Kenyan women cling to hope in wish list for 2024

From left: Amina Chemutai, a hawker in Nairobi; Hamida Marita, a 64-year-old street vendor in Nairobi; and Ann Kaboyo, an accountant at Bella Farm Africa in Murang’a.

Photo credit: Photos I Pool

What you need to know:

  • 'Mama mbogas' call for interventions that reduce the cost of living and boost incomes.
  • They hope to recover from the economic devastation of recent years that also left many lives in a shambles.

Kenyans safely ushered in 2024. For a fact, the majority admit that the past year was a very economically dilapidated period and are hopeful that this year will bring good tidings.

Nation.Africa sat with women wearing different hats—from senior public officials to mama mbogas—and got what their expectations for this year are. Here is what they had to say.

Ann Kaboyo, 23, accountant at Bella Farm Africa, Murang’a

For the young accountant currently based in Murang’a, it is in 2024 that she hopes to expand her professional reach by upskilling and venturing into new and exciting trades to boost her purse. This, she says, is paramount, having borne the vagaries of a battered economy that plagued the country last year. Whereas she neither lacked nor got everything she wanted, Ms Kaboyo says 2023 was one of fulfilling basic needs and nothing more than that.

“It was a very economically tough year. The prices of many beauty products shot up. I love getting new hair products and what gutted me is how the price of hair braids increased. I would get them for Sh53 per piece, but this shot to as high as Sh70, let alone other products.”

For a change, the 23-year-old wants to develop a strict saving culture this year as the “savings will save me one day.” This quest will be quite easy for her given that “I have adapted to the tough economy, so I have learnt a few hacks of saving and know what I need and what I can do without.”

She also hopes that 2024 presents better career opportunities because with the tough economy, one must make more and hopes that employers do their best to create more jobs. “I rely on private sector employers because I have given up on the government whose strategies have not been working so far. In fact, if I get an opportunity outside the country, I will leave immediately, the situation in Kenya is dire.”

To regain her trust, the government must find a way to improve the economy because once the financial aspect is sorted, then several other things will fall in place.

Ms Kaboyo advises other Gen Zs not to solely rely on being employed but also do short courses to gain skills that can enable them to start their own businesses.

“One can do a short course in catering and open a bakery joint, it could be fashion and design and start making clothes during your free time. I am currently doing a short course in R programming and will be a freelance data analyst whenever I am not in the office.”

Hamida Marita, 64, street vendor, Nairobi CBD

One sentence best describes 2023 for Hamida Marita, a seasoned street vendor outside Jamia Mosque in Nairobi. “Last year was not just a tough year, it was beyond that; it was a bad year,” she says.

Having been a widow for the last 16 years, Ms Hamida admits she had yet to encounter a year as economically frustrating as 2023. It is the year she ran so low on cash that her business attempt to sell snacks like mabuyu, dates and kashata flopped mercilessly. She also got employed by one of her friends, but the income from the business was too low that her salary could not be sustained and she had to be dismissed.

“I really struggled. The cost of living was very high, the economy tough, I tried selling mabuyu, which did not work out. Someone offered me some money to invest, but it was too little to start any business because the cost of starting a business is really high.”

Should any kind of help come her way in 2024, she prays it will be from a well-wisher who will give her enough funds to start her own business in retailing what she knows best: mabuyu.

The Kenya Kwanza administration, too, she says, must make good its promise to help mama mbogas and ‘hustlers’.

“The government must take care of the elderly in 2024. I am an old woman; I always hear there is social protection for people like us, but it has never reached me. Whenever I go looking for odd jobs, the potential employers, young enough to be my children, fear hiring me because it is shameful for them to have an elderly person doing house chores for them.”

One of Ms Marita’s sons disappeared in 2008. If the State could do one other thing for her in 2024, it should be helping her trace her son.

“If God keeps me alive in 2024, I want to prosper. I want to get more money for a business to sustain myself and my children better. I have also really looked for my son, if I can get to see him again, even once more, I will be eternally grateful to God.”

Amina Chemutai, 28-year-old hawker

A self-proclaimed ‘hustler,’ Ms Amina Chemutai is cross about the government’s way of handling situations, especially two that affected her directly. One, her business of hawking fruits and sweets in the streets of Nairobi was forced to a halt after her wares were confiscated by the infamous kanjo askaris (city inspectorate officers) in early December.

“This government said it would protect us, the vulnerable who lack means, but look at me, I am starting the new year without a single cent, thanks to employees of the county government.”

Secondly, she blames the government for introducing “punitive tax measures” in 2023, something she says greatly reduced the buying power of Kenyans to the extent that she would walk for hours on end “without anyone showing interest in my fruits”.

“The economy has been really bad in 2023. We have crossed over to the new year, but it is not like anything has changed. I am still without a job, I cannot afford my rent and I hope the government will hear the pleas of the common mwananchi who put them in power.”

Ms Chemutai also wants the government to reinstate the Kazi Mtaani initiative that was operated by the previous administration.

“With the return of Kazi Mtaani, I will have a safe landing, not only me, but thousands of youth across the country who now have no jobs and resort to drug abuse and crime. I really hope the cost of living will come down, the excessive taxation is done away with and that I am allowed to operate freely and sell my goods,” she concludes.

Mary Muthoni, Health Principal Secretary

Straight from the cut-throat private sector and thrown into a senior public office was not something that surprised Health PS Mary Muthoni. But the shift from solely pursuing commercial interests, as is the norm in the private sector, to purely providing services, as is the case for the public sector, sent her into a frenzy of relearning her exemplary leadership skills of winning for her company, and shifting it to winning for Kenyans. This took up most of her 2023, she says. It was also the year she was transferred from the State Department of Correctional Services to the Health Ministry.

“It was my first year as a PS. Serving people is not easy, it is not something you wake up to and say I want to serve people. It is a lot of sacrifice. You wake up very early and every day you are on the road. It was very daunting, but we persevered amidst the challenges.”

Principal Secretary for Public Health and Professional Standards Mary Muthoni.

Photo credit: File I Nation Media Group

With healthcare touching everyone, Ms Muthoni says the past year forced her to put her best foot forward and deliver. “The private sector is more commercially driven than the public sector, which is service-oriented. In the private sector, you have the commercial hand and a few times the service aspect, but in the public sector, you must give a service because you are being paid to serve people.”

Now having mastered the ropes, and armed with a clearer vision for Kenyans in 2024, the Health PS says Kenyans will get better in matters of health going forward.

“We want the people of Kenya to take a more active role in their healthcare. We are moving from a curative way of living to preventive and promotive and it will be essential to see behavioural change in the people,” she says.

“Our main goal this year is to reduce the number of people falling sick and shorten the long queues typical in our hospitals. This will be a big win for Kenyans.

“In 2024, I would love to visit the health facilities and find small queues because people are practising the role of preventive rather than curative that comes after falling ill,” she says.

She also wants Kenyans to shift from the belief that they can only be fit and healthy only upon scrutiny by doctors, and urges them that beginning this New Year, they actively engage in acts that will reduce their trips to the hospital.

“You must feel that until you eat right, take care of your environment, keep high levels of hygiene and I practice good public health practices and activities, that you will be taking care of yourself health wise.”

The PS says the ministry will launch a wellness programme to help actualise the goal of moving to the preventive rather than curative approach. Though opting not to say much about this programme, she says it will be a monthly drive across the country where health workers and promoters will visit homes to create awareness of what these preventive and promotive health practices are.

“Healthcare is universal, and everyone – men, women, whether they be young, or old – should be able to access affordable and quality healthcare in the event they fall ill, which is something we really want to reduce. This is what I am looking forward to achieving in 2024.”

Naisula Lesuuda, Samburu West MP

If there is one thing that soft-spoken-yet-tough Samburu West MP Naisula Lesuuda is grateful to God for in the just concluded 2023, it is the milestones made in the attainment and maintenance of peace in her volatile Samburu County.

Having borne the brunt of banditry and cattle rustling for decades, the county has registered loss of several lives, businesses and properties. Schoolchildren have had to stay at home because of insecurity. However, with the insistent operations run by the government in the troubled counties, there has been a slow but steady resumption of normalcy with the locals’ lives going back to normal.

“We lost very many people, many livelihoods were disrupted, livestock were lost, but through the grace of God, the year ended well.”

For 2024, the legislator wants nothing but sustained peace and peaceful co-existence for Kenyans, particularly for those living in pastoralist counties that bandits often plunder without remorse.

Samburu West Mp Naisula Lesuuda on November 30, 2023.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo I Nation Media Group

“All I want for 2024 is assured security, for our children, especially our girls, to access education throughout the year without disruption.”

She also hopes that the economy will be better, that people will comfortably afford to purchase basic household commodities once the cost of living decreases.

With last year being a transition year for the government, the MP says it had been somehow anticipated to come with some roughness, particularly in the economic and political spheres. But for this new year, she expects the government to come up with favourable policies that will reduce the cost of living.

“As a parliamentarian, I will be at the forefront of ensuring that government-driven Bills are geared towards cushioning Kenyans from the harsh economic realities we are currently facing.”

Ms Lesuuda further hopes that the Equalisation Fund, which is provided for by the Constitution to help previously marginalised counties develop and be on a par with their counterparts, will be actualised and the fund disbursed to the counties in need this year.

“I pray that we (Kenyans) be hopeful and optimistic that things get better. I really look forward to the decrease in fuel prices because fuel impacts several other things, including farming machines that use diesel as well as the cost of production.

“I also pray that we have good rains, not excessive as has been the case, so that we have a good harvest and have food security, which is a very crucial element for any country,” she says.

Prof Olive Mugenda, KUTRRH Board chairperson

Having navigated through stormy headwinds at her workplace in 2023, a year that was a mixed bag of fortunes, Prof Mugenda has nothing but a big thank you to God for sustaining her all through and giving her and her family good health.

Whereas the past year was affected by an ailing economy, the Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral and Research Hospital (KUTRRH) chairperson is glad that the government has placed several interventions to help accelerate economic recovery.

“The inflation and GDP (gross domestic product) growth numbers bear witness that positive change is in the air. I think the government is also doing its best to address the socioeconomic issues at the national level, and some results are starting to become evident.”

Having served at the helm of one of the country’s largest referral hospitals, Prof Mugenda is proud of the achievements attained, particularly the installation and commissioning of advanced diagnosis and treatment tools and solutions. It was also in 2023 that history was made at KUTRRH following the commissioning of CyberKnife system, the first and only fully robotic radiotherapy device for cancer treatment, in May. The first patient underwent treatment in September in a trailblazing move geared towards expanding access to advanced cancer care in Kenya.

Prof Olive Mugenda, Chairperson, Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral and Research Hospital. She looks forward to having more Kenyans access better healthcare in 2024.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

For 2024, the KUTRRH boss looks forward to the full implementation of the new Social Health Insurance Scheme that will ensure the public enjoy convenient referral access. “This is the essence of universal health coverage, and we intend to be at the forefront of facilitating delivery of the government’s plan.”

Also, she is hopeful that this year will bring to life several KUTRRH-proposed projects, particularly the Children’s Referral Hospital and the Breast Care Centre, both of which have the approval of the government and will expand paediatric healthcare.

“I also hope the government will support the hospital to procure another radiotherapy machine to help many Kenyans who have to wait for this life-saving treatment.”

Unlike the past years when resolutions were often based on increasing one’s wealth and social networks, Prof Mugenda has urged Kenyans to factor in their health and book an appointment for screening at the hospital for early detection and management of diseases.

“An ideal 2024 year will allow us to deliver quality patient-centred specialised services. I expect to see more and more Kenyans coming to KUTRRH to access preventive health check-ups, which are very useful in the early detection of illnesses and risk factors.”