A Better Story from Kenya and the United States

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.

Growers Alliance Coffee

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.

While mourning, and One_dering . . .

A piece that you might have missed on the Westgate attack that touches more of the bases than most: The Real Reason al-Shabab Attacked a Mall in Kenya by Bronwyn Bruton at DefenseOne.com.
Also: “Terror Strikes Nairobi, Crossing Borders” from Lauren Hutton at the Netherlands Institute of International Affairs (Clingendael).

And if you missed a wise perspective on the human context, here is Karen Rothmyer in The Nation: “Reflections on the Kenya Terror Attack”

Other lessons so far: from Abdul Haji, son of the Garissa Senator and former Defense Minister, who drove from another shopping mall (Yaya Centre) and helped rescue many at Westgate after a cell call from his brother who was stranded by the attackers, we learn that real heroes drink Dormans (and pack a pistol), and leave notes for the owners of cars they back into while rushing to rescue their brothers.  The story of the Haji-on-the-spot collaboration with the Kenyan Red Cross, a handful of plainclothes police and a kitted out group of what we might call “neighborhood watchmen” is just so deeply “Kenyan”.

Ambassador David Shinn appropriately noted on his blog that his biggest surprise about the Westgate attack is that it hadn’t happened sooner.  People I touch base with expect more, and we have additional attacks in Mandera and Wajir.  In order to stay safe and protect each other, it seems to me that Kenyans need to calmly but firmly and persistently press to get as much truthful information as possible about what happened at Westgate and take responsibility for their neighborhoods and surroundings.

The #WeAreOne_dering hashtag on Twitter has brought people from all over the world into the conversation about what really has really happened with this attack.

The United States, in particular, has spent millions on an ongoing basis, through the State Department and the Defense Department directly and indirectly on  “capacity building”, training, etc. for Kenyan security.  Given the meager preparation for and response to an attack like Westgate, we need to quickly recalibrate to account for the present reality and the immediate threat.

Here is my post from 2009 “Corruption and Terrorism/Security”. And from 2010 “U.S.-Kenya Relations: A counterterrorism versus reform tradeoff?”

And to address the religious dimension, here is an important post from African Arguments via allAfrica.com: “Somalia: To Beat Al Shabaab Kenya Must Expel its Religious Leader “Sheikh Hassaan” From Nairobi”.  And the National Council of Churches of Kenya has posted this flyer from the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya announcing a “We Are One in Prayer” event on October 1.

Trade and Aid [Update]

A Good African Tale: an African entrepreneur struggles for recognition in rich county markets from the Economist.

Update: “Rwanda Coffee Success Story” from William Easterly’s AidWatch (HT Texas in Africa)

Nick Wadham’s latest in Time: Bad Charity (All I got was this lousy t-shirt) — and his related blog post, Top-Down Aid for Africa.

Texas in Africa has a great related multi-part series of discussion questions May 4-7 about the Western approach to aid and development in Africa:

This week I’ve been trying to sketch an outline of how Westerners tend to develop and characterize our relationship with Africa and the people who live there, specifically with reference to the international aid and development system. I’ve argued that the savior mentality is misguided, that Africa is not rightfully ours to save, and that a better way to assist would be through a paradigm of empowerment. . . .
Today I want to conclude this series by thinking about what is probably the biggest barrier to moving into an empowerment paradigm: the governments that give and receive aid. . . .
Why? Because aid – for donor governments and the governments which receive the bulk of aid – is inherently political. Except in cases involving natural disasters or epidemic disease, donors don’t typically give freely to everyone out of the goodness of their intentions. Aid projects are funded at least in part (and sometimes entirely) on the basis of donor priorities. When aid projects take into account the real, expressed needs of recipients (which is, I’m glad to say, increasingly real for most project), they are often structured in such a way as to advantage suppliers or producers in the donor state, or to reward good governance or provide support to an ally.
As we might expect, there is often a contrast between donor goals and what is actually needed in order to improve the material situations of the recipients. . . .


UPDATE
NYTimes: “At Front Lines, AIDs War is Falling Apart”; “Paper Cuts: How Obama’s Father Came to Hawaii”; “Letters: From Kenya to America”

Reuters: Donors to slash Tanzania budget aid.

Nick Wadhams at NPR:“Somali Pirates Take the Money and Run, to Kenya”

The Times (London): Book review–“War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern Times by Linda Polman
Humanitarian aid prolongs conflict and misery because the bad guys learn how to exploit it”
;
“Easy Money: the great aid scam”

Bits to Start the Week–Coffee, Al Shabaab, EA Common Market, CIA

More on Kenyan coffee branding from the Business Daily. Kenya’s coffee sector makes up 3.5% of GDP–annual production is currently 50,000, having peaked at 130,000 tonnes in 1989/89, with the decline attributed to “mismanagement, indebtedness and bad returns”
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“Al-Faisal’s gone, questions linger” from Muthoni Wanyeki’s column in the East African.
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Also from the East African, Charles Onyango-Obbo on the East African Common Market: “Who’s Afraid of Big Bad Kenya?”

One commonly hears statements like the “Kenyan economy is bigger than Tanzania’s and Uganda’s combined.” Yes, but that was 20 years ago.

Kenya’s gross domestic product in 1990 was $11 billion. Tanzania’s was $5.4 billion, and Uganda’s $4.03 billion. Kenya’s economy then was bigger than Tanzania and Uganda combined; twice that of Tanzania, and nearly three times Uganda’s.

By 2008, Kenya’s GDP was $31 billion. However Tanzania’s was $21 billion, and Uganda’s $15.8 billion. It’s no longer bigger than Tanzania’s and Uganda’s combined; it is not double that of Tanzania; nor is it three times bigger than Uganda’s. Indeed, depending on the GDP figures you look at in three or so years, Tanzania could be East Africa’s largest economy.

The story of the past 20 years in East Africa, therefore, is not how large Kenya’s economy is compared with those of its neighbours, but rather how much the others have closed the gap.

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“Row Clouds Process to Pick New KAA Boss to Replace Muhoho” from the Sunday Nation is a “must read” as for anyone that wants to assess how locked down or open opportunities in Kenya are now in the second Kibaki administration and how public business gets done.
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Last for now, but not necessarily least, the Standard on CIA Director Leon Panetta’s visit to Nairobi.

Lots of Links–Kenya

Good news, to follow up on my previous post about Nescafe and Kenya, here is a report from CapitalFM titled “Kenyan Coffee Gets Branded” about a new effort to add and capture value for Kenyan growers by the Kenyan Coffee Board. Note the point about decreasing production associated with real estate development.***

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Something I missed in the Committee of Experts draft Constitution:  provision that would eliminate portaits of individuals from currency and coins (in other words Kenyatta and Moi–and no new Kibaki money to come).  Said to be first recent effort at enacting such a law globally. (Strikes me as a great idea–subject to wise phase in. Maybe next there could be a radical move like taking down the picture of the president in the dry cleaners, the book shop, the cafe, etc. . . . )

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New Kenyan Media–Kenya Today “Breaking News 24/7” on the web. CEO is Jerry Okungu. Congrats and good luck!

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Kenyanpolitics on blogger.

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News from VP Kalonzo Musoyka’s church visit in Jinja on his Uganda trip.

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Jeffrey Gettleman reviews Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat in the New York Review of Books (behind subscription wall or $3 for article purchase 3700 words).
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***Hee–a classic lesson in Kenya:  Here is a report of the “good news” that Kenya is going to brand its coffee–not to mention roast the beans in Kenya and market it in Europe–from . . . 2005. (HT Argen Westra)

Kenyan Coffee and Nescafe

Monday’s Standard reports that Kenya is only consuming 5% of its own coffee production, terming this a risk to the success of the sector.

The Kenyan government’s lack of appreciation for the value of the cachet of Kenyan coffee was brought home to me quite quickly upon my arrival in Nairobi as director for the International Republican Institute. Calling on the Minister of Trade and Industry, we were served the usual choice of tea or instant Nescafe, as in the various other offices of high government officials and politicians. When the Trade Minister of a country with a reputation for growing some of the world’s finest coffee is serving Nescafe to his visitors, there is an obvious disconnect somewhere.

A local coffee house in New Orleans sells what it calls a Kenyan Press for brewing coffee. It appears to be quite the same as what the rest of us would call a “French Press”–basically a simple glass cylinder with a lid with a plunger with a screen to filter the brewed grounds and hold them at the bottom when the coffee is poured. Obviously the label “Kenyan” has market value to coffee drinkers. From my experience, it was in fact very hard (and unduly expensive) to actually buy a French Press in Nairobi.

It would be great to see Kenyans taking pride in the reputation of the quality of their coffee production and to see the government paying attention to promoting the market (rather, than, perhaps, being too distracted by worrying about who is going to win the next election).

Addendum:  Turns out I have a picture of the coffee maker in New Orleans, a Bodum “Kenya Coffee Maker” that is also labeled in smaller print “French Press”:

AfriCommons, on Flickr”>"Kenya Coffee Maker"

Here is a link to more information and reviews from “dooyoo”. “Cafetiere (the French for coffee pot) has become the established description in Britain but ‘French Press’, or ‘Coffee Plunger’ is used in other parts of the world,” says reviewer “suehome”.