Poverty, war and the search for peace: Kenya and Sierra Leone

“Bad government can’t deliver basic needs.”

Kenya and Sierra Leone suffer from corruption within their system and it’s the innocent who have to pay.

When Rachel Zagorskis and Patrick Lavery got off their flight from Johannesburg and arrived in Nairobi, they knew it would be a culture shock. Although industrialised, there was still a great need for maintenance, especially on the roads.

“Regarding the slum- Kibera- the size was indescribable. It is the biggest slum in Africa, and it looked scary,” says Rachel.


IMAGE: Wikimedia Commons

Rachel and Patrick traversed through the centre of Kenya to Uganda and back to Nairobi as an extension to volunteer work they had done in the South. Nothing could prepare them for the things they were going to encounter and the extreme poverty they would see. They both agreed “It’s not like the movies, it’s worse.”

It’s no surprise that Kenya thrives in comparison to some of its other African neighbours, like post war society Sierra Leone. There have been some drastic changes over the last fifty years, to both countries, whose governments are known for corruption and favouritism.

According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. They “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world.” In Kenya, the infant mortality rate is 42.18 deaths per 1000 live births and in Sierra Leone it’s 74.95 deaths per 1000 live births.


IMAGE: CIA Fact Book

It has been recorded that 58 per cent of Kenya lives on less than $2 per day and holds a rank of 198 compared with all other country’s GDP per capita. In comparison, over 70 per cent of Sierra Leoneans live on less than $1 per day with a rank of 204 in purchasing power.


IMAGE: CIA Fact Book

According to United Nations statistics, Kenya is currently peaking at the male and female life expectancy. Just over fifty years ago in 1960, the average life span at birth was only 46.36. The CIA Fact book has the current life expectancy of a male at 61.84 years and a female at 64.77 years.

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IMAGE: Index Mundi

Fortunately, the same can be said for Sierra Leoneans whose current life expectancy for a male is 54.47 years and for females it’s 59.56 years, a vast change from fifty years ago when the average life expectancy was 31.46.

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IMAGE: Index Mundi

When asked what she thought about Kenya, Dr. Tanya Lyons, Senior Lecturer for International Studies at Flinders University in Adelaide creates a solid image.

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It’s no wonder the slums in Kenya “looked scary.”

Dr. Lyons says the main thing that stands out to her is ethnic politics, one of the major causes of poverty in Kenya because of the government’s nature and the way that there is clear favouritism for one ethnic group over the other. This has a lot to do with identity politics, where some minority groups even become stateless.

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The government in Kenya faces more corruption in light of the fact their newly elected President is currently under examination by the International Criminal Court for having fermented the violence associated with the previous election.

The country hoped to overcome the hurdle of violence during elections. Previous elections have seen massacres as a result of the people in power, so citizens wanted to fix this in an attempt to achieve democracy and good governance. However, this is now unfortunately being jeopardised.

Australia is not the only country to ‘blame’ it’s government for the nation’s current position, it happens all over the world, especially in Africa. However, unlike the peace surrounding most, countries like Kenya and Sierra Leone see massacres and violence every day as a solution to sort out political issues.

Next time we think ourselves unlucky to have a 19.4 billion dollar deficit, just remember how lucky you are to have family, clean water and health services; not to mention you don’t experience the constant fear like some do in Africa thanks to groups like the Lords Resistance Army (LRA).

So for Rachel and Patrick there was always a concern for their safety.

“We were curious about it [the slum] and tried to enter it, but no taxi driver would take us. When we were leaving I read in a Kenyan newspaper that the government had ordered development of the slum, but had failed to inform the residents, so when the bulldozers came people were crushed in their houses.”

Suffering this kind of devastation is known all too well in Sierra Leone.

Helen Ware, Professor of Peace Studies at the University of New England, says the thing that’s highlighted for her when thinking of Sierra Leone is the civil war and blood diamond trade.

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IMAGE: Wikimedia Commons

Buying an engagement ring is a romantic gesture and thought of as a wonderful experience in Australia. But for those smuggling the diamonds used to create these rings in Sierra Leone, it’s a bloodbath.

Although movies can simplify world issues, Edward Zwick’s 2006 film Blood Diamond, is thought to be a clever representation of the diamond trade in Sierra Leone. Professor Ware says, “It’s a great way to raise the issue with the general public.”

This media representation (among many others) can sometimes lead to efforts in aid across the world, especially in countries within the African continent. There are thousands of aid workers that are sent to countries like Kenya and Sierra Leone to try and support the citizens who need it most.

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In an endeavour to help friend Hamish Grant honour his deceased wife, Peter Dalwood and wife Chris, were able to make tax-deductible donations to the Vanessa Grant Trust through Rotary Australia World Community Service (RAWCS). After touring with Hamish in 1999, Dalwood returned to Australia to find ways he could help his new friend and the wonderful initiative he was heading. The Vanessa Grant School was coming along nicely when Peter returned to Rongai in 2004, to see the progress of the new special needs school. “Following the successful establishment of the special needs school, the Trust developed plans for a new venture. This time they wanted to build a secondary school for girls. Building started in 2008/9,” he happily reported.  “By this time Chris was vice-chair of the International committee of our Rotary club and managed to get the club behind the project.” He says most members who visited Kenya, now sponsor a child here too.

Aid work coming from the government can expect a hit, in light of the announcement that $375 million will be delayed for foreign aid in the 2013-14 Budget. This has led to concerns for underprivileged countries and a cry for help by those working towards a better future in places like Kenya and Sierra Leone. Professor Ware says privileged countries need to recognise how well off they are.

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However, according to Dr Lyons, African countries need to do it for themselves. She says that in 2009 it was recorded 34 per cent of all aid raised in Australia for Global causes went to Africa, whereas the official Aid Budget to Africa was only 14 per cent.

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Patrick Lavery noticed this on his travels and says being a Westerner in Kenya made him aware of the various efforts by global organisations to assist in the development of the country. “One of the programs that we were told reaped the most benefits were grassroots projects that enabled local villagers to learn about business and how they could sell local produce to enable them to increase their living standards.” He says, “these projects are well funded and provide comprehensive support through ongoing education, and overall, Kenya needs programs like this to enable its economy to begin supporting those who need help.”

Peter Dalwood believes in the developed world, we have a responsibility to assist those people and countries that are less well off than ourselves. He says, “I don’t see Kenya as being particularly more or less in need than other countries in this regard. My association with these projects is an accident of circumstance. But in saying that, it’s one of the countries that require a big helping hand.”

There is a long way to go and plenty more to do in terms of fixing the ‘problem’ in countries like Kenya and Sierra Leone, to improve conditions of poverty and post war societies.

Rachel finished our conversation stating the obvious.

“It’s extremely noticeable that wealth is not distributed equally across Kenya.”

Noting what Dr. Lyons has said, the government doesn’t help this with their unethical favoritism of their own or preferable tribes. Donors are more likely to help when there is a stable and honest government involved, so the system to blame is only pushing away the aid it has the potential to receive.

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Professor Ware pauses before she answers my final question.

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Will we see the corrupt Kenyan government replaced with an honest one? Will diamonds eventually lift Sierra Leoneans out of poverty? Only time, money, honesty and the right amount of aid will tell.

Until then, poverty and corruption continues to go around and peace remains a dream.


Here is a look at how one industry is getting involved and helping the people of Africa help themselves. Sarah Jane Clarke and Heidi Middleton, creators of fashion label Sass & Bide, have combined their design skills with the hands-on skills of women in Kenya to provide them with a future.

A note from Heidi…

Sarah-Jane and I recently visited the beautifully skilled artisans in Africa with Marion Hume & Simone Cipriani for the Ethical Fashion Initiative.

The craftswomen we met are amongst the most talented in the world. There is a real truth, tradition and honesty about their work. The initiative combines fashion & poverty reduction, by supplying ongoing work for disadvantaged African communities. This assists predominantly women in feeding, educating & caring for themselves & their children.

Our visit has created a strong and emotional tie with providing work to African artisans, as we know each product has empowered many women across Africa.

Heidi x


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