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When Will Kenya Be Happy?

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Just days after the Daily Nation reports that Kenya can now consider itself a failed state, sharing membership of this dubious club with pariahs such as North Koriea, Burma and Afghanistan , an outfit calling itself the New Economic Foundation has released this year’s Happy Planet Index (PDF available for download). Do you want to move to Costa Rica? That’s apparently the happiest, greenest place on earth, topping the table of all ranked countries. Kenya languishes at 125, with Tanzania the only East African country with a lower ranking, at 140.

Now, these reports are exercises in both semantics and statistics. It is impossible to get a comprehensive overview of what is happening on the ground by collating information and standardising it for multiple countries. Nevertheless, the people who are quickest to complain of western prejudice when conditions in Kenya are criticised would do well to ask themselves what they are really angry about. Are they annoyed that outsiders have seen fit to point out our flaws, or are they angry at those in charge for not making as much progress as they promised?

Personally, from the perspective of national pride, the results of the Happy Planet Index are disapppointing, but not wholly surprising. We may be some of the friendliest people on Earth, but we can’t really say that Kenyans are happy. Crime in the cities is rampant, inflation is hitting every household’s expenses, unemployment is still far too high, and the political arms of state seem incapable or unwilling to make good on the election promises that were made. I don’t expect Kenya’s ranking to rise before these problems are at least addressed, let alone solved.

The wellbeing of a nation depends not only on its GDP, but also how it looks after its citizens. While it is all very well to focus on economic development, ignoring the plight of those left behind or disadvantaged in the process must not be forgotten if society as a whole is to remain cohesive. Unless this happens, only those at the top of the pile will be happy.

[Image by Chrissy Olson]

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