Magazine article New Internationalist

Kenya

Magazine article New Internationalist

Kenya

Article excerpt

THERE is a striking contrast for the first - time visitor to Nairobi between the prosperity of Kenya's capital city with its tower - block landscape, and the grinding poverty that exists in the shadow of bank buildings and tourist hotels.

Kenya became independent from Britain in 1963. Under Jomo Kenyatta, the first President, agriculture became the basis of an economic 'miracle'. Good agricultural land has always been at a premium, concentrated in the fertile highlands and covering less than one - fifth of the total land area. As early as 1902 the first white settlers established their plantations here.

Those dispossessed of their land, largely the Kikuyu people, later became the driving force behind the Mau - Mau revolt that led to independence. Although initially smallholders were able to buy land cheaply form departing white settlers, land owner - ship is still highly concentrated. Under Kenyatta, a Kikuyu elite occupied many of the top positions in government and the civil service, maintaining privilege for the few.

The record of Kenyatta's successor, Daniel arap Moi, who took over in 1978, has been tainted by similar accusations of a lack of genuine commitment to democracy. Political dissent by opposition MPs and the press is suppressed, often violently. Economic mismanagement, government corruption and the absence of political reform led to the suspension of vital foreign aid in late 1991. The ensuing severe economic recession dealt a particularly heavy blow to the poor. …

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