Why slums are necessary (especially for the middle class.)

CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO, Daily Nation: Kibera: It’s rich city folks who need slums most

…slums are a ‘‘necessary evil’’, and a very important ‘‘transitional phenomenon’’ and ‘‘conveyor belt’’ that feed a city the population it needs to survive…

If we didn’t have slums, then people from the countryside would never move to the city.

Many good people frown upon this migration to the cities from the countryside, but it is misplaced. Everyone deserves the comfort — or at least the greater opportunities — that cities offer. If you are a teacher in a poor village school and decide to move and take your chances in Nairobi and are lucky to get a job, you might be a watchman earning Sh5,000 a month. Without a shack in the slum that such people rent for Sh500 a month, they wouldn’t survive in the city. Not everyone who lives in a slum ends up there. Some eventually move to the slightly better working class areas, and then to the suburbs. They might join the police, army, or improve themselves slowly. But eventually, several make it. Some of them get to be MPs and ministers, and one day one of these people who started out in a slum could become president….

…There are slums because cities in poor Third World countries can’t survive without them. Take the watchman who is paid Sh5,000. At that low wage, the middle class can afford to hire a watchman for day and another for night. If there were no slums, and the cheapest accommodation a watchman could find was Sh5,000 a month, and all his other expenses were up accordingly, then the lowest a watchman or househelp (housegirl, to use the politically incorrect word) would be paid is Sh50,000. At that wage, the middle class wouldn’t afford watchmen, househelps and nannies for their children. Slums, therefore, are vehicles through which the urban poor subsidise its middle class. For that reason, it’s the height of hypocrisy when the middle class moralise about how terrible things are in the slums.

In Kenya’s case, slums — all their risks notwithstanding — are actually a stabilising force.

How rich are you?

Go to the global rich list to find out: Global Rich List. (You will just enter your annual income in a box and it will show you a graphic like this, and where you fit. Note: this is simply a link to a cool graphic, not an endorsement of the website.) (HT: Pastor Eugene Cho – An attitude of gratitude)


The Global Rich List calculations are based on figures from the World Bank Development Research Group. To calculate the most accurate position for each individual we assume that the world’s total population is 6 billion¹ and the average worldwide annual income is $5,000².Below is the yearly income in percentage for different income groups according to the World Bank’s figures³.

Percentage of world population Percentage of world income Yearly individual income Daily individual income
Bottom 10 percent 0.8 $400 $1,10
Bottom 20 percent 2.0 $500 $1,37
Bottom 50 percent 8.5 $850 $2,33
Bottom 75 percent 22.3 $1,487 $4,07
Bottom 85 percent 37.1 $2,182 $5,98
Top 10 percent 50.8 $25,400 $69,59
Top 5 percent 33.7 $33,700 $92,33
Top 1 percent 9.5 $47,500 $130,14

The world’s distribution of money can also be displayed as the chart below.


¹ 2003 world population Data Sheet of the Population Reference Bureau.
² Steven Mosher, president of the population research institute, CNN, October 13, 1999.
³ Milanovic, Branco. “True World Income Distribution, 1988 and 1993: First calculations based on household surveys alone”, World Bank Development Research Group, November 2000, page 30.

[Note: don’t take this post as an endorsement of the Global Rich List’s solutions.]

The $330,000 car for missionaries (more putting it in perspective)

Coffee girl confessions (thanks, Jutta for the link) has a post on missionaries who are relatively poor in the States, but “made of gold” in their mission context. She poses the following question:

Do you ever wrestle with the disparity between your own resources and those of the people you are working with? Do you feel guilty for the comforts of internet access, digital cameras, vehicles, etc.? Or do you choose to live without them to align yourself with the people you work with?

In one of the comment, Karis writes: [context: Cameroon]

We had just purchased a vehicle. All vehicles are imported so very expensive here. The blue book value in the U.S. is $4000, but we talked them down to $14,500 here. I like to crunch numbers. If you don’t or if my explanation of this is too confusing… sorry… Here we go — if you make $5 a day (which many here do) and work five days a week, you’d make approximately $1300/year. Our $14,500 vehicle (remember it is 13 years old so we’re not talking about a newer model here) is 11 years worth of salary for them at $1300/year. If the average American makes $30,000 a year and you take that $30,000 and multiply it by 11 years, that number is $330,000. So, here’s the bottom line. A $14,500 vehicle to someone out here making $1300/year is like a $330,000 vehicle to someone in the States making $30,000 a year. Someone making $30,000 a year in the States could never afford a $330,000 vehicle — that would seem like a luxury that is so out of reach except for “rich” people. Crunching these numbers helped me to realize why an African would think it’s such a big deal to be able to afford a vehicle. They’re not seeing our vehicle and thinking $14,500 — they’re seeing $330,000!

So, if we can afford a “$330,000” car, how can we not give them money for food, school, medicine, the dentist, and on and on… and we’ve only been here for 2 months and we’re already facing this frustration!

I grew up in the real African bush, and here is what my wise dad always said, “No one minds if you have money, as long as you are willing to share it.”

When Christi’s brother was here, we did a lot of thinking on similar issues – sustainability, indigenous church independence, etc. (He’s launching a missions team into Southern Sudan.) As we talked, I kept thinking that what we really need is more Christian business people willing to help poorer places generate wealth. I know missionaries aren’t used to thinking that way, and I’ll have to leave my thoughts for a future post, but . . .  (Kruse Kronicle has helped me with some of my thinking in this area.)

the world is poorer than we thought

Economist, the bottom 1.4 billion: According to a recent World Bank study,

. . . the “developing world is poorer than we thought”. The number of poor was almost 1.4 billion in 2005.

This does not mean the plight of the poor had worsened—only that the plight is now better understood. The bank has improved its estimates of the cost of living around the world, thanks to a vast effort to compare the price of hundreds of products, from packaged rice to folding umbrellas, in 146 countries. In many poor countries the cost of living was steeper than previously thought, which meant more people fell short of the poverty line.

. . . people are poor if they cannot match the standard of living of someone living on $1.25 a day in America in 2005. Such people would be recognised as poor even in Nepal, Tajikistan and hard-pressed African countries such as Uganda. But for those who still think a “dollar a day” has a better ring to it, the authors also calculate the number of people living on less than that at 2005 prices (see table).

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has another guage. See the Economist’s the bottom 1.4 billion.

For a discussion on who “the poor’ are for the New Testament, (Jesus in particular), see Who are the Poor, Explanation and Defense (poserorprophet) who develops what Dunn says in Jesus Remembered.

  1. material poverty
  2. economic exploitation
  3. “poor in Spirit”

. . . When I speak of ‘the Poor’ today, I am thinking not only of the economically disadvantaged, but also of the oppressed, those suffering social marginalisation, those considered ‘damned’ by the Church, those considered ‘criminals’ by the Justice System, those who are rejected due to illnesses or biological differences, and so on and so forth.

Despite the broad inclusiveness of the term poverty, Dan believes

. . . that we must continually speak of wealth and poverty today, because it is economics that now functions as the cornerstone of our existence in the world of late capitalism.

Plus, it congers up more concrete images than some of the proposed alternatives. Read Dan’s full post – Who are the Poor, Explanation and Defense.

Poverty and politics in Africa

What an African Woman Thinks has these reflections on poverty and politics in Africa

Gallup conducted a survey across sub Saharan Africa between 2006 and early 2008 on hunger and nutrition. According to the findings, only 36% of Kenyans said they or their family members had never had to go without ‘enough to eat.’ . . .

. . . We’re in 2008, and 36 % of our people are still languishing at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. That’s as stinging an indictment on our claim to nationhood as I’ve come across lately.

And it takes me right to the doorstep of something I’ve come to understand only recently: you cannot build political stability on empty stomachs. No ifs no buts. It is as it is.

Which would explain why Africa is what it is today. . .

. . . The chaos in Kenya at the beginning of this year was catalysed by botched elections, yes, but at its heart was the deep grievance of those who felt that others were feasting at the table of a ‘growing economy’ while they held no hope of receiving even the crumbs from that table.

The xenophobic attacks in South Africa have the same genesis: . . .

. . . This is not a revelation to many, I know. But it’s hit home for me as never before this year. And it’s changing the way I read the headlines as they trickle in from around the world.

Sometimes when I’m busy making my judgments from my place of relative comfort, I stop and ask myself what I really know about quashed aspirations, about eking out a miserable living from bleak to day to bleaker day and about real hunger and what it can drive a person to do. . .

For more on that gallup survey, follow this link.

Click to read her full post.

Links on Economic Development

Collected from last week – thanks mostly to Michael Kruse for linking to them.

  1. Dave Richards reviews Smith and Thurman’s A Billion Bootstraps – best book introducing microcredit
  2. Richard’s succinct list of the ways the world is getting better.
  3. Kruse – The world is getting better, but we are feeling worse.
  4. Kruse’s own review of the book “Good Intentions.
  5. New Poverty model to empower poor farmers.
  6. The Gates, malaria and side effects. Too much of a good thing?
  7. The difference between donor ideas and market realities ($100 laptops) – a story from last year, but some good humor involved.

[Details and select texts below.]

1. Check out Continue reading

The Bible and Poverty in Kenya (New Book)

This looks like an interesting title.

Bible and Poverty in Kenya: An Empirical Exploration (Brill, 2008)
Maurice Matendechere Sakwa
(expected out this month)
Only 89euros ($130) 218 pages. (60 cents per page)

Many strategies have been formulated to reduce poverty, the most recent being the need to include the poor as co-agents in the development process. Culture, understood as commonly shared values, then becomes an important element in poverty alleviation. Likewise religion becomes an important element of culture when the values of that religion are considered as widespread in the society. Additionally, political and economic factors are equally important for poverty alleviation. This work is centered on a conceptual model postulating that cultural attitudes influence attitudes towards ends of poverty alleviation directly and indirectly through political and economic attitudes. The study maps out the paths of influence of cultural (religious values), political and economic attitudes on those towards ends of poverty alleviation.

Sakwa Maurice Matendechere, Ph.D. (2006), Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands, is an economist who made himself familiar with those parts of religious studies needed for the research and is currently a lecturer at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya.