ISS Africa
Home / About us / Press releases / Failure to reduce poverty threatens Kenya's economic success
Failure to reduce poverty threatens Kenya's economic success
18 February 2015

Nairobi, Kenya – Failure to reduce poverty is affecting the credibility and sustainability of economic growth in Kenya and other African states, researchers from the authoritative Institute for Security Studies (ISS) told a seminar in Nairobi on Wednesday.

‘The growth story told by African governments disguises the dire poverty in which many Africans still live,’ said Jakkie Cilliers, ISS executive director and head of its African Futures Project.

‘Growth in Kenya has not benefitted the poor but instead increased the wealth gap. Growth needs to be inclusive if Africa is to meet its huge potential.’

Endemic poverty is one of Africa’s biggest challenges but Kenya, like most African states, is not meeting the poverty reduction targets set out in the current Millennium Development Goals (MDG) that are up for discussion in New York later in 2015.

‘Missing the targets means the growth forecasts are wrong, planning is unrealistic, Africa once again loses credibility and there is a destabilising effect across the continent,’ Cilliers said. The UN is currently finalising new MDG targets to 2030.

New research by the African Futures Project concludes that the proposed target of getting extreme poverty below 3% of the population by 2030 is unrealistic and insensitive to the actual conditions of many African countries.

‘It may be suitable as an aggressive goal at global level, but it would leave behind African states which will by 2030 bear the greatest burden of global poverty,’ Cilliers said. This follows expected sharp reductions in poverty in India in the short term.

He argued for a revised goal of reducing extreme poverty in Africa to below 15% by 2030, and to below 4% after 2045, and that these be included in the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

Cilliers said current targets for poverty reduction were not specific to the economic and social conditions in many individual countries. ‘We need the African Union to set realistic national targets based on individual countries’ circumstances as part of its Agenda 2063 vision; and which are sufficiently short-term to hold leaders and governments to account while they are still alive and still in power.’

Unequal growth in Kenya

Kenya’s people experience greater inequality than any other country in East Africa. This is the result of rapid but uneven growth and a focus on urban not rural development. 

This is because investments in education and infrastructure have focused on the urban elite rather than the rural poor, Cilliers said, and not enough ordinary Kenyans have seen the benefits.

Even with aggressive poverty reduction interventions, Kenya won’t meet its targets. But reducing inequality will boost the impact of economic growth on the reduction of poverty.

With pro-poor policies that try to provide social assistance and other support to rural and poor people, Kenya can fairly quickly enjoy a massive reduction of poverty while growing its economy and reducing inequality, Cilliers said.

Population forecasts released by the African Futures Project suggest that Kenya’s population will increase from its current 46 million in 2015 to 65 million by 2030 and 100 million by 2063. Extreme poverty will initially increase but then decline.

But with pro-poor policies, the research says, the Kenyan population will increase less rapidly, due largely to improvements in female secondary education and associated reductions in total fertility rates.

Importantly, these pro-poor policies also enable a sharp reduction in extreme poverty from 18 million in 2015 to 14 million in 2030, and to just three million people in 2045.

The African Futures Project is a joint endeavor between the ISS and the Frederick S Pardee Center for International Futures in Denver. The most recent paper on poverty is available here.

For media inquiries, contact:

Jonathon Rees, Proof Communication Africa, +27 (0) 76 185 1827,

Media coverage of this event:

About the Institute for Security Studies

The ISS is an African organisation that aims to enhance human security on the continent. It does independent and authoritative research, provides expert policy analysis and advice, and delivers practical training and technical assistance.