Kenya Is a Country of Many Opportunities [opinion]
(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Even though I am an idle foreigner, I do often tell people that Kenya is probably the place to go in East Africa.
Mind you, this is a general statement - if, say, you want to produce French-language school books for Rwanda, you might find it better to open a presence in Kigali than here.
But generally, I say Kenya - and in particular Nairobi - is where it's at. Yes, it is a corrupt place and the infrastructure is underwhelming and security is often a problem. Nairobi traffic makes me stabby, and the city is often just incredibly hard, draining work.
But It's also the region's largest and most mature economy. It had the good fortune of not having slipped into donor dependence - possibly the ironic side effect of being so corrupt that donors backed off once the cold war was over.
So Kenyans had to be enterprising, more enterprising and as a result, the private sector, for all its flaws, is dynamic and resilient to all sorts of nonsense including politics.
Underneath the statistics about more FDI going into the neighbouring EAC economies than Kenya, you will find the fact that Kenyan firms contribute to the FDI into those countries.
Kenya has the financial hub, the transport hub, the ICT sector (let's ignore the IEBC titanic tech failure for a second) and generally the most diversified economy. So, again generally speaking, if you're serious about doing business in East Africa, be here or be square. And learn to deal with it.
Nairobi is all of this, just concentrated, and it's the centre of Kenya's economy, the bulk of its GDP. Another idle foreigner, the lovely and talented Katrina Manson, wrote a beautiful piece about living in Nairobi recently:
'Nairobi's osmotic cosmopolitan ways stretch from bankers cloning western excess to poets throwing off their yokes. The city makes its way by taking on the habits of others, grasping towards growth and the material. (...) Nairobi is also a city of class segmentation and aspiration: lunchtime Botox sessions, Imax cinemas and city spas contrast with street sellers who hawk roast corn and sugar cane. (...)
But rich or poor, you need money to live here. This economy thrives and dies by consumption. And it is a city that finds solutions. Slums have electricity, their residents emerge in suits, come 5.30am almost an entire city walks to work. You can buy everything from fish and flights to power and insurance with your mobile phone.
Nairobi is also, like all big cities, a place that rewards endeavour. (..) Like all big African cities, Nairobi creaks under the weight of its own growth - unable to accommodate its people in electricity, water, roads and homes. (...) In the end it is a confusion and chaos of communities.'
I am a Londoner at heart, not by birth, but by choice. So her final sentence rang especially true: 'The city has it all. And at last I realised - Nairobi is the London of Africa. I was home all along.'
I had serious misgivings about Ferdinand Waititu as possible Nairobi governor, but I was really pleased to see a very gracious concession speech by Waititu on Facebook last night.
Turns out that it was pinched pretty much wholesale from John McCain, but I guess the sentiment counts, and I liked this: 'Nairobians never quit'.
Over the past few days, I was reminded, as we skated along carefully trying to avoid the ethnic cracks, of the creativity, humour and persistence in this city.
The endless 'keep the peace' admonishments became a bit grating (were your Facebook friends amongst the panga-wielding murderers last time ), but underneath that was a serious effort to keep together what is both a quintessentially Kenyan place and a very cosmopolitan one at the same time.
The upset over Linus Kaikai referring to Kenyans of Asian descent as 'Indians' shows that Kenyan Asians are just that, Kenyans and Kenyans who claimed their place.
There are also many newer immigrants from around the world. People who came here not on a comfy and temporary NGO/aid agency package, but because they want to live here and see the opportunities here.
I was a little disappointed to see TNA's vitriolic campaign against foreigners in the past week (ironically executed by a British PR firm - Mr Kenyatta seems to have more use for foreigners when he pays them). I hope that this was a one-off in a politically heated time.
Because it'll be a great step forward if this diverse Nairobi can keep it together through the post-election days. And because over the past few days, I've seen a lot of energy and goodwill that can push Nairobi forward.
Kenyans on Twitter have already sent Evans Kidero a long list of things they want fixed, and fingers crossed that he has the spine to take on beasts like Nairobi City Council and create an environment that rewards the fierce energy in this place and its ever present entrepreneurial culture.
One of my favourite Nairobi moments last year was taking part in the Standard Chartered run - 10km through downtown with 25,000 other Nairobians, Nairobians by birth or by choice. I always felt that Nairobi makes you work hard, so hard for its love - but maybe Katrina is right and we were home all along.
Copyright The Star. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
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