The boss of the call centre was born in Nairobi but left for the States to make his fortune. He became a big player in corporate America but now he is back home, running Kenya’s largest call centre, which has contracts with Britain and the United States as well as domestically. What brought him back? “I saw a chance to make serious money here. If they can do it in India, why not Kenya?” He abhors Africa’s “begging-bowl image” and the cronyism and corruption that bedevil his own country, but he is an optimist. “Of course we need better leadership but Kenya is full of entrepreneurs – that’s the way forward.”
. . . .
There are scores, hundreds, thousands of such examples. It is not yet a flood but it is more than a trickle as a steady stream of African émigrés return to make a better life for themselves and their families in their own countries. This “brain gain” does not yet balance the “brain drain” but it is a symptom that much of Africa is changing for the better. While the fundamental conditions for a thriving economy – the rule of law and transparency – are not yet deeply rooted in any African state, the foundations are at last being nurtured in many of them.
. . . .
Democracy is still a fragile flower but has started to bloom in many parts of the continent including Nigeria. Though instability is a constant predicament, tyrants and military dictators are now the exception not the rule. Freedom of expression, dramatically enhanced by Twitter and Facebook and the ubiquitous mobile phone, is proving exceptionally difficult to suppress except by the kind of brute force that only a tiny minority of African regimes are nowadays willing to exercise. Whether it is for these reasons or because they have been voting with their feet to confirm the latest New Scientist survey – which reports that regardless of their multiple tribulations, Nigeria is home to the happiest people on earth – some 10,000 Nigerians returned home last year. A similar flow is reported in many other countries.
None of this is to magic away the desperate circumstances that millions of Africans endure. Over the past 40 years, I have witnessed far too much hunger and too many deaths from disease, conflict and tyranny to be a Pangloss about this continent. The suffering is heart-breaking, the inequities are offensive, and the corruption is corrosive. My point is that these miseries are very far from being the whole story. The Africans I met on my 7,000-mile journey through nine countries resent the pitying and patronising attitudes that are so often adopted towards them by a Western world which – from their perspective – doles out aid with one hand while nicking the oil and minerals (by which the continent is blessed in super-abundance) with the other.
Again and again, at every level, people told me: “Don’t give us aid – trade with us fairly. Stop ripping us off.” Of course, most of them don’t mean that literally; they simply want a relationship with the rest of the world that is grounded in greater respect and understanding. Well-meaning sound bites like Tony Blair’s “Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world” inadvertently label as “victims” hundreds of millions of energetic and hard-working individuals who are resilient, inventive and enterprising – and who live in vibrant and peaceable communities that have much to teach our own dysfunctional societies.
On the aid front, “Dar rushes to spend $700M as U.S. official jets in”, from The East African. Worth noting that this $700M from the Millennium Challenge Corporation for Tanzania approaches twice the amount of the annual budget for AFRICOM. A BBC report asks five years after the Gleneagles Summit: “Did more African aid deliver fewer coups?”
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. . . .
If farmers in Africa’s Great Rift Valley ever doubted that they were intricately tied into the global economy, they know now that they are. Because of a volcanic eruption more than 5,000 miles away, Kenyan horticulture, which as the top foreign exchange earner is a critical piece of the national economy, is losing $3 million a day and shedding jobs.
The pickers are not picking. The washers are not washing. Temporary workers have been told to go home because refrigerated warehouses at the airport are stuffed with ripening fruit, vegetables and flowers, and there is no room for more until planes can take away the produce. Already, millions of roses, lilies and carnations have wilted.
“Volcano, volcano, volcano,” grumbled Ronald Osotsi, whose $90-a-month job scrubbing baby courgettes, which are zucchinis, and French beans is now endangered. “That’s all anyone is talking about.” He sat on a log outside a vegetable processing plant in Nairobi, next to other glum-faced workers eating a cheap lunch of fried bread and beans.
Election-driven riots, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and stunningly bad harvests have all left their mark on Kenya’s agriculture industry, which is based in the Rift Valley, Kenya’s breadbasket and the cradle of mankind.
But industry insiders say they have never suffered like this.
“It’s a terrible nightmare,” said Stephen Mbithi, the chief executive officer of the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya. He rattled off some figures: Two million pounds of fresh produce is normally shipped out of Kenya every night. Eighty-two percent of that goes to Europe, and more than a third goes solely to Britain, whose airports have been among those shut down by the volcano’s eruption. Five thousand Kenyan field hands have been laid off in the past few days, and others may be jobless soon. The only way to alleviate this would be to restore the air bridge to Europe, which would necessitate the equivalent of 10 Boeing 747s of cargo space — per night.
“There is no diversionary market,” Mr. Mbithi said. “Flowers and courgettes are not something the average Kenyan buys.”
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”: