Kenya is an African country with a population of approximately 47.6 million people. Its capital city is Nairobi, which is also the largest city in the country. Other prominent urban centres are Eldoret, Kisumu, Mombasa and Nakuru. Kenya is bordered by Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Somalia and the Indian Ocean. With a Gross National Income of about $1,460, the East African nation has a lower-middle-income economy. However, it is the largest economy among other eastern and central Africa countries. Nairobi serves as a primary regional commercial hub, and agriculture and services sectors are the major economic drivers for the whole nation.
Is Kenya a third world country? Yes, Kenya is a third world country. While the country has recently gotten lower-middle-income stature, not every Kenyan has benefited from the heightened wealth. More than a third of the citizens still live below the poverty line (according to international standards) and social, economic and gender discrepancies still remain.
Many people living in Kenya still have trouble accessing sufficient amounts of nutritious foods, especially those living in the arid and semi-arid areas. Food insecure households are primarily located in rural regions, and many are impoverished and rely on daily agricultural labour work for income. An expatriate seeking to move to Kenya may want to know, why is Kenya considered a third world country? Is there hope of it achieving developed country status? Please continue reading for detailed answers to those questions.
Why is Kenya Considered a Third World Country?
Originally, the phrase “third world country” was used to refer to the countries that were neither allied to the former Soviet Union nor the United States during the Cold War. However, in modern times, the term is used to define nations that have high levels of poverty, economic instability, and inadequate basic human essentials. Such countries are typically underdeveloped, have widespread poverty and high mortality rates.
Kenya is among the third world countries, but it has a high potential for becoming a second or first world country soon. A walk around the capital city of Kenya shows that the country is developing at a substantial rate. The high-rise buildings, modernized railways and roadways, multi-million dollar mansions, commercials malls, and growing technologies are some signs of the country’s ascent to success.
However, although some parts of Kenya are flourishing, a shocking portion of the population is still wallowing in deep-rooted poverty. Like other countries in Africa, Kenya still features a huge gap between the wealthy and the poor.
Here are some of the reasons why Kenya is termed as a third world country:
- Unending Corruption
Corruption is one of the primary factors that are preventing Kenya from attaining first world status. Senior leaders in the government, as well as the private sector, have been known to take bribes. The rampant corruption prevents the government from meeting the needs of citizens. Every now and then, high-ranking officials are arrested over allegations of corruption. But, since the laws on this issue are lenient, the people who are caught in the act are given easy passage.
- A Gap in Education
The Kenyan government has been working effortlessly towards improving basic education in recent years. However, many remote areas have sparsely located or no schools at all. That poses a challenge to school-aged kids who would rather stay at home and assist their parents than walk for long distances to school.
Insufficient skills and knowledge threatens the economy. Many Kenyan youth remain unemployed because of inadequate education and proper technical skills.
- Poverty and Poor Health Systems
Health and poverty go hand-in-hand. Poverty can cause and also result from poor health. Low-quality living conditions endanger the health of the people in a community. In turn, destitute health ensnares communities in unending poverty. Diseases deplete the energy of persons, households and communities to work toward building their lives and the society at large. With fewer people working to improve their lives, poverty takes over.
The urban centres in Kenya have access to high-quality medical services, but many rural and remote areas lack the same resources. High cases of malaria, HIV/AIDS, cancer and other diseases are contributing to heightened poverty rates. Such diseases make the lives of the victims difficult, and leave families in debt, worsening their chances of being self-sustaining.
- Over-Reliance on International Aid
Sadly, foreign aid has downsized the growth efforts of many African countries. Many non-governmental organizations have offered help through support in education, healthcare, governance and other primary sectors. However, some firms have taken advantage of desperate people to advance their selfish ambitions. A good example is Kenya’s Kibera slum, which is full of many NGOs that have not done much to elevate the lives of the residents.
Kenya is also to blame, because of the misappropriation of funds from foreign aid and corruption among people in the government.
Is There Hope of Kenya Achieving Developed Country Status?
The World Bank groups countries according to their gross national income per capita. The classes are:
Low income with a gross national income of a maximum of $1,025
Lower middle income with a gross national income ranging between $1,026 and $4,035
Upper middle income with a gross national income of $4,036 to $12,475
High income with a gross national income of at least $12,476
Kenya is positioned in the lower-middle-income category after it modified its economy to include sectors like ICT. The country is in the same class as Armenia, Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, Indonesia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Nigeria.
Putting aside the economic statistics, the situation on the ground suggests that Kenya is a developed country. Here are the signs that indicate Kenya may be heading towards achieving developed country stature:
The Kenyan government has been making big strides toward improving the state of the roads and railway lines. New roads and railways have been set up to improve access between rural and urban areas. In addition, Nairobi city has numerous high-rise apartments, which are a characteristic of developed nations. Many Kenyans also make great effort to make their homes appear developed, from the couches to the bed and food as well.
Kenya’s access to technology is widespread, from kitchens to places of work. Advances that the country only dreamt about many years ago are a reality. From paying for goods and services via M-Pesa (a mobile banking platform) to travelling to space, Kenya has taken a step further in technology.
- Social Changes
From an African point-of-view, men in developed countries appear subdued by the women. The subjugation is also being seen in Kenya, because of the rise of women empowerment initiatives and influence from foreign nations.
- Lifestyle Diseases
Unfortunately, another sign of development is diseases. Cases of cancer, heart ailments and diabetes have been on the increase as Kenyans embrace the lifestyles of people living in developed nations. Interestingly, such illnesses are accompanied by an increase in popularity of gymnasiums, golf courses and other fitness avenues. More Kenyans are going to gyms and professing their love for an active lifestyle with an aim to lower the risk of contracting lifestyle diseases.
- Increase in Loans
Kenya is slowly turning into a creditor country, with many banks hawking loans to customers. In developed nations, it is not usual for people to live beyond their means, because of easy access to credit. The use of credit cards is common and owing debt is not frowned upon anymore.
- Foreigner Takeover
Many foreigners prosper in Kenya. And, that is a common phenomenon in developed nations. In the United States and United Kingdom, foreign investors pour in billions. The same is being seen in Kenya.
- Rise of Interest Groups
The presidential appointment of the Chief Justice and Attorney General gave rise to numerous interest groups in Kenya. Such groups, whether they are non-governmental organizations or advocacies, are also common in developed nations. Some argue the interest groups serve as a counterbalance to government excesses. On the other hand, some believe they peddle influence and seek out idealistic and individual interests camouflaged as national interest.
- Obsession with Soft Issues
With the increase in access to smartphones and the internet, Kenyans are obsessed with soft issues like showbiz, music and fashion contests. That may be an indication of increasing affluence and likelihoods. After meeting physical needs, people turn their concentration to emotional matters. Ask high school students about their future ambitions and the number hoping to become actors and musicians is substantially high. Developed countries, such as the USA and UK have flourishing entertainment sectors. Kenya is also putting effort into nurturing local talent and promoting artistic jobs.
- Class Consciousness and Rise of Status Symbols
The citizens of Kenya are very class conscious and desire to be outstanding via conspicuous consumption. Some of the status symbols that set apart some individuals from the rest include houses, cars, schools, places of worship and interracial marriages. First world nations have their class frameworks, and some are coded. For Kenya, every class appears to be attempting to restrict itself to maintain privileges, and that is causing some social tension.
The above points are some of the signs that Kenya may be heading towards attaining developed world status very soon. However, sadly, the signs only afflict the elite population; the impoverished groups are still following the old ways, which is leading to high levels of inequality.
About the author: Marta Kovachek is the author of this article. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a master’s degree in Economics. Marta enjoys writing about the current economic situation and loves helping our readers to find their next "destination". From places to live to complex social and economic topics, we always enjoy Marta's work. Please contact us in case of any questions.