremely bleak picture for Kenya and its fight against poverty.

As a result, education, gender equality, HIV/AIDS reduction, environmental stewardship, and maternal health are all lacking positive movement forward. Free primary education came into effect in 2003, raising enrollment by 1.5 million children. However, these schools are vastly underfunded, resulting in very large class sizes, a lack of materials and activities, and a severely restricted number of educators to handle the growth. Child mortality rose from 9 percent in 1990 to 11.5 percent in 2003, while infant mortality has also grown 1.7 percent in the same time frame. Severe flooding and shifting environmental conditions, combined with a growing population, present a major threat to Kenya's natural habitats and its unique species of plants and animals. Taking a major toll on each of these issues is the continued corruptions remaining from KANU's power reign. Millions of dollars of aid funds is not being put to efficient use, leading to the World Bank's withdrawal of funds in 2001 and the recent creation of an anti-corruption taskforce to battle the deeply rooted issue.

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FSD's programs are located in two regions of Kenya—Mombasa and Kakamega. Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya after the capital, Nairobi. With a population of approximately 900,000, Mombasa is vibrant, diverse, and a popular tourist destination. The city itself is a small island, and one of the major ports for eastern Africa. Swahili culture is dominant along the coast of East Africa and represents the blending of Arab and African cultures. Beautiful beaches and resorts line the coast to the north and south, attracting European tourists as well as the unfavorable sex tourism found along many beach areas. Relating to the sex trade, Mombasa is challenged with a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, while also dealing with severe issues of water pollution, waste management, slums, malaria, unemployment, and thousands of orphaned children due to the AIDS epidemic.

Kakamega is located in the forested highlands near Lake Victoria and is home to the only tropical rainforest in Kenya. The climate is suitable for farming and agriculture yet faces threats of deforestation and erosion due to unsustainable farming practices. Flooding is also a problem during the rainy season, making roads impassable and daily activities difficult. Approximately two-thirds of the 3.3 million people in western Kenya fall below the poverty line, leaving the region trapped in poverty that prevents sustainable development. Access to safe water, sanitation, education, and HIV/AIDS awareness are desperately needed, along with microeconomic development to bring the population up to a livable standard.

FSD partners with organizations in the Kakamega and Mombasa regions to empower community members with the resources and knowledge needed to effectively fight poverty and its resulting symptoms. These organizations support populations who have been drastically underserved by the Kenyan government and are in need of resources to mobilize the implementation of sustainable solutions. FSD works with these organizations and community members to collaboratively design and implement solutions that can be effectively integrated into the local culture and sustainable for the regions' long-term future.

Read more about programs and opportunities initiated by our Community Partners in Kenya.

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