Social experiment: What Sh1,000 can buy today

Social experiment: What Sh1,000 can buy today

Kenyans are living from hand to mouth due to what experts have termed the three-pronged monster of high cost of basic commodities, the Russia-Ukraine war and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Kenyan shilling has also taken a crushing beating, with a Sh1,000 note only good for a handful of items in a country where, according to a 2018 survey, nearly half of the households subsist on less than Sh10,000 a month while two per cent have no income at all.

In a typical case witnessed by the Nation, a Sh1,000 note could only fetch a single mother of four a 2kg packet of sugar, two 2kg packets of wheat flour, one bar of soap and 50g of skin jelly.  

Experts have further warned that the campaigns for the August 9 General Election could heighten inflation in the country, worsening the economic situation for the struggling households due to price increases for basic commodities, including roadside food.

The Nation found Ms Rose Muresia, a single mother of two boys and two girls, at her home in Ngong Racecourse, Nairobi.

Photo credit: Mercy Simiyu | Nation Media Group

The Nation found Ms Rose Muresia, a single mother of two boys and two girls, at her home in Ngong Racecourse, Nairobi.

The 43-year-old mother said she found it extremely hard to budget for a Sh1,000 note, the only money she had.

As she stared blankly at the note, four bills were crying out for her attention.

Her firstborn son needed money to buy an exercise book and snacks for himself and his siblings.

Screaming shrilly

Her youngest daughter was screaming shrilly.

“Njaa (hunger),” she kept repeating to her mother, as the second-born son anxiously rubbed his mother’s back.

All this while, the Kenya Power meter unit is incessantly beeping and flashing red, a reminder that the lights may soon go off unless she tops up her account.

After careful thought, Ms Muresia resolves to ward off her brood’s hunger first.

“It’s better for them to have something in their stomachs than to sleep in a well-lit house,” she says aloud for our benefit.

We head to a nearby shop where she buys two packets of wheat flour at Sh200 each, 2kgs of sugar at Sh280, a bar of soap at Sh200 and 50g of Arimis skin jelly at Sh80.

“The two packets of flour will last for two weeks tops, so will the sugar, soap and body jelly for my children. I couldn’t buy cooking oil as it is very expensive. We shall have to make do with boiled vegetables. Things are really bad,” she says wistfully.

In January, overall inflation in Kenya fell slightly for the second straight month to five per cent, but the prices of basic foodstuffs such as maize and wheat flour, potatoes, vegetables and fruits continued rising.

Put food on the table

Food inflation for the same month (January) stood at nine per cent, meaning many Kenyans were struggling to put food on the table.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) says the burden is much higher for poorer households, where food accounts for about 36 per cent of total spending.

When Covid-19 struck in March 2020, a dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed that affected many livelihoods. The economy tanked but in April, the government announced tax reliefs to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. The Treasury Cabinet secretary announced that the reliefs would be lifted on December 30, 2020.

In February this year, angry Kenyans took to social media to complain about the high cost of living. Many shared their shopping lists, lamenting that prices of basic food items such as milk, bread, sugar and maize flour had risen sharply, making it difficult for them to afford three meals a day.

Through the hashtag #lowerfoodprices, Kenyans have hit out at the government for failing to tame the ever-rising prices of basic commodities.

A 2kg packet of wheat flour now goes for Sh204, a 2kg packet of maize flour for Sh145, 1kg of sugar (Sh125), a 500ml packet of milk (Sh55), one litre cooking oil Sh436, 1kg rice (Sh260), 400g bread (Sh60) and 1kg salt Sh28.

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