I’d observed earlier that upward mobility wasn’t simply about increasing incomes, but also a change in mindset, world view and values. Aspirational consumer behaviour trickles downward faster, as strivers seek to emulate the status signals sent by those they perceive as “arrived”.
The emerging middle class numbers may indeed be uncertain, as statisticians debate over the inclusion of the ‘floating class’ but regardless of their actual income (which in any case may be volatile, particularly if they’re part of the informal sector of the economy) people’s habits are certainly shifting towards more ‘middle class’ choices.
Kenyan news reveals some interesting trends. More people are using clean energy such as LPG for cooking, in the ‘slums’, than before.
In Mathare slum a few kilometers away, that residents are warming up to cooking gas is evident in the number of shops selling the commodity on the periphery of the informal settlement.
Prices for cooking gas are the lowest they’ve been since 2012, putting the smallest available size – 6kg- within reach of far more than before. LPG is an aspiration for both urban and rural cooks. A farmer’s wife in rural Makueni in eastern Kenya told me about her ambitions to cook with gas even though she was making do with firewood from the farm.
Even more interesting is this report on what the author calls the “reject economy” – the sale of seconds and damaged products. Its not so much that there’s an after market for these seconds, but the reasons for their brisk sale. Here are some selected insights from that fascinating article.
Well, the economy in Kenya’s informal sector has its own rules and the about 22 million people straddling the poverty line are masters at navigating it.
For instance, Ogola buys eggs with cracks or other tiny imperfections — known colloquially as vunjika — at Sh5 each; whole eggs retail at between Sh12 and Sh15 in middle-income neighbourhoods.
Korogocho, like many other slums in Nairobi, is also awash with charred or misshapen loaves of bread, which retail at Sh30 instead of the market price of Sh50.
“The people in the village buy these products because they are cheaper and they cannot afford mainstream prices. They buy them because, just like other people, they would like to watch the news and have the family gather around the TV,” says Ngala.
The article goes on to quote some salaried professionals offering expert advice to the poor to be cautious about these rejected or secondhand products but I suspect that those with less income have no false impressions about their challenges in life.
“We also deserve the good life just like other people, or what do you think” Ogola asks with a smile.
As the article ends, just because someone may not have 50 shillings for a loaf of fancy bread doesn’t mean he doesn’t wish to have bread with his tea in the morning.
Without something to aspire towards, we would stagnate in our current circumstances, fatalistically accepting our status in life.