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What should happen to the cost of living story?

The politicians are at the Bomas of Kenya, arguing and negotiating about power and the future of Kenya. Every now and then some of them declare that the negotiations will be in vain unless the high cost of living is addressed. Others argue that the government is addressing the problem. Yet, the media reports nearly every other day that Kenyans will need to tighten their belts.

So, what really happened to the cost of living? What is this animal called cost of living? What is the story behind the story of the cost of living? Why should all Kenyans be worried about the cost of living? And what should they do to sort out this cost of living that seems to be getting out of control, according to the media?

There is no doubt that life is becoming economically difficult for Kenyans every day. There is a proposed or a real increase in taxes or cost of goods and services pretty much every month. If it is not more taxes on salaries, it is an increase in the cost of fuel, which raises the cost of production of goods, which the manufacturers pass on to the hapless consumers, who are stressed with school fees, healthcare costs, etcetera.

From media reports, ordinary Kenyans have less and lesser money in their pockets every day. Kenyans are generally complaining about lack of money. Some have lost jobs and closed businesses. Others have used up their savings to pay bills. Reports suggest that many more have closed their bank accounts. The shilling is reported to be doing poorly against foreign currencies including those of neighboring countries, who are our main trading partners, and therefore sources of foreign exchange. Tough life.

However, the politicians keep passing the buck. They claim that today’s problems are the grandchildren of the immediate past regime. They suggest that poor Kenyans might just have to get poorer before life becomes manageable. Economists keep speaking in tongues, hardly offering immediate solutions to the unbearable rising cost of living. Which is why the media is probably the only institution that could help Kenyans to decipher this cost of living puzzle and advise on how to ‘live with it.’

The media can help Kenyans understand their economic fate by interrogating every economic policy that the government initiates or adopts. This is not just about asking the government hard questions about the whys, hows and whats of policies. It is also about asking those questions in a way that ordinary Kenyans will be able to understand the implications of those policies today and in the future. The media can unravel the jargon that bureaucrats and politicians love and make the language of government plans accessible to mwananchi.

But the media should remain true to its claim to be defenders of truth and the guardians of public interest. It can and should often offer counterarguments to government economic proposals, where necessary. For journalists are also affected by the cost of living. For example, if it is true, as recently reported that school fees might be raised next year, why can’t the media involve economic experts to offer an alternative funding model considering that Kenyans are generally struggling to settle their bills?

By keeping the debate on the cost of living live, the media would be doing great public service to all Kenyans. Granted, the government needs taxes to pay for public goods and services for Kenyans. But it also needs the very same Kenyans to spend in order to tax them. The media needs to highlight this conundrum every day.

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