Open the Gates

Joel Cooper | November 18, 2013

Photo: Joel Cooper/CWS

Photo: Joel Cooper/CWS

As I stepped off the airplane onto the tarmac in Nairobi, Kenya, I glanced at my first Kenyan gate, and honestly, I have no memory of it. A gate at an airport is commonplace, but that was the first of literally hundreds of gates I have seen since. Gates surround restaurants, houses, hotels, malls, schools, hospitals, police stations—anything of any worth. Identifying all these gates has inevitably caused me to contemplate their implications.

Speaking with a pastor in one of Nairobi’s many informal settlements (slums), I learned that numerous residents of these communities are so deficient of basic human rights that in desperation they join gangs that terrorize the city. This experience helped me become hyperaware of the gap between the economically rich and poor. In Kenya, 40 percent of the population lives on little over $1 a day, and 80 percent  of the population lives on less than $4 a day.

These are the walkers I see juxtaposed against the luxury apartment buildings shoved in their faces. These are the little girls who will not let go of my arm as we walk block after block.

In the United States, one percent of the population owns almost forty percent of the wealth—a deprivation of resources that has a deadly affect on the poor of not only our country, but the entire world. Unfortunately, it seems that the situation is similar in Kenya.

In 2005, even the top 20 percent of Kenyans earned only $2,100 a year on average, but Forbes recently reported that the country’s richest man was worth an estimated half a billion dollars, approximately 1.25 percent of the gross domestic product. Who can blame him?  Certainly not the United States. The richest man in the US is worth $72 billion—an astronomical figure that is more than the total income earned by all 40 million Kenyan men, women and children in 2 entire years.

We Americans build gates of our own – some literal, but mostly figurative in forms such as our refusal to pass immigration reform, among other issues. We must reallocate resources to the exploited populations at home and abroad who could do so much more, if only given the freedom to succeed.

Open the gates.

Joel Cooper, communications intern, CWS Africa