politics interlude . . . (of course the image of a worker on a tea plantation can be politically freighted . . .)
Somaliland suspends development programs in face of famine Voice of America
Back in March 2010–well before the last widespread famine in 2011–I wrote a piece here called “The Nairobi Curse” suggesting an analogy between the role of Nairobi in Kenya’s overall political and economic development and “the resource curse” faced by those countries prized by outsiders for oil, for example.
With famine being reprised I was reminded of the “Nairobi Curse” when I noticed on the “KenyaBuzz” Nairobi entertainment and happenings newsletter a charming little story, “Nairobi’s Newest Wine Shop Delivers In A Different Kind Of Way”, promoting “Wine and Bubbles”, a French couples’ couple of Nairobi stores selling French wine. The expat Nairobian explained that he had hoped to grow vineyards in Kenya but learned on moving from France that the climate was not conducive so he was selling French wine instead.
The growth market of course is introducing wine tastes to what is invariably called the “Kenyan Middle Class”–basically the third tier wealthy Kenyan of the Nairobi professional/managerial class. The sort of people who would be upper middle class in a much more broadly and deeply prosperous country where most people had enough to eat with a per capita income several times that of Kenya’s.
Here is my original post:
This is Kenya’s version of “the oil curse” or “the resource curse”.
Nairobi is the place to be in Sub-Saharan Africa (and outside of South Africa) for international meetings and conferences. It is a relatively comfortable place to live for middle class or wealthy Westerners, or young aid workers. An international city with a certain level of cosmopolitanism, yet of manageable size and scope relative to so many burgeoning cities of the less developed “South”. A headquarters for two UN agencies. A diplomatic critical mass, with lots of representation from all sorts of countries around the world that have little obvious presence in Africa, but also a crossroads for representation of everyone playing for a major piece of the pie (Iran, Libya, China, India, the Gulf States–as well as obviously the US and Europe). And you can go on business, and then take a safari on the side.
From the US, soldiers go to Djibouti (the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, at Camp Lemonier) while diplomats go to Nairobi. The US runs its Somali diplomacy from the Embassy to Kenya rather than Djibouti which would be the more obvious place on paper. Likewise, Somali politicians tend to live much of the time in Nairobi. Nairobi is the place to invest cash generated in Somalia.
Nairobi is the “back office”, and in some cases the only office, for much of relatively huge amount of US aid-related effort for Southern Sudan, as well as that from other countries.
Nairobi has something like 8% of the Kenyan population, and perhaps 60% of the GDP (don’t let anyone tell you they know any of these figures too precisely). Perhaps 50-60 percent of the population lives in informal settlements (“slums”) whereas the other half lives as “the other half”. Most national level Kenyan politicians holding office live primarily in Nairobi (although they may have homes in a constituency they represent in Parliament as well).
When I was the East Africa Director, based in Nairobi, for IRI (where our much bigger Sudan program was also headquartered) as an American I felt that my government at that time (2007-2008) was falling into the trap of recreating a Cold War paradigm for our international relations by looking around through our “War on Terrorism” telescope. And that in Kenya there were a lot of international interests that valued stability over reforms for reasons that related more to the current role of Nairobi than the long term interests of Kenyan development.
Certainly Nairobi is a resource that has great value–as does oil, for instance–it’s just a question of whether Kenyans can find a way to use it to the broad advantage of the nation or whether it will continue to be exploited to disproportionately benefit the most powerful. Including being used to help keep them in power when more Kenyans want democratic change.
Just this past week Kenya hosted an IGAD meeting on Sudan–and flouted its obligations as a party to the Rome Treaty on the ICC by inviting President Bashir of Sudan while under indictment. Meanwhile the ICC is considering whether to allow formal investigation of key Kenyan leaders for the post-election violence from 2007-08. But Nairobi is such a great place to have these conferences . . . and Sudan is so important (Khartoum is no Nairobi, but it has oil).
The The East African reports that “Kenya saw drought coming, but did little to avert food crisis“. None of us have any reason to be surprised–most especially when there is a re-election to run. This is what I wrote as the last famine developed in 2011:
Another drought, more famine. One of the early and formative conversations I had shortly after arriving to work in Kenya was with a judge who encouraged me to take note of the living conditions of…
Not to distract from the “news”, the big events like a second Nairobi Carrefour coming to Karen and competing with Nakumatt. . . but for anyone who is interested in Kenya and
has not actually lived there in recent years, I highly recommend David Ndii’s latest Friday column from Daily Nation, “On hunger, and a nation in need of a conscience“:
Hunger stalks this land. One third of the respondents to Ipsos Synovate’s latest opinion poll answered yes to the question whether they or other members of their households ever sleep hungry.
The facts are much worse that the poll’s finding.
The most comprehensive information on our food situation is in a report published by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics in 2008 titled Food Insecurity Assessment in Kenya.
It shows that over half of Kenyans, 51 percent, consume less than what they require on a daily basis. They consume an average of 1,261 calories per day, against a requirement of 1,683 calories — a shortfall of 422 calories or 25 percent of the daily requirement.
Simply put, half of the country suffers from chronic hunger. . . .
Swiss trader looks up and says, “You must be here to save Kenya’s small family farmers!”
“Could Rwanda’s Kagame get thrown out of the ‘smoke filled room’?” AfriCommons, 13 March 2014
“East Africa Exchange Formally Launched” BizTech Africa, 4 July 2014
“Carter Center release; Initial observations on the ‘Frazer v. Carson’ controversy” AfriCommons, 21 Feb. 2013
“Beth Mugo Admits Kenyatta Family Owns Huge Tracts of Land, But Defends Uhuru” Mwakilishi, 12 Feb. 2013
“How Kosgei pulled strings to block U.S. from endorsing Kibaki presidency” Daily Nation, 13 July 2012
“Kenyan PM Odinga Speaks Out on Election, ‘Dubious’ Role of Jendayi Frazer and Ambassador” AfriCommons, 4 March 2010
I may be overdue to write about the problems with current Standard Gauge Railroad project and the latest on the Rift Valley Railroad saga, and of course the new payments by the Kenyan government on the alleged debts from the Anglo Leasing scandal are crying out for more attention. And there is the critical issue in Kenya of the Turkana drought. But I’m more overdue to write about some good people doing good things that can actually make a positive difference and I need to gush a bit about a great experience I’ve had this week.
Since I have been involved in political controversy and deal with sensitive topics here, I avoid writing about my old friends who are working in Kenya in missionary or development work because I don’t want to unintentionally create any association with my personal political views. But this week, I have gotten a chance to meet and start to get acquainted with a Kenyan couple here in Florida who are doing exciting things in trade and business and humanitarian mission, and we connected through coffee here in the U.S., not through anything political, so I think I can give them a little plug without giving them any “guilt by association”.
I’ll just let Martin Kabaki and Purity Gikunju tell the story of starting the Growers Alliance coffee company in their own words from the website:
Growers Alliance was started by Martin and Purity who grew up on separate coffee farms in Kenya. After moving to live in the United States, they were shocked to see $4 latte cups while coffee growers back in their Kenyan village earn a meager 15 cents for a whole pound of their harvest green coffee beans. In a twist of luck and coincidence, Martin and Purity met each other for the first ever at a coffee conference in Seattle. After discovering each other’s passion (and romance ….we have a beautiful son whose name is Steve) in highlighting the plight of the poor coffee growers in Kenya, they decided to start their own coffee company that would be different from any other. They formed Growers Alliance which is perhaps the only coffee company in America that is owned by actual coffee growers and whose goal is to cut out the several unnecessary middle men and coffee cartels. This helps to empower the poor coffee growers with better prices for their coffee crop and better living standards.
They have been at this for several years now and have really made progress. The Growers Alliance Kenya coffee is sold at Whole Foods and at the major Southeastern U.S. regional supermarket chains Publix and Winn Dixie (the picture above is from the shelf at my local Winn Dixie store).
Beyond the coffee business, which seems exactly the kind of thing that Kenyans need for sustainable steady improvement in economic circumstances, Martin and Purity are engaged in charitable enterprises that have “synergies” with Growers Alliance. First, Growers Alliance drills and maintains artesian wells in areas near coffee farms in Embu to provide safe water. The second is unique and deserves some explanation.
Martin was looking at the opportunity to return ship something from the U.S. to Kenya after the import of the coffee. This ultimately turned into a dialysis clinic in Naivasha, stocked with refurbished machines donated by a foundation in the United States. Unfortunately as Martin and Purity came to learn from their close interaction with the farming communities back home, diabetes and hypertension are increasing with changes in diet and lifestyle in Kenya, not just in the cities, but in the villages as well. With lack of early diagnosis and treatment, this leads to kidney damage and a growing critical need for dialysis–outstripping the facilities available from the public health infrastructure. Martin’s parents who were living in the U.S. returned to Kenya to run the clinic.
Martin and Purity are delightful people who are making things happen. The Kenya coffee, as I can attest, is superior, very competitively priced and easily ordered online at www.growersalliance.com. And check out the gala Kenyan dinner to raise funds for the Kijiji Dialysis Center and Embu wells upcoming on May 4.
Tanzania represents a success story for developing and emerging-market countries in a time of changing donor-recipient relations. Through a series of reforms to increase transparency, good governance, and country-led development, President Kikwete has helped Tanzania become a strong partner with the United States and the business community. Tanzania is the recipient of a $698 million Millennium Challenge Corporation compact, hosts a robust PEPFAR program, launched the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor (SAGCOT) initiative, and was among the first countries selected for the Partnership for Growth—all of which have helped Tanzania make gains in enhancing food security, reducing poverty, and creating economic opportunities.
- Re-evaluating the comparative development experience in Kenya and Tanzania? (africommons.com)
- Tanzania leader sacks ministers amid corruption scandal (apperi.org)
- Tanzania and the new “Green” Biotechnologies | Agri-Pulse.com (africaseed.net)
- Kikwete does easily what Kibaki, Raila dare not (nation.co.ke)