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Build Gates

December 6, 2013

As I stepped off the airplane onto the tarmac in Nairobi, Kenya on September 7th, 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% of the population lives on little over $1 a day, and 80% 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 beggar 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 effect 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% of Kenyans earned only $2,100 a year on averageᵃ, but Forbes recently reported that the country's richest man was worth an estimated half a billion dollars, approximately 1.25% 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 yearsᵃ.

We Americans build gates of our own—some literal, but mostly figurative in forms such as our refusal to pass immigration reform, inexorable unwillingness to afford healthcare to the poorest Americans, and a misallocated drone drunk military budget that surpasses logic by hundreds of billions of dollars.

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 serves as a Global Mission Intern with Church World Service East Africa in Nairobi, Kenya.

ᵃthese figures were calculated from data extrapolated from a few of the sources cited in this article, specifically the CIA page and the World Bank pages

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