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Political representation

Almost everyone says that the government does nothing to help them, but the feeling is particularly acute among those in Kibagare. Nyiva, for example, comments: “We are seeing there are people different from us whom the government wants – people with money and not poor people like us.” Joseph states: “Government funds for development? We are completely excluded…”

Sometimes the narrators seem to suggest that it is not so much policymaking that is the problem but implementation at the local level. Martha comments: “I cannot blame the government entirely, but our MPs are the ones failing us.” She says MPs are only interested in them at elections: “…this is the only time you will hear them mentioning development projects.”

George and his friends are playing politicians at their own game, targeting councillors hungry for votes. They approach one as a group and promise support in return for some money. “You know sweet words seduce the snake out from its hole… he will not leave us without [giving us] something…”

Disillusionment with their representatives is widespread. Many give examples of nepotism and corruption undermining development initiatives. Martha says of the Constituency Development Fund, “only a few enrich themselves”. Peter tells of a failed livestock vaccination programme that had only a fraction of the promised medicine; farmers believed the rest was sold corruptly. And several narrators say that bursaries for their children’s education are only given to those with the right connections. Nepotism is a powerful force in the job market too. Peter is one of several who say: “These days you get work according to who you know.”

Many feel that because they cannot trust those meant to represent them they are, as Martha says, “actually voiceless”. Lemaron gives another example of the ways in which the poor are denied a voice, saying that a rich but stupid man will be given more opportunity to speak at a community meeting than a knowledgeable poor man: “the richer you are the more voice you have”.


Political representation is a key theme of the Living with poverty: Kenya oral testimony project.


Alice: sleeping hungry

Deborah: widows have rights

Elias: cultural change

George: no jobs

Helen: poverty of war

Joseph: keeping optimistic

Lemaron: challenging discrimination

Martha: battling corruption

Mary: life of struggle

Mercy: completely forgotten

Nyiva: cardboard homes

Peter: search for work

Key themes






Self-help initiatives

Sanitation and health

Political representation


Crime and unrest



Homelessness and insecurity

Pastoralism and agriculture