Tax havens and urban inequality in Kenya: Elizabeth's story

Elizabeth Dunge works at the Jamaica dump in the middle of the Mukuru informal settlement, in Nairobi, Kenya, on April 2, 2014.
Elizabeth Dunge works at the Jamaica dump in the middle of the Mukuru informal settlement, in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Kenya is one of the most unequal countries in the sub-region. More than 45% percent of its population live below the poverty line. 

The Panama Papers recently highlighted how offshore tax havens enable the world's rich and powerful to stash money away from tax authorities of countries like Kenya.  Across Africa, the money hidden in offshore tax havens is more than enough to pay for healthcare for mothers and children that could save four million children's lives a year and employ enough teachers to get every African child into school. It could help to fight poverty and offer a lifeline out of hell to desperate women like Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Dunge 26, a mother of two, sorts through trash looking for scraps to sell, in the vast rubbish dump nicknamed 'Jamaica' in the middle of the Mukuru slum area of Nairobi, Kenya. Elizabeth has been working here daily, usually starting at 8am and working till the evening to provide for herself and her children, who are 6 and 3 years old. She is the sole provider for her family. 

Elizabeth Dunge works at the Jamaica dump in the middle of the Mukuru informal settlement, in Nairobi, Kenya, on April 2, 2014.

Conditions are dangerous, workers pick through the mess of plastics, food, burning rubbish and syringes in flipflops, with no protection from the toxic fumes.

This vast dump used to be a quarry, but today it's grown from a hole in the ground into an epic landscape of steaming mountains and valleys of trash from Nairobi, much of it from expensive hotels and restaurants. 300-400 people live and work around the dump, mostly searching for plastics or computer waste to sell, but also looking for food to eat. Some of them are children.

Urban poverty and vulnerability

Poverty is now growing faster in urban rather than rural areas. The majority of the urban poor in Kenya live in slums, or 'informal settlements', where the poorest have become trapped in downward spirals of deprivation and vulnerability. Today, Nairobi - the fifth richest African city and home to around 5,000 millionaires - the slum population now makes up over 50% of the urban population or between roughly 3-5 million people.

Africa faces tough times ahead, but with the right strategic investments it can weather the coming challenges. Governments must listen to their citizens and invest their scarce resources in the education, health and agriculture that will build resilient and more equal economies. To achieve this companies and rich individuals must be made to pay their fair share of tax.

Act Now

Join us in demanding change. Let's end the era of tax havens

Note: This is an edited version of the original blog series on inequality authored by Mora McLagan